What's happening with the El Mocambo renovations?
The El Mocambo is the institution of Toronto music institutions: our own little CBGBs-like hole on Spadina which in the 1970s and 1980s hosted The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, U2, and Blondie. In May of this year, word spread that the famous venue "under the palms" would be closing its doors for summer renovations, as the work required was apparently impossible to complete while open to the public. So, hey, who went to a show at the El Mo this summer? Apparently a fair number of music fans.
Speaking over the phone with co-owner Sam Grosso, also of the Cadillac Lounge, not much has changed at the El Mo, contrary to the somewhat headline grabbing news this spring. Grosso did leave the club to Marco Petrucci, the owner of 99 Sudbury, for the summer, but was never bought out and has been back at the venue as co-owner since September. He now books bands regularly, and tells me he's always on the look out for new local talent who want to play at the El Mo. "We'll book any kind of event!" he stresses, "we need the money."
The Toronto landmark has changed hands well over half a dozen times now by our estimates, and while it looks like Petrucci and Grosso are holding on and keeping their hopes up, the current state of affairs is a stark contrast to the enthusiasm displayed in summer 2012 when they took the club under their wing. Ambitious plans included a rooftop patio and a totally restored (to its 1977 appearance) upstairs stage area; you can sense the excitement in this mini documentary from late last year, highlighting the struggle to get the place back on its leather clad feet:
Grosso tells me renovations have hit a wall, namely City Hall: the club is awaiting the approval of a number of plans, which they hope to get later this fall. Until then, it's been business as usual under the newly restored ($20,000) neon sign, and shows coming up this month include Robert Gordon & Teenage Head on Oct 18th, and The Who tribute band The Wholigans on Oct 26th. One positive thing is Grosso sounds open to reaching out across Toronto's music and art scenes — he did say he'll book "anything." For now, though, it looks like the El Mo is sticking to booking acts which fall under the rock umbrella, and trying to hang in there until it gets the go-ahead on some of its revitalization plans.
Photo by Dominic Bugatto