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Booze meets pews in the quest for local nightlife venues

St. Stephen-In-The-Fields, an Anglican church located at 103 Bellevue Avenue.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

After several sweaty hours of dancing, nothing goes down better than late-night eats. The two complementary pleasures are rarely available in the same spot, but, like nature, nightlife abhors a vacuum. At Happy Endings, one of the city's many monthly DJ nights, you can walk right off the dance floor and up to the dim sum booth, where $5 gets you a sampler plate that you can scarf down without even having to leave the club. That's because it's not a club – the event takes place at Dim Sum King, a Chinese restaurant on Dundas West.

"Their dim sum is actually very delicious. I'll probably grab one this weekend," says Nancy Chen, one of the people behind Mansion, a local promotion company that puts on Happy Endings and which has a strong track record of hosting events in spaces that don't typically have velvet ropes out front. "We were thinking of somewhere to do an interesting series, because there aren't a lot of medium-sized venues in Toronto, not around the 300-400 [capacity]range." Ms. Chen says they were inspired by a party series thrown by Pink Mafia, another local event promotions company, in a Chinese restaurant. "We decided to expand on that and make it a monthly."

Mansion's next show on April 27 features two rising UK artists, Addison Groove and Doc Daneeka, both of whom make dark and dub-reggae-influenced electronic music. Fans, however, may have rubbed their eyes in disbelief when they saw the venue announced next to the name: St. Stephen-In-The-Fields, an Anglican church next to Kensington Market. Many houses of worship would balk at hosting popular music, particularly the noisy and/or bass-heavy kind. But St. Stephen's has been a pioneer in that regard: The church has also allowed events such as the indie-rock-focused Over The Top festival to book their spaces, bringing Hamilton garage-rock legends Simply Saucer and American electronic duo High Places back in 2008, and Mansion held their New Year's Eve party (complete with bottle service) there in 2009.

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"It's a beautiful space and we think it works really well with the artists that we're bringing," Ms. Chen says. "Their sound is kind of a bit all over the place, but a bit darker … almost, like, spiritual electronic."

For years, event promoters of all disciplines have complained about the lack of mid-sized venues in Toronto. Other than tiny bars, there are few properly-equipped, easily accessible venues in the city that hold less than 500 people, and even fewer that are affordable. But such spaces are vital to a thriving arts scene, which is why groups like Mansion, as well as more mainstream organizations like the Images Festival (a long-running annual festival of independent and experimental film and video) have gone the alternative-venue route.

This year's Images Festival, its 25th edition, includes a pop-up venue in a 2,500-square-foot space at 204 Spadina Ave. During the festival, there are film screenings, concerts, cocktail parties and even an installation projecting into the street. After the festival ends, the space will disappear, though Jonathan Bunce, Images' operations and development manager, says it fills a need in Toronto. "Right now there's a lack of a decent multipurpose, arts-oriented event space of that size. It's a nice long open room, it's acoustically quite nice, it sounds great, it's good for exhibitions, it's a good space for socializing, and it's also dark enough for screenings. So it fills four different functions. I would say there's a permanent need for a space like this."

Mr. Bunce is a veteran at putting on shows in unusual spaces, particularly as a co-founder of the long-running Wavelength concert series (which will present the last event at 204 Spadina Ave., a concert featuring local bands such as Kontravoid and RatTail, on Friday, April 27). For him, doing an event in a place like a Chinese restaurant or a former modelling studio/kung fu school – as 204 Spadina Ave. was before Images moved in – is as much about discovering hidden corners of the city as it is about the event itself.

"It has to do with the city discovering itself, and falling in love with itself. You can see it in the appeal of Doors Open and Nuit Blanche, I think it just taps into that desire for people to access new, previously forbidden spaces."

Like an art exhibition that only runs for a few weeks, he says, a temporary venue also reminds us that our time to experience these things is more limited than we realize. "It kind of creates a sense that you want to savour it while it's still around."

Mansion presents Addison Groove and Doc Daneeka at St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Church on Friday, April 27. The Images Festival closing party at 204 Spadina Ave. takes place Saturday, April 21. Kontravoid, RatTail and more play Wavelength at 204 Spadina Ave. on Friday, April 27.

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About the Author
Editor, Globe Unlimited (Business)

Dave Morris joined the Globe and Mail in 2010 as Associate Editor of Report on Business Magazine. Born in St. John's, he graduated from Princeton University in 2003 and has written for publications including The Walrus and Maisonneuve. He has been nominated twice for Canada's National Magazine Awards. More

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