Stagg party

Rating: NNNNNQueen West -- twilight. Recently installed, ye olde fake lantern in front of the Rivoli floods light on a.

Rating: NNNNN

Queen West — twilight. Recently installed, ye olde fake lantern in front of the Rivoli floods light on a chalkboard announcing Sandy Stagg’s 60th birthday party.

The shopaholics racing past with purchases from the Gap, Club Monaco and Roots probably haven’t heard of the birthday girl.

Cultural nexus

Long before Queen West became a hip hub and then turned into a gentrified strip mall, the once-desolate street was the centre of a down-at-the-heels nabe where three-bedroom apartments rented for a hundred bucks and a quart of Black Label beer cost 95 cents.

Then Stagg bought a dilapidated dive called the Peter Pan and transformed it into a swelegant boite where artists and musicians dined on quiche and broccoli ‘n’ bacon-bit salad.

Toronto had never seen anything like it. The Peter Pan was a late-70s cultural nexus where musicians mixed with multimedia artists and avant-garde fashionistas. There were no clubs, so they started them — the Rivoli, the revamped Beverley, the Cameron, for example. There were no bands, so they formed them — Rough Trade, the Viletones, Martha and the Muffins, to name a few. Queen West was born.

Tonight’s affair is supposed to be a wingding, but it feels more like a wake — for the Queen West that was.

The main topic of whispered gossip is the alleged closure of the Bamboo, supposedly due to fall to a condo developer’s wrecking ball when its lease runs out in two years. The Boo’s Richard O’Brien says the rumours of his demise are premature, but adds, “Print what you want.”

Inside, the undercurrent of morbidity is echoed by the evening’s most overheard phrase: “Omigod! I thought you were dead!”

Sadly, many are — musicians Trish Cullen and Handsome Ned, visual artists Jorge Zontal, Ron Gabe and Tim Jocelyn, photographer David Buchan.

Those who have made it are dressed mostly in funereal black. There’s General Idea’s A.A. Bronson commiserating with moose-renderer Charlie Pachter, whose real estate savvy changed the face of the strip.

Loquacious fashion photographer George Whiteside chats with Whiskey Saigon’s Murray Ball, muscle-bound in a Ramones T-shirt. Parachute Club kid Lorraine Segato arrives with a film crew in tow and zeroes in on the Cameron’s Herb Tookey.

As DJ Richard Vermullen spins a set of late 70s post-punk hits by Gina X, the Human League and Spandau Ballet, Stagg holds court at the bar, a champagne flute in one hand and a cigarette holder in the other. She’s impeccably dressed, as always — this evening she sports an era-authentic Zandra Rhodes frock that’s artfully slashed and beaded with bathtub-stopper chain.

Former FILE megazine — General Idea’s house organ — cover-girl Anya Varda bursts into the Riv in a frenzy of air-kisses after flying in that afternoon from Los Angeles, where she’s the hostess of a swish Hollywood hotel.

Over at a corner banquette, bon vivant Erella “Vent” Ganon catches up with Greek Buck’s Andrew Zealley.

Grudge matches

Then there are the decades-old grudge matches that refuse to die. Stony silences follow icy glares as enemies refuse to acknowledge each other’s presence. “Who the hell invited that bitch?” is the evening’s second-most uttered mutter.

The old Queen West, nevertheless, is officially dead, and nothing since has risen to take its place.

The College strip has clubs and food covered, but where’s the art? As long as the university’s there, the Annex will remain a student haunt. Strolling west past the Queen Street Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, you get a sense that the Queen Street scene has moved west.

But watch out for those condos.

stevend@nowtoronto.comOctober 10, at the Rivoli

Stagg party

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