Exploring Toronto's Seedy Underbelly
Forget “tres cool cafes” - see the depraved and the forgotten
By Paul Carlucci
The October winds canvas Yonge Street like a pack of effervescent politicos on the campaign trail: toothy, insistent, and all together intrusive. The dawn is nigh, and the streets are void of any benign strain of humanity. Just the drug dealers and the homeless, with a few hookers thrown in for good measure.
A dull blue hatchback pulls up to me, gives me a start. A woman — perhaps? — sits in a darkness only tempered by the glow of her speedometer.
“Do you know where Bloor Street is?”
“Are you feeling horny?”
Christ. How did I get here?
“No,” I mutter.
She throws the car into gear and pulls a surprisingly controlled U-turn into the southbound lane. I shiver in her wake. And not because I'm cold.
I'm making my way to my sister's, making my way to her hardwood floor and the cups of coffee I know will help me convalesce come late afternoon.
The woman — if indeed — seems a fitting end to this Toronto soiree, the bulk of which was spent reeling around the labyrinthine corridors and the vast main hall of the Church at Berkley. The inexcusably twisted editors of Rue Morgue magazine outdid themselves with a Halloween party the likes of which could only be thrown in some dark and extremely decadent circle of Hell.
Horror Film Fan Club
Some of the Rue Crew's favorite flicks were projected on the walls of the Church at Berkley during The Circus of the Grotesque, an annual romp through the annals of mummery and madness. While DJs Bolt and Dragomir spun out a cross section of pyschobilly and R&B, ordinary people, transmogrified by the season, lilted about on stilts, guzzled alcohol, picked at a tasty buffet spread out over a fake corpse, and waited eagerly for the witching hour, when the winners of the costume contest would be announced.
Posse of Amazon Zombie Babes
Meanwhile, The Human Shriek Show provided entertainment in extremis . Looking like a classic circus geek—complete with old welder's goggles, a greasy chest, and blackened overalls — the Shriek Show ringleader skillfully juggled lit blow torches while standing in a puddle of freshly spilt gasoline, all the while yelping like a puppy in a bear trap.
His performance reached its taut climax when he used a chainsaw to carve an apple held in the mouth of his clad-in-lingerie assistant. Miraculously, he did not mulch her face to pulp.
These disjointed memories whirl through my mind's eye with carnival abandon as I lie exhausted on my sister's living room floor. Toronto, sometimes you amaze me.
I've lived in this city for about three years now, and, like most of you reading this, I at first found the place boring and ineffectual, just a city with a superiority complex. Most of our politicians and some of our micro-communities act like the city is an unsung hub of international prestige, a Canadian Mecca for backpackers, artisans, entrepreneurs, and anybody with anything worth offering to the global discourse.
More to see than CN Tower
Another so-called pride of the city is the awkwardly titled Distillery Historic District, a blasé expanse of cobblestone streets peppered by outrageously expensive beer huts, jewelry shops, and what Where Toronto magazine refers to as “tres cool cafes.”
Lame, n'est pas?
Further compounding this repellant vignette of my far-from-fair city is the famous Eaton Centre, which is really just a multi-level mall that's easily as offensive as any other melee of mindless consumerism. A Toronto worth marketing? Hardly.
Do yourself a favor: shuck this glossy, brochure vision of soul-sucking Ma and Pa merriment, and instead embrace the pimply underbelly, a seedy and deplorable thing worth groping if only to wash its scales from under your nails when you return home, safe but violated.
Jill Allen is a quirky mainstay in the city's grungy back alleys. From her unravels a colorful quilt, each filament leading to a weird and unusual end. She's head and founder of Feisty Productions, a productions and promotions company she uses to pollute civil Toronto with all manner of nastiness. Her next bash is planned for March 19; Carnivale Sange-Froid will be a whirlwind freak show featuring flesh hook suspension by local outfit I Was Cured.
The personality tweaking is easy for someone like Allen, and her current status as the competition's last remaining king proves it. Watching her MC at her parties just reinforces it.
Consider the Raunch Launch at the Zen Lounge, a putrescent Queen Street dump if ever there was one. What is basically a dark loft with a bar, pool table, DJ booth, coat check, and some feculent bathrooms was Allen's arena of choice when she was SMUT magazine's marketing and promotions manager.
There, just a few weeks prior to the Rue Morgue bash, was the launch party for SMUT's first issue. SMUT magazine is Canadian porn's answer to The New Yorker. It's tastefully subversive in its photography and surprisingly intelligent in its typo-laden editorial. Give it a chance to rally a production budget, and it should live up to its loud and proud declaration as the Taiko drum for Toronto 's fetish fusillade.
I showed up in jeans and a plaid shirt, my equally drab friend slogging his loathsome burden behind me. We were rejects among rejects, to borrow a phrase from my slack-jawed associate.
All around us: kilts, corsets, and cleavage. Everywhere we looked: straps, studs, and stilettos. One pasty anomaly wore naught but carefully bound leather lashes, a matte black cock sheath, and what could have only been orthodontic head gear.
“I made this myself,” he confided.
“How the hell did you get here?” It was, after all, cold out.
He feigned offense and slinked away.
The place was turbid with the rank fragrance of massage oil and sweat, beer and cigarettes. I drank five beers, had to hit the commode, and cut a swath through the bobbing crowd. On Stage was Kelly Clipperton and the Kelly Girls, a band of what looked like men.
Like it mattered. In the bathroom, two people I'm sure were women were undressing in front of the sinks, coked out of their minds, sniffing like they were trapped in a curry monsoon. Surprisingly, for people high on coke, they weren't very friendly.
No matter. My friend and I were ready to bail. SMUT parties, Allen assured the crowd, would become a staple in Toronto 's nightlife, both as a way to fund the magazine and as an outlet for untold perversions.
A cute shooter girl in a blue wig convinced us to join her at a thing called Dark Rave, a monthly all-night party hosted by DJ Lazarus and held up the street at the Big Bop on Queen and Bathurst. We paid a modest cover charge and got swallowed up in the four floor cornucopia of transvestites, drug addicts, alcoholics, rave beats, and live music.
The Big Bop
The Big Bop is one of those complexes with a dozen different rooms, each with its own name. There's the aforementioned Reverb, which plays host to such functions as the Fetish Masquerade, a monthly sex-bash for men who want to dress like women, women who want to dress like men, girls who dig baby doll fashion, and people of both sexes who want to hang out in their bathing suits all night. There's the Kathedral, which is one of the best punk rock gigs around and was once the proud host of a show headlined by Tub Ring, Chicago 's venerable tweak-rock gurus.
Bars and clubs of this nature are everywhere. There's the Velvet Underground, the Bovine Sex Club, the upstairs of Club Rockit, the Q-Bar; the list goes on, each entry a testimony to all things kinky, subversive, and most definitely Torontonian.
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