An inside look at the brand-new El Mocambo in photos

The historic venue, which opened in 1948 but has been closed since 2014, is tentatively set to reopen on April 1. Here's what it looks like inside.


The El Mocambo is almost back. We’ve said that before, many times. But now we’ve actually been inside. 

Owner Michael Wekerle invited media on a walkthrough of the historic venue Tuesday for the first time since he bought it and began renovations in 2014. He’s spent a reported $30 million (“give or take a million”) restoring it, and it looks like it. The entire venue has been gutted and rebuilt with slick design by the Laundry Design Works and high-tech sound from Clifton David Broadbridge of El Mocambo Productions. The food and bar services are by the Food Dudes. 

Wekerle says the El Mocambo will tentatively open on April 1, but also warns not to take that as confirmed fact just yet (he’s given dates, and pushed them back, many times). Still, they’ve pencilled in a tribute to Ronnie Hawkins on April 4, featuring the long-time Canadian roots-rocker, his family and special guests. “He’ll be the first person inducted into what I call the El Mo hall of fame,” he said, chuckling. 

A month before all that happens, take a photographic tour of the venue below with shots from NOW photographer Samuel Engelking. 

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Samuel Engelking

The main venue, on the second floor, has a capacity of 400-500 people. It’s designed with an eye to sightlines, so there are no bad views from anywhere in the room. The edge of the stage juts directly into the audience, so there’s little separation between the crowd and the people on stage. 

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Samuel Engelking

The El Mocambo’s original neon sign has been butterflied and rewired and now brackets the main stage on both sides. 

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Samuel Engelking

The palm tree railwork throws back to the 40s and 50s, when swing bands used to play at the El Mo. But, like so much else in the venue, the raw steel is an homage to 70s rock and roll. 

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Samuel Engelking

The VIP balcony includes a tiki bar, “Wek’s Tiki,” where Wekerle can entertain his friends. 

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Samuel Engelking

The downstairs stage, a separately ticketed area, is called the Starlight Room at the El Mocambo – restoring its old name from the 70s. 

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Samuel Engelking

The downstairs stage is meant to have more of a “gritty rock and roll edge” than the slicker upstairs area. The general layout is the same as the old downstairs venue, with the stage at the back of the room. 

Both venues are completely soundproofed, so you could have shows going on in both rooms with no sound bleed between them. 

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Samuel Engelking

Both venues are fitted with surround sound speakers for pristine sound clarity everywhere in the room. 

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Samuel Engelking

A view from the central control room.

In partnership with a new company called CYA Live, the entire venue has been wired, from the stages to the green room, for high-quality recording and live streaming. The whole venue is “4K audio ready” and can handle 900 audio tracks simultaneously. 

That’s part of the plan in getting major bands to play a venue a fraction the size of their usual draw: The opportunity to stream and broadcast it anywhere in the world. Wekerle says Austin City Limits is a great example of what could be done, and says he’s reached out to Pearl Jam about a potential underplay show or “rehearsal” before their March 18 concert at Scotiabank Arena. Other acts he says he’s reached out to include Billy Idol, The Who and, as always, the Rolling Stones. Nothing is set yet. 

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Samuel Engelking

Even the green room is wired for sound and video for behind-the-scenes moments and, if an artists wanted, pop-up acoustic performances. There’s no furniture yet, but executive designer/ production manager Jamie Howieson says it’s an “homage to 80s glamour,” including a “rock and roll shower.”

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Samuel Engelking

The El Mocambo has a rich history stretching back into the 40s, but the references are overwhelmingly 70s rock and roll. Despite the vinyl-era fetishism, though, the designers are aware the El Mocambo’s visual future will live online, so they’ve integrated plenty of Instagrammable sights. 

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Samuel Engelking

That includes neon signs galore. 

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Samuel Engelking

Like this one.

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Samuel Engelking

And this one.

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Samuel Engelking

The bathrooms are adorned with the faces of Mick Jagger and Debbie Harry. 

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Samuel Engelking

Wekerle is weirdly proud of the bathrooms – he mentions them a lot. There are 28 of them at the new El Mocambo, about 10 times as many as they used to have. Like the rest of the building, you can find Stones photos there. 

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Samuel Engelking

Every stair in every staircase is printed with the name of a band who’s played the venue, from Devo to K-OS to the Zoobombs to Gravediggaz. (The ticket window is printed with ticket stubs from old concerts at the venue.) The venue also has elevators. 

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Samuel Engelking

Though it’s not officially open yet, there have been bands coming through for soft launches. Indie folk duo Mt. Joy played on Monday night for Indie88 contest winners, and were sure to sign the wall for posterity. (Hate to burst their bubble, but there’s already been a cover band who’s played there for a birthday party.)

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Samuel Engelking

Wekerle has already sparked some controversial discussion with his answer to a media question about how much tickets will cost. “Oh, let’s say $100 to $1,000,” he said, seemingly taken aback by the question.

Curran, though, says he plans to have up-and-coming bands playing the venue too, which seems unattainable given those prices. A representative from the El Mocambo says they can’t confirm any average ticket price with certainty until programming is announced and filled out. 

@nowtoronto

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