The Cadillac Lounge is “winding down”

Another long-running Toronto music venue may soon be closing.

Cadillac Lounge has been slinging pints in Parkdale since 2000, but now, owner Sam Grosso confirms, the building is for sale. The bar will close as soon as he’s found the right buyer. “I’m kind of just trying to wind it down,” he tells NOW.

It’d be easy to assume this is another case of rising rents or redevelopment evicting a piece of the city’s cultural history, but that’s not the case. Grosso owns the building, including the apartments above the bar. The decision to close is personal. Four years ago, as his family grew and the cost of living went up, Grosso moved to Prince Edward County. He’s been commuting two hours to Queen West every weekend since.

“I’m just trying to slow my life down because it’s crazy running a bar, especially with live music,” he says over the phone as one of his four young children screams in the background. “And the live music part is my passion, but, you know, I don’t make money at it. For the most part it costs me money.”

Grosso calls his approach “old-school” – a neighbourhood bar with a stage for indie acts and the occasional touring band, mostly roots-leaning rock and folk – but he admits it’s starting to feel as nostalgic as the white Cadillac hanging on the sign.

“People are not supporting live music like they used to,” he says. “You can sit at the front bar on any given Friday or Saturday night and count 100 people who come to the door and, when they find there’s a cover charge of $10, turn around and go somewhere else. The kids just aren’t into it.”

Grosso should know. From 2012 to 2014, he owned the historic live venue El Mocambo and attempted to restore it to its 70s glory, which, controversially, for him meant not booking hip-hop. The backwards-looking approach didn’t get the kids flocking in, either, and by 2014 it was ready to sell to Canada Computers. (Grosso does boast that he engineered the last-minute resurrection by Dragon’s Den businessman Michael Wekerle by refusing to sell him the El Mo’s iconic neon palm tree sign unless he bought the venue, too.)

He says he’s had more luck catering to older crowds and booking earlier shows, though it’s the coveted 200-capacity back patio that keeps the Cadillac going. That patio is likely to entice any potential buyer, but as for the Cadillac Lounge as we know it – the name and the brand –Grosso is keeping it.

He’s toying with the idea of opening a version in Prince Edward County, where the Drake (Drake Devonshire) and Dakota Tavern (Hayloft Dancehall) have set up outposts. “I could call it the Cadillac Ranch and just hang a big Cadillac on the side of my barn,” he jokes.

Although Grosso is winding down the business, he says he’s going to keep running the bar as if it’s not for sale. He is also reserving the right not to sell at all. He’s even spending $6,000 refurbishing the Cadillac on the sign.

 “As soon as there is a deal on the table that’s 100 per cent confirmed, we are going to have a series of closing parties that are going to rock the city,” he assures. “Until then, we’ll just keep on going. Sell some beer, sell some nachos, book some bands. That’s it.” | @trapunski

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