The most important night club in Toronto’s history, El Mocambo, was put up for sale in March for $3.95 million and is having its last concert on November 6. The event marks the end of a legendary entertainment venue, which has hosted a long list of famous blues, rock and jazz musicians and groups.
The property at 464 Spadina Ave was sold conditionally to a new owner in September and it appears as though the venue is closing down for good. Another clear indication that the end is near is that the iconic El Mocambo neon palm tree sign was put up for sale on eBay on Oct. 21. The sign has served as a beacon for entertainment in Toronto for more than six decades.
The El Mocambo is probably best known for the surprise show by The Rolling Stones, who performed upstairs for two nights in March 1977. The Stones billed themselves anonymously as “the Cockroaches,” but word leaked out and massive crowds turned up. The show was recorded and released as one side on a double album called “Love You Live”.
The album reached #3 in the UK, #5 in the US. When Margaret Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, made an appearance, the show became a significant political event. Margaret’s sightings with Mick Jagger caused a national scandal.
Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded a concert film at the El Mocambo. Texas Flood is the debut album of American blues rock band Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, released on June 13, 1983 by Epic Records.
For a time, blues performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Lightening Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton were favourite attractions. Toronto’s Downchild Blues Band played so often at the club they were effectively the house band.
The owners initiated a music policy in 1972 that was heavy on rock music, which targeted young patrons who took advantage of a reduction in the drinking age, from 21 to 18. The age was raised to 19 in 1979. Musical acts appeared on separate stages located on the main and second floor of the building.
The palm tree is also a reminder of the El Mocambo’s early days as one of Toronto’s first cocktail bars. The venue’s history can be traced back to the Liquor License Act of 1946, which loosened the province’s alcohol regulations, allowing hard liquor to be sold by the glass for the first time since 1917. The owners envisioned a Spanish-themed club, inspired by their visits to American cocktail bars and trips to South America.
The origin of this building as an entertainment venue dates back to 1850. The building was first used as a haven for escaped slaves.