Growing up in the Toronto party scene was something truly special. Being young and free, and believing that you only live once before these sayings became Instagram memes and part of our regular vocabulary was what is was like for us 30 somethings back in the late 90s and early 2000s.
I started clubbing in high school when sneaking out was the only way this was possible! We would take turns deciding whose house we were “sleeping” at and strategically plan our night out so our parents wouldn’t find out. I’m sure my parents knew… and if they didn’t I would like for formally apologize....for being so fun but you made me!
One of my first real clubbing experiences was shortly after we got our driver’s license so we must have been 17. My girls and I were dressed like we were 20, so obvious that we were not of age and we all had fake IDs. The girl whose ID I had looked absolutely nothing like me and I wasn’t even sure if her first name was her last name; Ban, Elias is what the ID said!
Four of us went downtown that night and the plan was to go to Whisky Saigon on Richmond. We had our water bottles filled, $20 in our pockets, and outfits to make any father ground us for months! We decided it was best to take Young St. all the way down because we just didn’t know any better and GPS was literally a map you would hold in your hands.
That car ride for us was the ultimate form of freedom! We were super excited to leave Thornhill, act like rebels and dance the night away. The music in the car was blasting and my friend who was driving was totally speeding which we didn’t realize until we were pulled over by the cops! We all started to panic as the water in the water bottles might not have been water and we had never been pulled over by police before. When the cop came to the front window of her Lexus he saw us sitting there trying to act like angels and smiled. He asked for her license and registration and in the heat of the moment my friend gave him her fake ID! He took one look at it and said “I don’t think you want to give me that!” and he gave it back to her! Then he asked us where we were going and one of the girls yelled “Whisky Saigon!” She fully told the cop that we were going to a 19+ club and he just saw our fake ID! He took her info and went back to his car to check us out. We were obviously freaking out!
My girl just got her license so obviously there was nothing on her record and everything checked out. The police officer came back to the car and told us that we were driving 90 in a 60 and we needed to slow down. We were so nervous and trying not to talk, when suddenly the officer hears the music coming from our radio and he says “is that Lauren Hill? Turn it up!” so my friend who was sitting in the front seat blasted the music and the cop started dancing in the street. He then told us that Wisky Saigon sucked and we should go to this spot called G-Spot and his buddy Paul White was the head of security there, and he would call in a favour for us. He told us when we got to the door “ask for Paul White and tell him big fat black Lenny sent us!” So let’s recap here… the police officer that pulled us over for speeding, who knows we are underage and have fake ID hooks us up with VIP at his friend’s club!
When we arrived at G-Spot we went to the front door and asked for Paul White, they were expecting us and all smiled when we arrived! Paul brought us upstairs to the VIP bar and the entire night was on them!
Needless to say, this opened up the door to endless nights, years actually that were spent at G-Spot essentially as VIP clients who never paid for anything! Thanks Paul White and Lenny, I have never forgotten you!! This was my first clubbing experience, you can’t make this sh*t up!
My first after hours club experience was when I started going to System Sound Bar. It was by far one of my favourite places in Toronto and still is high on my list for the best places I have ever been to party at. I still have my VIP card from System in my memory scrap book I included a pic below. We would go and be lost in the world of house music until the sun came up. I remember one night I sat beside a security guard and kept telling people “You can’t go there!” essentially doing the guys job for free for hours lol! Every time we left the club one of my friends had a new piece of clothing from someone, we all had chewed up glow sticks, and felt totally relaxed from all the hand massages. We also couldn’t roll into our houses at 7am so we would go and eat at Midway or park in random spots and sleep in the car until we could go home… I remember once one of our friend’s father fully busted us while walking his dog at 7am! Ughh what I would give to re-live one of these nights!
(Jew-Do @ the Zone, System Sound Bar VIP Pass, Sneak B-day Beats @ SteamWhistle, & Rogers FTWK flyers 1998-2004)
Shortly after we started going to System I went to parties at other after hour places like Exit to Eden and the infamous Industry Nightclub. Needless to say, I fell in love and went almost every weekend after that. I went to some of the best parties at Industry and have so many crazy memories from there, most of which I cannot put into writing but they will never be forgotten. Back in the late 90s none of us even had cellphones and it was rare that we would bring a camera to any of these parties so if you wanted to keep a memory you would keep the flyer from the party. I included a bunch of party flyers from the nights we attended and it gives me shivers to think of those moments. Years have gone by and it still feels like yesterday. Once it closed, industry was converted into a Shoppers Drug Mart which still upsets most of us who loved it there so much, but you have to appreciate the irony!
(Meow & Industry Nightclub Flyers & my weekly all black party outfit, 1998/99)
(Insudtry Nightclub Flyers 2000, IDance Ralley, & FTWK @ Tonic)
In the early 2000s our weekly clubbing schedule went something like this; Monday @ Bamboo, Tuesday at Mad Bar, Wednesday was at Fluid or Tonic FTWK, Thursday was at LIFE, Lily. Lot 332 or Red Square, Friday was at Lotus, Sonic, or Boa, Saturday was at Guv, System, or Turbo and Sunday was at Fluid or any other industry event happening. I managed to graduate with a double major and specialized honours diploma from York U… looking back I have no idea how I did this. But I guess it’s all about balance!
One of the best parties I have ever been to that I still think about regularly was Roger Sanchez at the Props Warehouse. It was such a fun venue, with all the creepy heads and props all over the place. I remember my girl and I left the party because the bathrooms flooded and we were covered up to our ankles in water. We drove all the way home, changed and went right back down in a snow storm to keep the party going. We were actually insane!
(Flyer from Roger Sanchez Props Warehouse Party, 2003 Toronto)
We used to follow Roger everywhere! I remember one night Roger and DJ Sneak played in the basement of Turbo. Roger was playing on three turntables and so did Sneak. DJs who play vinyl are so real- it gives me shivers all over. Clearly I have a thing for DJs, always have and always will.
Toronto boat cruises started in the late 90s with the JennStar and Eddy K series. They were so much fun and had their own special vibe to each ride. They were new and fresh and we looked forward to our River Gambler parties so much as they only happened once every few weeks- not like these days where there are 3 boat cruises per weekend. The Amigos boats were also super fun. So many good memories! Carlo and I had been secretly dating for a few months and on the August 1st boat in 2005 he kissed me at the top of the stairs in front of everyone forgetting that it was supposed to be a secret. Oops! This August will be our 11 year anniversary so I guess the cat's out of the bag ;)
(Photos taken on the River Gambler and Enterprise 2000, Toronto)
I have to give a very special shout out to Eddy K and Gavin Brian. Without those two guys running the scene I wouldn't have had the experiences that I did that's for sure! They always made me feel like family and were always there to make sure we were having a good time.
We were regulars at Guvernment for so many years. We used to have our own personal coat check in the hidden back pathways and would literally do whatever and go wherever we wanted and no one ever stopped us. The best for us was obviously when Carlo Lio & Nathan Barato would play. They eventually became the Roaches because of these places.
We’ve been going to Comfort Zone since our friends used to throw Jew-Dos there in high school! I’m talking so far back in the day… when they used to sell pitchers of beer in the basement! For years we attended Zone every Sunday morning and we would often sleep the night before to be fresh for the day! But most night we went straight through. When the Roaches & the Vinyl Junkies started playing regularly we too became regulars there. I would give my left arm to relive one of those nights again! Zone will always have a very special place in our hearts which is why we designed a very special collection called "Project White Rabbit."
Another super fun and shady place that just needs to be mentioned once was 19 Charlotte. Fun house mirrors, car seats and nails coming out of the walls was the décor. Such a true representation of the underground scene Toronto had to offer.
(Photo taken outside of 19 Charlotte, Toronto)
In 2005 two very special places became part of the weekend routine. Friday or Saturday nights at Footwork- the only club that ever came close to bringing back that Industry feeling and the outdoor patio at the Docks became our Sunday afternoon home. Those parties were actually magic. There is no other way to describe them. So many of my long term relationships started at these two venues including the most special one I have with my DJ.
(Photo taken @ Footwork, 2005)
(Carlo Lio killing it! @ The Docks, 2005)
I'm going to stop this blog here because I could write a ten part series about the last 10 years of my life as well but we've got plenty of time for that... Needless to say, it's been quite a ride! I am so happy and so grateful to have lived this life with the amazing people I am lucky to call my friends. We’ve been on so many fun adventures together and created memories that will last a life time. Nothing better than going to never never land with your chosen family!