2004 was not a good year to own a dance club in Toronto. Whether you see it as a culling of the herd or blame it on the smoking ban, you can't deny that an extraordinary number of clubs closed or changed hands in the past 12 months.
To call the market volatile would be gross understatement. Element shut down after struggling for months. It had been popular for its big-club-in-a-small-room vibe, but the crowds had moved on. A few doors down, the Left Bank turned into the Crystal Room under the same owners. A block down Queen, Nasa changed hands and is slowly reinventing itself. Further west, Gypsy Co-op has new owners, and the former management also sold Fez Batik and B-Side (now the Richmond) in the club district.
In the entertainment district, Jai closed its doors after a relatively short run, along with Red Square (now NYC Dance Boutique), G-Spot, Plastique (now Privilege) and more. East of Yonge, It Nightclub was demolished, Project opened and then suddenly closed a couple weeks ago, and Lotus changed into Lust, which then changed from gay to straight.
In the increasingly crowded Spadina and King area, the Mockingbird became the Century Room, the Betty Ford Temple became Cache and Matrixx became Cry Baby. The Hot Stepper promoters tried their hand at running clubs (Tangier and Tangerine) but had to back out of both by the middle of the summer.
Up on College, Butt'r changed hands, and Lava closed its doors but has since reinvented itself in Kensington Market as Supermarket. Its new neighbour, Syp Lounge, used to be known as Club 56, which closed suddenly last summer after a strong run with the indie dance crowd.
Amid all this carnage, European heavyweights tried to enter the market as promoters. God's Kitchen had a brief run at the Docks, but the huge venue has since gone back to hosting special events and rentals. Ministry of Sound was supposed to be heavily involved in Lucid, but the club quickly switched to a mainstream top-40 format.
On the bright side, UK imports Black Market Records have been throwing quality events all over town, although they were hampered by the sudden closing of Project, which they'd just started to revive after taking over bookings.
What does all this mean to the average partier? Well, it's not necessarily all bad - a lot of those clubs weren't offering anything special, and some new club owners seemed to think they might make a quick buck.
For the most part, the clubs that closed have reopened in some form, and brand new venues are opening all the time.
True, there will probably be less choice overall, but that may help bring the fractured underground back together. Toronto once had the unusual luxury of being able to support many insular mini-scenes dedicated to subgenres of a subgenre, but that made for boring parties.
What many treasure about the "good old days" was the feeling of so many different types of people under one roof, and what was once mesmerizing about DJs was their ability to connect you to music you didn't think you liked.