News

The pandemic crushed the live entertainment scene in Toronto. These three venues opened anyway

The pandemic crushed the live entertainment scene in Toronto. These three venues opened anyway
Entertainment
She’s an entertainer, author and business owner who 15 years ago opened Club 120, originally named Goodhandy’s, a provocative pansexual playground first for trans women, and later the broader LGBTQ community and others who appreciate exploring and celebrating sexuality. It was part nightclub, part sex club that allowed for live entertainers and pioneered sex positivity.

Eventually it would expand to the 120 Diner, a restaurant with a cabaret vibe, an all-too-uncommon concept in a city with increasingly limited venues for performers.

She and business partner Todd Klinck were devastated to at the beginning of the “devastating, horrible, horrendous” COVID-19 pandemic, but now less than 18 months later with the pandemic still a factor, Goodhandy and chef Richard Henry are getting ready to open Mandy’s Bistro, a restaurant for live entertainment and special events.

“When we closed I didn’t have hope as a business owner, I had hope as an artist,” she said. “Whatever your art is, it is your responsibility to do that … the Mandy Goodhandy persona works very well in a bar, nightclub setting and onstage.”

It turns out she’s not alone. A handful of other restaurants, theatres, supper clubs and venues for live entertainment have opened in the last year, with more to come.

At a time when countless businesses relied on government support programs to function, shuttered through lockdowns or closed altogether, new owners were crafting new ideas and quietly preparing to open doors. All say they were driven by their own artistic expression and the hunger of music and theatregoers to be entertained.

That doesn’t mean it has been easy. The Medley, a Yonge and Davisville supper club and lounge in the space that once housed the Limelight and Mysteriously Yours dinner theatres, opened for all of three weeks in September 2020 before pandemic case numbers forced it to close.

Owners built out the restaurant side of the business, opened a small patio when the government allowed — once having a small space for a performer to entertain in a Plexiglas box out front — and invested thousands in technology and other features for safety .

“We opened with automated temperature checks,” said show producer Joseph Patrick. “We are using hydrostatic sanitation. We added UV air filters to our HVAC system (because) UV light kills germs. Hand sanitizers are at every table. We converted all the sinks to touchless sinks. We added call buttons to every table to limit traffic around the dining room.”

The doors opened in September 2021, kicking off with “Forever Dusty,” a musical about Dusty Springfield, before moving to a live musical production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Solo artists including Heather Bambrick and Debbie Fleming are also on the bill in coming weeks, performing behind a 2.5-metre Plexiglas barrier between artist and audience. They operate with reduced capacity as required, but “blessed with a large dining room, shows are selling out.”

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Patrick said. “If another lockdown happens, we are going to hang out and keep going. This is the best it has felt for a long time.”

Shaunt Tchakmak, co-owner of The Oud & The Fuzz in Kensington Market, which opened in June 2020 after a three-month delay, says the need for both art and cultural space in a “city that is desperate for authentic culture” was greater than the pandemic deterrent.

“The importance of creating a space like that took over,” he said. “The space and what it stood for had to exist, whatever obstacles we had to overcome became necessary.”

Like Goodhandy, Tchakmak and brother Raz were driven to give space to artists who “didn’t always have a chance to perform.” Also owners of Antikka coffee and record shop on Queen Street West, they originally planned a cocktail bar but expanded to offer Armenian food.

“It was my first time working with food and I found, just like music, it is a tool for communication to appeal to somebody’s senses,” he said. “We present Armenian food in a new and unique way.”

But they were to be a live music venue first and foremost, and it wasn’t long until live music snuck in on their expansive patio. They had DJs for a while, and eventually included live solo performers and bands in August. The schedule is hopping, often with two artists a night offering everything from Arabic jazz to brass bands, some with residencies in the space. The dining room is open now with limited seating capacity.

It wasn’t easy. As a new business, the brothers weren’t eligible for any of the federal benefit programs including the wage subsidy and the loan program, and they became reliant on a generous landlord for support until business ramped up.
Read more on Toronto Star
News Topics :
RELATED STORIES :
Business
The entertainment kingpin behind dozens of clubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and music festivals got many of his businesses back in operation in the spring following the onset of COVID 19, but...
Business
The entertainment kingpin behind dozens of clubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and music festivals got many of his businesses back in operation in the spring following the onset of COVID 19, but...
Entertainment
Posters promoting upcoming events appear on the window at Crowbar, a live music venue in Ybor City s historical district, on Aug. 23, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The music industry...
Canada
Swan Hills has been treated to a new and very welcome sight over the past week, patio dining. In response to Alberta’s latest health measures regarding restaurants and cafes, Swan...
Business
When Shaunt Tchakmak signed a lease for his new bar and live venue on Kensington Avenue in January 2020, he had no way of knowing that his business would be...