I’m always looking for things to do in Toronto and often times the best things I stumble upon unexpectedly. Just the other day I was out walking in the rain just two blocks from my house and I realized that I had never taken a photo of the most amazing landmark in my neighbourhood.
Since I moved to College West seven years ago the Matador Dancing Club has been a silent reminder of Toronto’s late night history. Other than an old friend that told me he’d been there as after hours bar before it closed, it was basically a ghostlike facade with an incredible sign for as long as I could remember.
I’d passed it a million times and looked at the doorway but there was never a soul coming or going from the club. Until 2007 when I heard the city wanted to turn it into a parking lot and have it re-appropriated and was finally “closing it’s doors.” But the doors I saw never opened.
I found out that in 1920 it was a dancehall for soldiers during WWI “Likely the last dance soldiers they had before going over seas” says the current owner McCaughey who discovered an original ticket in the attic from one of those sultry stuffy nights of the 1920s.
Skip ahead to 1964 and it opened as a honky-tonk spot. Ann Dunn the owner was a mother who had five kids and wanted to run a business that would not interfere with raising them. And because of her decision, the 24-hour party crowd in Toronto has haunted the Matador dancefloor late into the night for decades. Toronto Life described just before it closed as “A fun mix of Stetson-wearing old-timers and younger night owls looking for one last dance (even though the Matador has always been, ahem, alcohol-free).”
When the city got involved members of the Band Blue Rode, Michael Ondaatje and a huge amount of Matador supporters in Toronto rallied to save it and they won. In 2010 it was bought by Paul McCaughey who is turing it into a “community living space for live music, a restaurant, fitness centre and theres even talk of a Russian steam room which is totally weird but oddly interesting. Personally I wish it stayed exactly as it was however I was glad to learn certain aspects of the original building would be kept.
As I stood in the pouring rain staring up at the sign I could hardly believe just how many famous people walked this very spot in a drunken stooper for one last dance. A line appeared of friendly faces that stretched around the side of the building and I imagined the Matador’s visitors. People like Johnny Cash, Stompin’ Tom Connors, K.D. Lang and Leonard Cohen (who has referenced the affects the Matador had on his life and his career.) And if you doubt that any of them have been there, McGaughey has saved a wall in the bathroom which carries signatures of all of their names.
It it’s 45 year history this boarded up building has witnessed many late night conversations in dark corners of it’s bar with some of the most interesting and strange nighthawks Toronto has ever known. And I’m glad I am still witness to it. If you’re looking for things to do in Toronto head to College and Dovercourt and look for the infamous sign, the sight of it will take you back in time and won’t let go.
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