TORONTO – Nearly seven years after the daring businessman Michael Wekerle began chasing El Mocambo’s famous palm neon sign, he’s finally opened the concert venue that came with it.
The former “Dragons’ Den” crew member cut the ceremonial ribbon in a decidedly homemade way on Saturday night, inviting Canadian alt-rockers Our Lady Peace to play a grand reopening party for a crowd of 350 concert-goers.
“Most people get a puppy or a car, this guy buys one of the most famous venues in the world,” joked the band’s frontman Raine Maida briefly into OLP’s nearly two-hour long set.
“Mike has saved El Mocambo literally by himself. He’s a Toronto hero.”
It’s been a long road for Wekerle’s plan to revive the Toronto hotspot near the corner of Spadina Avenue and College Street. The venue has hosted global superstars, the Rolling Stones, Police and Blondie among them, as well as some of Canada’s greatest musical talents, including Tragically Hip and Guess Who.
But Wekerle unexpectedly managed large costs and several delays as he effectively cleaned the building and rebuilt the inside. And then there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the damper on an April Fools’ opening party scheduled for last year.
He tells everyone that the joke was on him.
“I’m ecstatic that we’re here,” Wekerle said shortly before the venue’s doors opened.
“But when I first came to buy the sign, there were many days when I wished I only bought the sign.”
For Wekerle, it all comes back to the seductive palm tree glow that has become a Toronto landmark for music fans.
In 2014, when it looked like El Mocambo was about to close forever, Wekerle knew he wanted to save the sign. As the story goes, he contacted the owners of the building, who told him he could get it for free if he bought the entire property.
At the time, Wekerle said he paid $ 3.8 million for the space, but the neglected 73-year-old building needed extensive renovations to get it back in shape.
When completed, rescuing El Mocambo cost something closer to $ 35 million. Representatives of the venue say many of these expenses were to clean the entire building and restart from scratch so it could survive well into the future.
Wekerle said he still got the neon sign for free.
The new “El Mo” will be unrecognizable to concert-goers who had a penchant for its dingy floors and tattered decor. All of this has been removed and replaced with a neon bulb shade that evokes the Las Vegas Strip more than it does a diving club in Toronto.
On the second floor, the original sign now adorns the outside of the wall, split in two and frames both sides of the main stage. The outside venue is a replica that Wekerle calls the “2.0 sign”, ready to survive many Canadian winters.
The new El Mocambo is a multimedia monster loaded with advanced equipment capable of recording and livestreaming concerts as well as recording videos. There is also a production studio on the top floor where artists can put down an album.
Our Lady Peace plans to test this technology and promises each ticket holder a vinyl copy of the El Mocambo show, where they played their hits “4 am”, “One Man Army” and “Innocent” along with clips from their upcoming album “Spiritual Machines II “. . “
“What Mike Wekerle has done with this place is to see into the future what clubs should be,” Maida said.
“I think it’s brilliant.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 30, 2021.