The Queen West Scene, year in review

27 December 2004

As the sunlight rises on the rooftops on Queen West on January 1st, few will remember K-Os' stroll through the hood late last spring when he filmed his Crab Bucket video. Unlike Jan 1 2004, which opened on a scene unchanged from Jan 1 2003, this year will have a few more 'for rent' signs in gallery windows. Luft gallery has closed, The Burston Gallery is moving, and Sis Boom Bah moved at the end of the Springtime. For the most part these changes have happened without any concern, since knowing the people involved, I know that tragic stories are not part of the picture. But, what's new here is the presence of The Drake.

My highly biased year in review - please forgive memory lapses and generalizations ...


The Drake has gone from crack whores to those of fashion. The year began when the Drake finally opened in February. In the works throughout 2003, the opening was supposed to be in October of that year, and was continually pushed back. There was a robbery of all the computer equipment in the middle of renovations, but given the wealth of Jeff Stober, it was water off a duck's back, and they were soon back on their behind schedule. It's all a memory now, and K-Os advertised it's charming bar throughout the summer with his video. There's a love/hate thing with the Drake among the artists in the area. It's attracted the pseudo-posh to bohemia, and artists speak of the hotel with disdain, because it's phony for them. I myself have a fond memory of being obnoxious to the crowd trying to get in during the film festival.

Personally, I like their coffee. I used to buy coffee at Friendly's, and while their club sandwich is decadently delicious, their coffee is awful.

The Drake staff are great. I've been told that the Drake's policy is to hire folk with an arts background, which I really appreciate as a chronically underemployed art person.

The TAAFI Festival, held at the beginning of October, was wonderful for the hotel - people got to "see the rooms" and the hotel's management have lived up to their mandate to support the arts. But I don't want to hang out with people who have money, so I socialize elsewhere. Although I hear Misha Glouberman's Room 101 nights are wonderful, but being a sycophantic fan of Glouberman's I pass that on without ever having attended.

Word on the street now is that Stober has bought surrounding buildings so that they can expand up. An 8 story addition is supposedly in the works, but it's an unsubstantiated rumour that I'm passing on. Pretty remarkable though, given that they never expected to make much money from renting rooms, everything was supposed to be about the cult-shah.


Instant Coffee's makes it to Second Base - Instant Coffee, the collective I used to be a part of, held a now legendary make-out party at the Gladstone. This isn't self promotion on my part since it was around this time that we parted ways. Now, the make-out parties began in November of last year in conjunction with the Quadrasonic party at Revival. That night, Emily Hogg built a make-out fort, people dry-humped in the darkness, and spin the bottle challenged our sexual preferences. On this night in March, it was more of the same in a bigger venue. Emily Hogg built another make out fort, Darren O'Donnell MC'd spin-the-bottle, there was a big inflatable thing, and it co-incided with the University of Toronto's art student's 'Room Service' exhibition in the rooms upstairs, which meant lots of people met for the first time with kisses before names, kind of like this video.


Hive Magazine launched an issue with an all-night bash, and with the presence of Instant Coffee's Urban Disco Trailer, the party turned into another make-out venue. Or, so I hear, since I wasn't there. I was grumpy and cat-sitting at York University, but that's another story.


The Calgary Flames playing for the cup meant that even sports-phobic artists were getting drunk watching hockey. There were some Canadian themed shows happening in New York, so a bunch of scenesters went down to do what they do here, only because they're doing in New York, they called it "a vacation" and the implication was that they were cool.


In June, Sis Boom Bah left its location on Queen St, and moved to McCaul St. Matt Crookshank, whom everyone knows as the proprietor of S.B.B, even though he inherited the gallery from Jenny San Martin and entrusted it to Claire Greenshaw in November of '03, made a good go of it on McCaul, but for various reasons the gallery closed it's doors for good at the end of August. One less venue for artists in this city. I'm not going to say it was because of the Drake, but the reason it and The Burston Gallery removed themselves from the neighborhood is because landlords are raising rents.

The Splice This! 8mm film festival moved from its usual location at the Tranzac club and used the Gladstone Hotel as a venue for its weekend of screenings.

Also in June, Hive Magazine held another all-night bash and again, with the presence of Instant Coffee's Urban Disco Trailer featuring the Bass Bed, it became another make-out party. I myself have fond memories of slow kisses at 4 in the morning with pretty girls.


Jenifer Papararo, who had been co-director at Mercer Union, left town to take a job as curator at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. Mercer Union replaces her with Dave Dyment, who had worked at Art Metropole.


YYZ Artists' Outlet replaces departing co-director Justin Waddell, who moved to Calgary, with Gregory Elgstrand, who moved from Calgary.


The Toronto International Art Fair faces competition from the Toronto Alternative Art Fair International (TAAFI). Chris Hand of Zeke's Gallery in Montreal suggests a name change, and Andrew Harwood writes a great letter of response, outlining why Toronto needed an alternative art fair. The Queen West Scene's two party hotels, the Drake and the Gladstone, are used as venues, and people get to see what art looks like in a real room, and not a booth.

Also in October, Atom Egoyan opened his Camera bar/cinemateque. No one I know has gone there yet. Maybe it's the uninviting curtain, and the fact that I'd rather hobknob with people who I've never heard of rather than some celebrity who's accomplished far more than I. (It is still so much more easier to relate to people who are on their way up).


Selena Christo puts the 'for rent' sign in Luft gallery, which had moved a couple of blocks up the street so that the space at 13 Ossington could be converted into a bar. Sweaty Beaty's opened in November. Because she and partner Pol Williams want to concentrate on this new business, and because Selena has fulfilled her 'five year plan', it is with little sadness that she is letting it go. However, it is another lost venue for artists in the city. Selena had done a great job promoting artists from within and outside of Toronto, supporting emerging artists , and giving Toronto audiences a chance to see work from Quebec.

Also in 2004, Mind Control continued to host what I hear are the best parties but whenever I drop in it's too early and they aren't crazy yet. But check out the photos on the website to see what you've been missing.

The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) has sort of moved to its new location. There have been some parties (a Halloween bash) and some shows (Royal Bank's Painting Competition) but I don't think they're officially happening yet. However, a check on their website shows they have an opening on January 13, so, yeah, MOCCA are open now.

Spin Gallery opened in their new location (that was this year right?) but they have lots of bad karma.

Clint Roenisch Gallery continued to have lots of great shows, but the thing is there is that you don't have to go into the gallery to see the art - you can size it up from the windows. If your hooked, than you'll find Clint friendly when you go in. He opened late in 2003, and he still has the scratched out name misspelled in the window, a down to earth affectation that I find absolutely charming. The Jack Berman show in May that consisted of photos of dead bodies was awesome.


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