Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Torontonians know the El Mocambo as a venue for wicked fun and historic music performances. Soon, it will also be the site of a multi-tiered restaurant headed by one of Canada’s most acclaimed chefs.
Michael Pataran, who has cooked at the esteemed James Beard House in New York and for a resort in the Bahamas co-owned by Tiger Woods, is part of a group that has purchased the venerable El Mocambo and is turning it into what he says Toronto needs: A place where rockers and chefs combine their talents to create sweet music.
“Toronto doesn’t have anything like this. It’s always had good music venues, but the quality of the food just wasn’t there,” Pataran said on Tuesday night as he set up a pop-up taco stand at the back of the main floor of the El Mo. “New York, London, Los Angeles all have done it. So, we thought it would be a really cool idea to bring that to Toronto, and to do it at the El Mo is just fantastic.”
After Canadian Music Week, which wraps up on Sunday, Pataran said the El Mo would go through a renovation until it re-opens in the fall with three levels of dining. The idea is for a gastropub to take up the first floor and a fine-dining establishment to occupy the second. The establishment obtained a licence last year for a rooftop patio, which could open in 2014.
“I’ve been coming to the El Mo since I was 18, when I snuck in the door like everybody else,” Pataran said. “We’re excited about doing it here.”
Pataran is well known for turning out stellar Asian cuisine at Monsoon in downtown Toronto and Wildfire at Taboo Resort in Muskoka. In the Bahamas, he was the executive chef at Albany, a luxury resort that Woods and fellow pro golfer Ernie Els co-own. (It is the same resort where David Chow, now running the Chocolate Lab at the Trump Toronto, worked as the pastry chef.) Pataran said the El Mo’s location in Chinatown will influence the food.
It’s the venue’s Latin influence that has inspired the $5 tacos (pork and mole, thai curry chicken or ropa vieja) being offered during this week’s festival, which will feature a Saturday performance by Charlotte Church. Hers will be one of the final concerts for a while in a tavern that has hosted U2, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. The Stones famously played under the pseudonym “The Cockroaches” in a pair of secret shows in 1977 that became part of the double album Love You Live.
The El Mocambo (464 Spadina Avenue; see map below) was founded in 1946, but its history dates to 1850, when escaped slaves from the United States hid out within the property. The club’s palm tree logo is partly in honour of their presence. In July 2012, club owner Sam Grosso purchased the property and promised to return it to its glory days in the 1960s and ’70s. With Pataran on board and fine-dining plans in the works, those plans appear to have been altered dramatically, and in a very exciting way for the city.
Canadian Music Fest Highlights on Opening Night
Cincinnati’s the Seedy Seeds — fresh off a performance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas — highlighted the show at the El Mocambo. The inventive trio evokes the American Analog Set and Broken Social Scene with their tight alternative sound that includes electronica and a touch of folk.
Justin Dubé kicked off the week of performances with a set featuring acoustic pop songs, including “You Won’t Be Alone,” the first single off of his forthcoming album. Originally from Kingston, Ontario, Dubé has found a home in Toronto and collaborators within the city. “There are so many great musicians and songwriters here. You can play and write songs with some amazing people,” he said.
Maddy Rodriguez followed Dubé with an excellent set that showcased her songwriting skills. Her song “All The Wasted Time” has won a UK Songwriting Competition award and an International Acoustic Music Award.
Where to Be on Wednesday at CMF
Horseshoe Tavern: A set of alt-country and folk acts includes Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo (11 pm)
Kool Haus: A star-studded concert features Anjulie, Mariana’s Trench, Massari, Shawn Hook and others (doors at 7 pm).
Danforth Music Hall: Stars and Yukon Blonde are the enticing draws to the city’s east end (8 pm).
Lee’s Palace: Suzie McNeil (9 pm) opens for Colin James (10 pm) in a tempting double bill.
Annex Live: If you missed the Seedy Seeds at the El Mocambo, you can catch them here (10 pm).
El Mocambo: The Stanfields promise to put on a rocking show (midnight).
Dakota Tavern: The folksy Washboard Union wraps up the night (2 am).
More About Canadian Music Fest
Dates: Tuesday to Sunday in Toronto
Wristbands: Purchase wristbands at the Canadian Music Week website or at the event’s headquarters at the Marriott Hotel at 525 Bay Street. A six-day wristband runs $60 while the VIP wristband is $120.
Tickets: Individual show tickets can be purchased at the door of the venue or on the CMW website.
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