For decades (c. 1948), The El Mocambo at 462 Spadina was one of Toronto great music bars, hosting everyone from Elvis Costello to the Rolling Stones to U2 to Queens of the Stone Age.
But in the late 90s and early 2000s, the fate of the ElMo seemed uncertain. There were ownership changes which resulted in a few renovations. But creeping gentrification threatened to kill the ElMo entirely. Indeed, it all seemed to end on November 6, 2014, when the final show came to an end.
Behind the scenes, though, things were happening. Bay Street entrepreneur, Dragon’s Den member, and mega-music fan Michael Wekerle stepped in and bought the club for $3.8 million, vowing to keep the ElMo alive.
The club was closed for renovations. And we waited. And waited. And waited. Years came and went. The decade ended without any announcement of a reopening. What was going on?
A lot, actually. Wekerle bought the building next door. The entire structure was gutted. The old palm tree sign was too worn to be refurbished, so an exact replica was commissioned. Eddie Kramer, Jimi Hendrix’s famous producer, was brought in to oversee the build of state-of-the-art recording facilities. There were fights with the city over permits.
At least $28 million has been sunk into the rebuild. Twenty-eight million!
The Globe and Mail also reports (subscription) that a Toronto startup called Cya.live (pronounced “See ya live”) is involved with tech that will capture everything happened in the club, from the stage to the dressing rooms. Hi-def video will be broadcast in the club as well as around the world on the CYA platform. The goal is to turn the ElMo from a local music club into an international one.
Yes, there are similar such offerings, but CYA says that its tech is superior to all others, including Facebook Live. Latency is down to 250 milliseconds, which is pretty much insignificant.
If all goes according to plan, the ElMo will reopen early this year with a performance by 54-40, the first signing to El Mocambo Records.