Iconic Toronto bar Barn & Stables returns for one night only
Today, the three-storey building that once housed the legendary Barn & Stables gay nightclub sits abandoned and degrading at the centre of Church Street's ongoing condo boom.
But in the early 1980s, the 418 Church St. building—in dire need of repairs even then—was more than just a nightclub: it was a place where gay men could dance and celebrate their identity at a time when they weren't welcome to do so anywhere else.
"It wasn't safe on the streets," says Dean Odorico, the longtime general manager at Woody's, another gay mainstay on Church. "The police were not our friends at that time, so you needed a sort of safe haven to be with people like you."
It's been almost 30 years since Odorico worked as a bartender at The Barn (he left in 1989 to help open Woody's), but he, along with many others in the gay community, still have fond memories of the iconic nightclub that shuttered its doors officially in 2012.
"It's a large part of Toronto's gay history."
The gay dance scene in Toronto was at its prime when The Barn & Stables' owner Janko Naglic first set up shop at 418 Church St. in 1975.
Starting with a flashy disco joint called Jo-Jos, Naglic built a reputation as the place to be after hours, while a piano bar called Les Cavaliers, a classier affair, operated downstairs.
By the 80s, the glimmering lights of Jo-Jos had been transformed into the bustling two-tiered Barn & Stables, a pit stop for local and well-known DJs who entertained the crowd from the booth, smack dab in the centre of the club.
"The DJ was always the king there," says Odorico.
But by 2004, the party came to a devastating halt when Naglic was found murdered in his home—a case which remains open to this day. Considered a nightlife trailblazer in the gay scene, his death effectively put an end to the Barn & Stables golden era.
"It was a horrific death, especially for someone who had been an important part of the community for a long time," says Odorico.
The nightclub re-opened in 2007 with a black-and-white portrait of Naglic hanging over the fireplace of the building's first floor, but it wasn't long before it closed again in 2012.
It explains why the excitement is palpable, then, for the reunion party being held in honour of the "grandaddy" of the gay bar scene at the end of the month.
Run by two of the Barn's former resident DJ's, Cory Activate and well-known synthpop producer Barry Harris, the Barn & Stable party will take over the venue Club 120 on September 29 with go-go dancers and tunes from the 80s and 90s.
Advance tickets are sold out already and Odorico, who is hosting the event, says that the young kids and old heads alike are looking forward to the reunion.
"We've lost a lot of people over the years...but they're looking forward to seeing old friends."
Old patrons of The Barn, many of whom haven't seen each other in decades, will soon come together under the same roof once again to celebrate the memory of the iconic club that shaped Toronto's current—some would say, less vibrant— dance scene.
As for the new generation who likely won't remember College Night Wednesdays, Circuit Bump Thursdays, or Sunday's Underwear Party, they too can revel in some local history by staying up all night and dancing to disco—lots of disco.
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