The Matador lives to fight again

With a new zoning certificate in place, owner Paul McCaughey hopes the venue will open by March 2019

The future of the historic yet beleaguered live music venue the Matador Ballroom is finally certain: the city has zoned the building as a public hall. The venue, which has stood dormant for a number of years, will open its doors this weekend (September 14-16) for the FIVARS augmented and virtual reality festival. 

While a public assembly zoning certificate is not the same as an entertainment facility, owner Paul McCaughey tells NOW he couldn’t be more pleased.

“For me personally, and for the Matador, it’s a moment of redemption,” he says. “We redeemed this former speakeasy, something that brought up nightmarish fears in the neighbourhood because of its past.”

Over the last eight years, McCaughey has fought the long, hard and expensive battle to revitalize the space, working against the building’s reputation as an illegal booze can in the late 90s and early 00s to highlight its history as a World War I-era ballroom and an important venue for musicians like Stompin’ Tom Connors and Joni Mitchell.  

Being situated on Dovercourt north of College means that much of the opposition came from a small but passionate group of residents who live nearby, many of whom remembered the its days as a speakeasy all too well.

“That vocal part of the community is important to us and we believe we can demonstrate to them that we will not be a pernicious activity at the end of their street,” McCaughey says.

The key to winning over the neighbourhood and the city came after what McCaughey describes as the worst blow to his revitalization project thus far: in May 2017, the city rejected the Matador’s plans made in application for building permits, and informed McCaughey the entire space would need to be rezoned again.

Frustrated by the roadblock, McCaughey was ready to sell, but through his work with his own team and councillors Mike Layton and Ana Bailão over the past 16 months, they came up with a plan that could be approved for zoning. They received a business licence and approval for zoning the space as a public hall, restaurant and custom workshop. But the approval also came with a caveat. Even though McCaughey hadn’t applied for that type of use this time, the city disapproved the building for use as an entertainment facility, making explicitly clear that it couldn’t be used as a nightclub.

So now the building can be run as a public hall, basically as an events-based business, having the room be rented for weddings and corporate events in addition to live music.

That’s where Revolution West, a not-for-profit arts and culture society that will be located at The Matador, comes in. They’ll be responsible for spearheading those kinds of events and taking care of most of the music curation that happens at the space.

“We decided we would have an arts and cultural society that would be in charge, for the time being, of a certain amount of curation of events that would present talent and so the Matador could remain, as clearly as possible, a public hall,” McCaughey explains.

“What we’ll do now is get a zoning certificate, which is the litmus test. It’s good for an entire year and it really demonstrates strongly in a legal sense that you have the right to use the space for those purposes,” he adds, saying that will give him the time to get the building permits he needs to finish the interior renovations.

The north side of the front foyer is going to be an 800-square-foot wine bar and restaurant that’ll feature a tapas-style menu and be open 7 days a week. The south side of the foyer will have a bar, which will also serve as the entrance to the ballroom proper.

“We want to collect our liquor license by March of next year and be open for Canadian Music Week in 2019.” | @therewasnosound

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