Situated near the corner of Spadina Avenue and College Street lies the once illustrious music venue: the El Mocambo. While the venue has been closed since early 2014 and stuck in various states of endless construction ever since, the El Mo’ is finally slated for a grand reopening this May, just in time for the 2019 Canadian Music Week.
The return of the El Mocambo is especially welcome in a time where Toronto has lost so many key venues. D-Beatstro, The Central and even fellow Spadina Avenue landmark, The Silver Dollar Room, are just some of the spaces the city has lost in recent years to skyrocketing rent prices and condominium development. A new venue opening up downtown is a reason for celebration.
Founded in the late 1940s, the venue had been home to countless world-renowned acts over the decades — from Blondie and U2 to Jimi Hendrix and Vampire Weekend. Its previous owner, Sam Grosso — current owner of Toronto’s Cadillac Lounge — officially closed the El Mo’s doors back in 2014. Shortly thereafter, millionaire merchant banker and former CBC Dragons’ Den investor Michael Wekerle swept in and bought the property with hopes of completely remodeling its interior and bringing it up to snuff.
Having invested a reported $20 million into the venue so far, Wekerle has promised brand partnerships with Imax to provide live-streaming technology and recreational cannabis producer Tweed for an upstairs stage. But despite the multimillion-dollar investment into the building, nothing concrete about the new El Mocambo’s long-term role in the Toronto venue circuit has been disclosed. About two months until the grand reopening and the venue’s immediate future still seems hazy.
The venue’s official website has no new information either. Visit the site and you’re greeted only with a computer-generated render of the building and a slideshow of photos from Wekerle’s press conference where he celebrated the re-lighting of a neon palm-tree sign with Mayor John Tory.
However, having had limited experience in the music industry and no confirmed talent bookers lined up, many of Wekerle’s views on the venue, as well as Canadian music, sound out of touch. In 2014, on the topic of why he bought the struggling venue, Wekerle told CBC: “Because of my own kind of nostalgic feelings toward the El Mocambo and the Toronto scene… Having tried to be an artist in the music world back in my teen years — obviously not very successfully — but there was no venue. It was very difficult for Canadian artists and musicians to really get a break.”
Most recently, in a November 2018 interview with CBC, Wekerle claimed that Kiss, Justin Bieber, Ronnie Hawkins, and potentially Drake might grace the building’s renovated stages. “When the time comes and I know the dates, I’ll walk over and ask [Drake to perform],” Wekerle told CBC. Wekerle currently lives in the same Bridle Path neighbourhood as Drake’s new Toronto mansion.
Promises of world-renowned artists and brand sponsorships, all to rekindle a 458-capacity venue in Toronto’s peaceful Chinatown neighbourhood, sound a little farfetched. Take Wekerle’s grandiose promises with a grain of salt.