Segarini – Renovation or Desecration: Why This Music Venue Needs a New Name

Sometime in 1976 ….

So I’m sitting in Montreal with an itch to play music and no band, licking my wounds from the Dudes debacle, and wondering what to do next, when I have an epiphany. Why not, I ask myself, put together some crackerjack musicians, write some songs that are more intimate and subtle, and experiment with some musical elements I had not yet tackled. I had always included my R&B and country roots in my music, but I had never pushed the envelope in the areas of ballads and jazz. Something more personal. Something I would be totally responsible for. Something I would put my name on…Bob Segarini and the Silver Bulletini Band. No. That sounds too familiar. Let’s just go with the last name. It was good enough for my dad and the supermarkets…and it’s good enough for me.

Brothers of The Nose

I talked David Henman into one more kick at the can, and through him, found Mike Root, an overly talented drummer with jazz leanings who was more than capable of adding a different flavour to the proceedings, but was in constant motion, like a kitten with a ball of yarn. Sometimes, even when he was just sitting there, he seemed to blur, vibrating on his drum throne like a hummingbird. Another musician from the West Island came onboard as our bass player. Still a good friend and a really fine player, he has the single most Canadian name I have ever heard.

Just say it a few times out loud…Gordy Byrd. “In goal for the Canadiens, number 17…Gordy Byrd”.

Oh yeah…Makes me want to drink a case of stubbies and head down to the St. Lawrence Pool Hall for a couple of steamies.

To add to the jazz element that Root brought to the band, we found a keyboard player whose virtuosity made the rest of us feel humbled to even be in the same room with him. Fred Henke. Good God, what a player!

I would show him the chord changes to a new song and he would instantly learn them, and add the greatest passing chords and nuances, elevating the tune from okay, to oh wow. Every single time. The guy was, (and probably still is), uncanny.

We were complete now. Or so I thought at the time. Foolish me…but we had the name right.

The Segarini Band

So, before we debut this incredible, game-changing musical adventure that is destined to change the course of popular music, we need to play in front of an audience and familiarize ourselves with the material and unleash our confidence, stage presence, and magic somewhere out of town, away from the well-honed musical tastes of Montreal.

The Wackers, All the Young Dudes, and now, The Segarini Band. Third time’s a charm.

If only I can find a venue far enough away. A week long booking to turn us into a formidable, undeniable powerhouse, the way the non-stop sets at the Moustache and The Edgewater had sharpened The Wackers and All the Young Dudes.

The way Hamburg had polished The Beatles.

I make inquiries …I put out feelers …I get a response.

The folks that run a venue in Toronto, (the Joker to Montreal’s Batman …Canada’s equivalent to the long running San Francisco/L.A. stand-off, arch rivals in all things back in the ’70s), having heard of me because of my previous bands opening for tours headlined by Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Bee Gees, Alice Cooper, and others, make us an offer. A week-long engagement at a dingy, collegiate, tavern located in Toronto’s China Town, called The El Mocambo.

Where had I heard that name before?


A Little History of 462-464 Spadina Avenue

Apocryphally, the original building at 462 Spadina had been a music venue since 1850 and was first used as a haven for escaped slaves. The current building was built in 1910 and housed a dry goods store, a barbershop, and restaurants in its first three decades.

With the passage of the Liquor Licence Act of 1946, which allowed the sale of liquor in taverns and restaurants in the province for the first time since World War I, restaurateurs Joseph Brown and John Lang decided to apply for one of Toronto’s first liquor licenses and convert their property at 464 Spadina into one of the city’s first cocktail bars.

The Birth of The El Mocamo at 464 Spadina Avenue

The establishment’s name and iconic neon palm sign were inspired by a San Francisco nightclub. In the club’s original incarnation, which officially opened on March 23, 1948, the main floor was converted into a dining hall with a dance floor on the second floor that featured Latin music. Live music was not permitted until July 1948, when the Ontario Liquor Board reversed an earlier ban.

In later configurations of the establishment, musical acts appeared on separate stages located on the main and second floor of the building. By the 1960s, Adam Schuy owned the venue which, by then, featured music appealing to Toronto’s Hungarian, Irish, and Portuguese communities. A German dance club, Deutsches Tanz Lokal, frequently rented the second floor during this period. By the time Schuy died in 1971, strippers were being featured on the main floor.

The Legendary Elmo Years

The business and building were bought in 1972 by Michael Baird and restaurateur Tom Kristenbrun, who also owned the Jarvis House. Under the pair’s ownership, the “El Mo” became a youth-oriented blues and rock venue. It brought bands like Downchild, (which became the club’s house band), as well as blues artists Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters,  and many others, “up the street” and paid them a regular fee to perform.

Most of the time, drink sales determined which bands would return. The bands would start out downstairs and if the revenue they generated increased, they would sometimes graduate to upstairs. Very early in their careers, Tom Waits, U2,  Elvis Costello and others played upstairs based on their under-the-radar reputations known to the tuned-in owners and Toronto’s influential hard core music loving underground. – Wikipedia

The students loved the prices and music in the downstairs tavern and brought their business daily

The Decline and Demise of the Club and the Reputation It Earned During This Era and the Desire to Return the Venue to Its Former Glory.

Baird and Kristenbrun sold the club in 1986, initiating a long period of frequent ownership changes and decline, including it being padlocked twice in 1989 and brief closures in 1991 and 2001. Herbert Becker and John Paolucci owned and ran the club from 1986 until it closed in 1989. The two had purchased the business, the name and logo from Michael Baird and Tom Kristenbrun.

The club was a mainstay of the 1990s underground  scene. Dan Burke became the club’s booker in 1998 and made it into a venue for garage rock bands and touring acts like White Stripes and Zoobombs. A monthly queer rock ’n’ roll party called Vazaleen, organized by Will Monroe, became a regular feature and helped launch Peaches on what became an international career.

When it was thought the Elmo would be no more at this point, Jaimie Vernon stepped up and made this happen. The show was also recorded and still available on Amazon.

The Last Hurrah

In 2001, the El Mocambo was bought by Abbas Jahangiri, who renovated both floors and tried to turn the upstairs into a dance studio.

Yvonne Mastell

Toronto’s Yvonne Matsell took over as the venue’s booker. Yvonne is highly regarded for her exceptional ear for new talent. The longtime club booker was recently honoured in 2019 by the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) with their Unsung Hero Award for her lengthy record of helping to shepherd countless artists from their earliest gigs to international recognition.

She began with a job booking blues artists at the late, lamented Albert’s Hall, before capitalizing on an opportunity to create a new scene at a club called Ultrasound in the early 1990s. The timing couldn’t have been better, as Matsell quickly turned Ultrasound into a premiere showcase venue for a new generation of artists including Barenaked Ladies, Lowest Of The Low, Skydiggers, The Tea Party, Headstones, Rheostatics, and many others.

Jahangiri became a missionary and used the club to host numerous charity events, with fundraisers for many worthy charities. In 2012, he sold the El Mocambo in order to focus on his missionary work. The new owners had difficulty in booking the venue and put it up for sale in the fall of 2014.

The club was expected to close after a last show on November 6, 2014. However, on the eve of its impending closure, it was announced by then owner, Sam Grosso, that the club had been purchased for $3.8 million by Michael Wekerle, who announced he would renovate the venue and maintain it as a live music venue.

Just days before Wekerle purchased the Elmo from Sam, Sam himself showed me around the club and described what he was going to do.

This was before anyone had even mentioned the whiz-kid millionaire was  interested in the place. I had never heard his name at all until it was announced that he had bought it.

Shark Tank? I had never heard of it …but the name sounded like it might be a place where sharks play cards or watch the big game.

I’m still not quite sure what it is.


Sam Grosso

Just prior to Wekerle’s involvement being made public, I found myself in the club at the beginning of Grosso’s planned renovations and given a quick tour. I’m not exactly sure how it came to be that Sam asked me if I wanted to hear what he was going to do with the club, but here I was, listening to Sam while he led me around the site.

Refinish and restore the iconic downstairs bar, New rug in the downstairs taven, tables and chairs and an inexpensive menu for the 30-40,000 students within walking distance of the club. Reinstate the residency policy downstairs to new local bands could build an audience and make a few bucks. Refinish and restore the upstairs furniture and move the stage back against the North wall where it belonged. Bring in a brand new sound system, paint, primp, and restore the classic El Mocambo to a like-new lustre, and keep bringing in great acts, both touring and local, that Sam  booked regularly into his Cadillac Lounge.

Sadly, the expenses that started to come in forced Sam to sell the Elmo, with a final show there on November 6th, 2014 featurin John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Wally Palmar from The Romantics, and legendary hired-gun musician and vocalist, Alex Ligertwood. Vinny Pastore of the Sopranos and CP24’s Steve Anthony would host the evening. Alas, it was not to be.

His plans sounded both reasonable and exciting to me. I loved the El Mocambo, and for good reason.

And then he sold the club to Mr. Wekerle.


I had been blessed with being able to headline the main showroom many times, had been to too many shows by others to count, and was able to bring in whoever I wanted to open our shows, with the full trust and approval of the owners, managers, and staff. The Mikes, Baird and Elder, the Bluesteins (Especially ‘Blue’) and others.


All of them veteran music loving and bar owning locals who knew music, the city, and served the community with great taste and much thought.

Some or all of them were always there, indistinguishable from the patrons. It was a family.

…and everyone, from the audience, to the staff, and the artists, were all treated fairly.

How we even got to play the Big Room in the first place was a decision they made on merit, and nothing else.

Flashback 6 months before our first show there ….

After the move to Toronto, I went to the venue quite often because the entertainment upstairs was always first rate. I was also heavily invested in spreading the word about the brand new punk scene and would talk about it passionately with whomever wanted to discuss it. One night, the discourse turned to argument and I was escorted out of the club by a bouncer named Reggie. He literally tossed me down the stairs and out the door. Several months go by and Gotta Have Pop (and my band) became very popular in Toronto. I was offered the upstairs venue and was thrilled beyond belief. After all, the closest I had come to playing there was when April Wine played two songs I had written when they opened for The Rolling Stones at The ElMo back in March of that year.

My only concern was with the bouncer who had thrown me out months earlier. Was he going to be a problem? Would he even let me in the club? I hadn’t been back since. Was this going to be a train wreck?


I get to the club and there, standing on the sidewalk, is Reggie the bouncer. He glares at me. Here we go, I think, wondering how fast I’ll have to be to outrun him.

Reg walks up to me, picks me up off my feet and carries me up two flights of stairs to the showroom. He walks me over to the stage and puts me down right in front of it. “Uh, Thanks”, I manage. “No problem”, says Reggie, “Really like the album. Have a great show”, and turns to walk away. “So why the hell did you carry me up here”, I ask. He looked back over his shoulder at me as he walked away, “I threw you down the stairs the last time you were here. The least I could do was carry you back up”, and disappeared around the corner. We became good friends. Reg Bovaird and the others on his team were part of the fabric of the place. RIP, Reggie.


Blushing Brides

8 years and a rumoured 31 million dollars later, the “El Mocambo” has this weekend celebrated the Rolling Stones appearance 45 years ago with an awesome tribute band who have been playing these songs almost as long as the Stones, and a few surprises. It is as open as much as a Pandemic will allow it to be. On its way to opening its doors again for good.

But for me, it is no longer the El Mocambo.

How can it be?

There is literally nothing left of the original club.

Nothing recognizable, at any rate.

Now, don’t get me wrong …what IS at 464 Spadina.may no longer be The Good ol’ Elmo, but it is a tremendous, jaw-dropping thing of beauty, potential, and state-of-the-art everything.

It is a temple to a musical past, classic rock, and the power that at one time made rock and roll the most exciting and popular music of all time, a futuristic altar to a different time, from a different world.

But there is no visible representation of the humble, funky, worn and welcoming venue it celebrates.

It doesn’t look, feel, or represent its predecessor in any way.

It is a garish neon palace, looking more like the flagship of a franchise like the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, made over by Bob Mackie and Las Vegas art directors, covered in shiny baubles, larger than life photos of classic rock icons that border on religious portraits, and covered not with the graffiti that used to cover the upstairs walls written in the artists own hand, but professionally rendered names of a list of some of the people who played the Elmo on what is surely meant to be a Stairway to Heaven. The downstairs is no longer a place where students on a budget could get reasonably priced food and drink, hear some tunes, and keep the place busy when the showroom is dark.

Here’s hoping they are booked by someone plugged into the worldwide Indie scene and familiar with what is hot at a street level in Ontario and the rest of Canada. Otherwise …its just one more club bringing in obscure acts that can fill the space and not break the bank …but we already have a couple of those.

Here’s the thing …

This new venue (I propose the name be changed to Wekerle’s, a perfect fit if you ask me) is truly a beautiful and amazingly cool place….and wanting to make a musical contribution to Toronto befitting the memory of the Elmo is definitely a worthy goal, but move forward with a new name, a new, knowledgeable family, and make new memories, and new experiences and music.

 That said, I hope they realize what they REALLY have here. I brought this up to them 5 or 6 years ago at a birthday party, but no one was listening.

I’ll just say that investing a few more dollars (after 31+, what’s another Million?) and this new venue is in a position to change forever how artists tour, how to reach worldwide audiences without the current expense, and revolutionize the way musicians make a living.

If my suggestions had been built in at the time, thanks to the pandemic, they would have had the cost of the new club paid off in months, weeks, or even days.


Sadly, for me, anyway, the El Mocambo is gone, relegated to dozens of dumpsters and spread out over a mountain of garbage, irretrievable for all time.

But cheer up.

We will always have the memories, the stories, and even some of the music that was made there.

And like the wonderful homage to other fallen places in Toronto, Le Coq d’Or, The Riverboat and Yorkville itself, a nice plaque and ceremony at 464 Spadina would be most fitting.

Here’s wishing all those involved the best of luck in this new endeavour. …and I honestly do think Wekerle’s has a nice ring to it.

And the Elmo? Like so many things, if you weren’t there …you missed it.


Segarini’s irregular columns are available whenever Mick can’t get what he wants …which is hardly ever


Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

One Response to “Segarini – Renovation or Desecration: Why This Music Venue Needs a New Name”

  1. alecfraserbass Says:

    Thanks for the walk down memorial lane Bob. I married the bartender 31 years ago.

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