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Photo: Eugen Sakhnenko

Posted by Staff / September 15, 2009

Jezebel Burlesque club is a great idea in theory. Until I went, I had no reservations about Ossington's burgeoning transformation into a destination strip, and a titillating concept bar like Jezebel seemed to fill a unique niche.

Surprisingly, visions of Toronto's club district filled my head when I walked in the door. Past the beefy trio of bouncers standing in the alley behind Ossington, replete with headsets and clipboards, and the girl at the door collecting the $10 cover, we stepped into a scene straight from any one of Adelaide or Richmond's upscale locales. A group of young ladies in telltale bachelorette party garb were going crazy for the DJ's remixes of popular songs in the Usher/Shakira/Black-Eyed Peas spectrum. Near the bar, a handful of young men in tank tops and fedoras were eying them wolfishly. My companion - as stout an indie fan/dive bar patron as you'll ever find - wondered aloud if what we had loved about Ossington was gone forever.

I took the old person's high road - not begrudging the young their youth: "Look at them," I said. "They're beautiful, they look amazing in those outfits, and they love Usher - so what?"

But in my heart of hearts, I was thinking about gentrification and wondering if all urban development, ultimately, culminates in Top 40s dance clubs. On the Ossington strip, do all roads lead to John and Adelaide? Is its transformation to destination strip just an inevitable trajectory to homogeny?

Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than at Jezebel - a dressed-up, sparkling jewel of a bar lined with plush benches, mirrored surfaces, and twinkling chandeliers. Up until very recently, this space was home to Baby Dolls - a seedy, lost-in-time strip bar, where wooden tavern chairs congregated around a rickety pole, and the beers were advertised in neon.

Like Jezebel, Baby Dolls was also in the business of dancing ladies and flesh, but with no pretension to art, or homage to the bells-and-whistles routines of strippers past - the original burlesque dancers. If Baby Dolls was the licensed adult entertainment bar that fit the Ossington of old, then Jezebel is the licensed adult entertainment bar that fits it now.

Warned repeatedly that it is impossible to get into Jezebel, I aimed for a timely 10:30 arrival, since my request to get on the guestlist went unanswered. We went in right away, only to learn that the first of two burlesque numbers doesn't usually go on until 1am. I bought two drinks for a cool $24 and couldn't help but do some quick profit/loss analysis around the cover charge, drinks prices, and how long it would be until I saw a lady in sequins.

There was plenty of seating available around the stage, where the plush benches curve around small tables, perfect for 5 or 6 people, but we were told that on busy nights, these niches get reserved quickly by high-rollers looking to splurge on bottle service (in the $400 range for a two bottle minimum).

Burlesque numbers are put on every night by the bar's in-house troupe, but have yet to be seen by anyone I know who's been to the club. After a couple of hours of wallet-lightening, and not a feather in sight, I couldn't help but reflect that you got more bang for your buck at Baby Dolls. There may have been no art to it, but at least there was almost always someone on stage. By the time we had to leave, the increasingly gregarious bachelorettes were still the only girls we'd seen dancing.

In the works for Jezebel are international performers from places like Crazy Horse and Moulin Rouge, part of co-owners Giancarlo Spataro and Michael King's plans to bring some of that old world, Las Vegas glamour to our cold, puritan city. I love the concept behind Jezebel - a lavish, retro, dress-up party, paying homage to the time of lavalieres and bathtub gin. But with short, infrequent performances, and a growing reputation for over-promising and under-delivering, it has yet to distinguish itself from the many velvet-rope clubs downtown.

Writing by Jessica McGann

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
Signature Drink:
Bar Snacks:
Does bottle service count?
Top 40s, dance, pop
Live Music:
Who Goes There:
Clubbers, young professionals, curious crowds from Ossington
Wednesday to Sunday, 10pm-2am



Spyder / September 15, 2009 at 3:05 PM


sjfbarnett / September 15, 2009 at 3:07 PM

I'd have to agree. Ossington is teetering on the edge of Fonzi's shark tank, and although I wanted to love Jezebel, I had a very similar experience.

What makes Ossington so great and much-loved is the relaxed attitude of its business owners and patrons. We are what we are because we are more than a stone's throw away from the glitz of the Richmond entertainment district, which suits its own demographic just fine.

I run a life-drawing session smack in the middle of the Ossington strip, in a small and welcoming theatre space. Many of our models have a burlesque background, but they come from a more grass-roots scene, one in which they are approachable, friendly, accessible.

Ours is a street where you can see a pretty lady on time, and early enough to grab a bite or a drink afterwards — all for under $30 — in any of the charming, tiny, unpretentious locales that have made Ossington a chill, inviting, anti-glamour scene.

Justin / September 15, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Michael King "the Wizard of Ossington" should read "Ruiner of Ossington". While Ossington was becoming busier and busier it is Jezebel that brought the trashy "we think we're important" crowd up from King st and the Entertainment District. But hey as long as they make their quick cash (which clearly they are) what do they care if they ruin a formerly wonderful section of the city?

Sarah / September 15, 2009 at 3:58 PM

I have to disagree, on all fronts.

First and foremost, what is gentrification if it isn't development? I remember a few years back when the Drake Hotel was purchased and Queen West West was up in arms that thier beloved neighbourhood was about to be turned into an extention of club district. Look at Queen West of Ossington now. Small galleries and bars dot the street, and on any given night you can see an eclectic mix of young and old, kids and professionals alike, in suits, skinny jeans, baggy jeans, and fedoras. No one seems to knock the Drake- despite the fact that two drinks there will run you a cool $24, no questions asked.

I've actually been to Jezebel on several occasions, and each time have had a great night. Once was with a group of 8 girls for a bachelorette. Not one of the ladies in our group would say we felt "wolfishly eyed" at any point duirng the night, and the dj played a mix of popular club tunes, mashup, as well as some 80's rock for good measure.

Jezebel may be a departure from the Baby Dolls of yore, but I would arugue it is part of a wave of development that is only bettering the area in the long-term. Having doormen and charging cover does not denote "doucheville" as the individual above commented. If anything it seemed like the doormen were weeding out those in tank tops and sneakers. As a woman, I found the crowd mature and fashionable, and the vibe fun and celebratory.

If you're looking for a run down pool hall, sorry- Jezebel isn't for you, but if you want to see a show and have a couple drinks with friends somewhere out of the ordinary -I'd say give it a go. I have yet to be dissappointed.

naomiwoof / September 15, 2009 at 4:18 PM

Doucheville speaks to the cro-mags this peeler joint attracts.

A strip bar that's open Wed-Sun, 10pm-2am does nothing for the neighborhood.

sarah / September 15, 2009 at 4:58 PM

Well to each thier own I guess.
I'm sure that often classically trained burlesque performers would balk at being called peelers.

jo / September 15, 2009 at 5:17 PM

i give 'em a year, tops.

Jonathan / September 15, 2009 at 6:50 PM

Ossington jumped the shark three years ago when The Sparrow closed.

Angus / September 15, 2009 at 6:59 PM

They don't start until 1 am??
Burlesque should be non-stop fun and action all evening long!

Chenyip / September 15, 2009 at 7:15 PM

The ferociously rapid transformation of Ossington from sketchy Vietnamese karaoke bars to artsy/indie dives to full on douche bars pretty much sums up what Toronto is about.

Paul / September 15, 2009 at 9:11 PM

Does anyone, other than the performers, actually enjoy burlesque?

kate / September 15, 2009 at 10:43 PM

Burlesque is the biggest con going

David / September 16, 2009 at 9:00 AM

If you can get past the idea of putting your hard-earned money into the pockets of one of Toronto's biggest scumbags (I'm looking at you, Michael King), I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time reinforcing all the stereotypes of 'clubbing" in Toronto. I guess relative to Baby Dolls, it's a step up. I hope someone kept the receipt for the cliche chandeliers.

Martin / September 16, 2009 at 11:53 AM

Thousands in renovations, hiring staff, stocking a bar, creating an image and various other expensive attempts to transform a seedy peeler dive, all summed up on one line...

" got more bang for your buck at Baby Dolls."

A previous poster gives them a year. I'm betting eight months at the most.

andrew / September 16, 2009 at 12:35 PM

The real Ossington strip is still alive and well at The Crooked Star. They were the real pioneers when the only reason to go to the street was for good Pho.

Reality Check / September 16, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Horrible place, full of 905ers. Bouncers extorting bribes at 1AM to get into a half full club. Only people ever known to be on stage have been drunk patrons. Place has tended to be mostly guys, and despite King's involvement it's not that kind of place.

I'd love a club that was what Jez claims to be. We need our own Box, but for now we still have to fly to Manhattan.

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