Toronto bar that couldn't make it through pandemic is being reborn as something exciting
Entrepreneur, artist, and advocate Amanda Taylor, known mostly in these parts as Mandy Goodhandy, has touched, entertained and educated thousands.
Often interviewed about transgender equality, Goodhandy has been fighting for the freedoms of marginalized groups for years, including every colour of the LGBTQ rainbow and the rights of sex workers to work legally and safely. Now she is fighting to give artists a voice.
Although the pandemic dealt a huge blow to Goodhandy and her longtime business partner Todd Klinck when trailblazing queer space Club 120 and its downstairs restaurant and music venue 120 Diner were forced to shut down, there is good news to report.
Goodhandy, along with chef Richard Henry, will launch Mandy’s Bistro this fall: a live music, comedy and dining destination at 123 Danforth Avenue, where another cultural casualty of the pandemic, The Old Nick, once stood.
Unlike the 120 complex which suffered from a challenging location, this location is steps from the subway and spitting distance from The Danforth Music Hall where music lovers congregate regularly.
"I wasn't planning on opening up another place at this point," Goodhandy tells me by phone.
"And of course, after losing so much to COVID, I was nervous about taking a big risk at this point in my life, but then I thought, if not now, when? And that is when Richard Henry, who was our chef at 120 Diner found the Old Nick and saw that it was available."
"When I saw the location being well-trafficked on Broadview and Danforth, I thought this could really be something as long as COVID doesn’t make more heavy restrictions on all of us."
The unpretentious Old Nick was a warm, queer-friendly establishment, and there is no doubt that Mandy’s Bistro will continue this tradition. In addition to the restaurant, a downstairs space will be called Goodhandy's Lounge and will provide a safe space for those who need it most.
"This space will be for everyone. We are going to start off with live music and comedy shows on the main floor. Live entertainment will happen right away."
"When it comes to the community groups, we will reach out to promoters – whether it is queer, trans – we are supportive of all facets of the LGBTQ community. We will make sure that these people have voices, a stage, an area, that they can be heard and that they can be safe."
Referring to herself as a late bloomer, at the age of 65, Goodhandy celebrated an autobiographical memoir, cabaret recording and live musical theatre piece entitled Just Call Me Lady.
Her theatrical, often humorous singing style has been honed at various events at 120 Diner including Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out jazz jam, where she returned to the old songs she performed at the dawn of Sheridan College's prestigious Music Theatre program, before transitioning into womanhood.
The experience of being on stage again, while operating a live music venue, has made Goodhandy especially sensitive to the plight of artists in Toronto and beyond:
"Musicians, comedians, live performers have been treated terribly throughout this pandemic – there hasn't been any breaks for anyone in this industry – except for television and movies, which have continued to produce."
"The studios were allowed to do that. Some of the venues who wanted to do live entertainment with no audience, and social distancing in place, were told that they were not allowed to operate as studios. Live-streaming was not allowed, and that was an absolute travesty."
"It was unfair, and there should be some sort of apology at the very least, if not some sort of compensation for venues who are trying to employ people, and not just entertainers, but staff."
"We should be rebuilding this city with live entertainment, which is one of the focuses of this city. Why do people come to the city? They come here for entertainment – not to look at the CN Tower…We were ignored, and abused, in my mind."
Looking ahead, Mandy will be booking jazz, blues, singer-songwriters, open stages, and comedy nights; the chef is designing a casual fine dining menu that will include a Sunday brunch. The team has launched an online fundraiser to offset the costs of a hefty renovation, with a grand opening slated for October.
"At first, I was looking forward to having a space to perform. Then that changed when I saw the posts from all these talented performers going online – we all know it is not the same to perform virtually – people are looking for stages."
"I am so excited that I can provide a stage for these people who have been locked up for so long and not being able to express themselves. This will help to heal us all."
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