It's back: The El Mocambo will be lighting up those neon palms once again
Great news for music lovers in Ontario, or dare I say, Canada! The iconic El Mocambo music venue will be lighting up its neon palm tree once again when it opens its doors this April. With Dragon’s Den’s Michael Wekerle at the helm of this new venture, the venue is promised to be restored to its former glory and more. Of course, this calls for a little look back at El Mocambo’s past in Toronto's music scene.
The Early Days
*Please note much of my information about the venue’s early days came from this article. Please check it out.
Way back in 1948, Joseph Brown and John Lang decided to open one of Toronto’s first cocktail bars complete with live entertainment. This was only made possible by a loosening of the liquor laws in 1946. As such, they decided a two floor entertainment space (one floor dining, one floor a dance hall) was in order. While the LLBO gave them loads of trouble over the years they owned the venue (we’re talking banning live entertainment at cocktail bars, restricting the sizes of performing acts and more) this hotspot located on Spadina persisted.
Fast forward to the 1960s when the venue was bought by Adam Schuy and the music largely catered toward Toronto’s Hungarian, Irish and Portuguese communities. The venue sat around Toronto, largely unknown. That was until 1972 when it was bought once more by Mike Baird and Tom Kristenbrun.
Woah! This Venue was Rad
When Tom Kristenbrun and Mike Baird took over the venue, it was like a breath of fresh air. Focusing on more rock and blues, early acts included amazing talent like Muddy Waters and Buddy guy alongside comedians like the National Lampoon Revue featuring Bill Murray.
Really though, it was the year 1977 that put El Mocambo on the map. On March 4th and 5th of that year, the band, The Cockroaches, was scheduled to play. Plot twist: that was just an alias for The Rolling Stones! This iconic show has gone down in history for songs winding up on Love You Live by the Rolling Stones and for Margaret Trudeau showing up with Mick Jagger himself, her marriage in a questionable state. On a side note, if you haven’t checked out this episode of Disgraceland, you definitely should.
After this show, it seems the venue made a pivotal shift and new acts were clambering to get in. 1978 saw Debbie Harrie & Blondie, Meatloaf and Devo. ’79 saw Ramones. This continued through out the venue's history at this time as acts like U2, Duran Duran, Joan Jett and Steven Van Zandt found home on the stage of El Mocambo.
Unfortunately, in 1986, Baird and Kristenbrun decided to sell the venue. This kicked off 30 years of changes in ownership as closures and re-openings. Eventually, it sat empty for several years, a reminder of a greater time in Toronto’s music past. . .until now that is.
The New El Mocambo
Now hold onto your hats because the new El Mocambo sounds almost too good to be true. According to CBC, Wekerle and his team bought the El Mocambo in 2014 and since then have created a venue with two sound proof stages and an audio and video recording studio.
The venue, which according to Spill Magazine has undergone $30 million dollars of renovations, has not only been updated inside with a vintage aesthetic and ticket stub wallpapering, but state-of the art equipment. Not only can El Mocambo have two concerts at the exact same time with no impact on the other but they also have the ability to record all those concerts and stream them live as they’re happening.That’s pretty cutting-edge.
So, are you ready for the El Mocambo to light back up once more? Me too. It will most likely be opening up this spring so stay tuned!
 Bradburn, Jamie. The Torontoist. 2014.  Bradburn, Jamie. The Torontoist. 2014.  Bradburn, Jamie. The Torontoist. 2014.  LeBlanc, Gilles. BlogTO. 2012.  Bradburn, Jamie. The Torontoist. 2014.  CBC.ca 2020.  Harris, Gerrod. Spill Magazine. 2020.