It's a bittersweet goodbye, as The Hoxton is just one of Toronto's downtown venues to close recently.
It’s around 1:30 a.m. at The Hoxton on Saturday night, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” has started playing. I’m not sure if this song (often called the “protest anthem” of Black Lives Matter) is part of the regular set or if this is an intentional choice, a nod to the world going on beyond these walls. In part, it makes me feel small—at this moment, thousands of people across America are out on a Saturday night protesting for the rights of a few dozen travellers being detained in airports across the country. And I’m here dancing. It’s tempting to see this as frivolous, as a waste of time. But a second thought, one of hope, sticks harder: there are things in the world right now that are awful, but there are things, like hundreds of people dancing under one roof, that are still essentially good.
“We gon’ be alright,” repeats over and over again, and I think about those thousands of people out on a Saturday who are protesting to get a few dozen people from holding rooms in JFK, and O’Hare, and Dulles, and other airports the last couple hundred metres across the finish line to something resembling freedom. Some of those people have travelled thousands of miles just to escape something that must look and feel a lot like the apocalypse. I think about what feeling fear and hope at the same time must be like for anyone being detained. I wonder if they even know what’s going on outside the airports. I think about the images of the lawyers typing on cell phones and tablets on the airport floor, who saw the only real American carnage was playing out on people who never deserved it and got up and went to work. It was at once a sobering reminder of how bad things are getting and a resounding note of hope.
I say all this because even though things drastically more important were going on, the closing of The Hoxton means something, too. The stage, behind the DJ, is crammed with people, most of them other artists: Zed’s Dead makes a surprise appearance; rumours that deadmau5 will play begin swirling (he didn’t). For the last six years, The Hoxton has held a special place in this community—the raw, grungy venue amidst increasingly bougie nightclubs and condo towers. This is very much a feeling of people saying goodbye, and it’s not one that seems mournful or angry, but a goodbye that says, I’ll see you around. Six years of being unapologetically dive-y, of being people’s first and last rave, of offering a take-it-or-leave-it space, simply ends. People will miss it. Everybody moves on.
The Hoxton had developed a love-to-hate-it cult following among dance music fans in Toronto. It was always a bit of a strange venue, conceived mostly as a place for house music but with occasional diversions to host alt-rock acts. For a small, unassuming club tucked just around the corner from some of Toronto’s swankiest, The Hoxton always punched well above its weight, hosting events with Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, and others. Some of the venue’s biggest fans mourned the loss in their own way: one Hoxton fan was in “utter shock and disbelief” when he heard it was closing. Another I spoke with said, “It made me who I am today: a raging alcoholic, drug-addicted piece of shit—and for that I’m thankful.” (This is, by the way, a compliment.) Some, like Thump’s Max Mertens, were less upset: “Can’t pretend that I’ll miss the Hoxton,” he wrote on Twitter, “but saw some good shows there regardless, RIP.”
There’s an argument to be made that it was time to let The Hoxton go. Even on its last hurrah (or perhaps because of it), The Hoxton is its regular, unpolished self. By 11:30 p.m., the men’s room is covered in vomit, and nobody—neither the staff nor any patrons—seem to mind. Coat check is an absurd $5. The sound quality is, if I’m to be generous, mediocre. Drink prices are comically high. There were always complaints of theft too, something I felt first-hand: my partner’s iPhone was stolen directly from her purse, and within five minutes the case had been discarded and the phone had been taken offline. When she spoke with other women in the bathroom, many had experienced thefts with the same modus operandi. A cursory web search finds this to be an established problem that, up to the bitter end, was never quite solved.
Still, it’s sad to see a venue close its doors, if only because it feels distinctly like another loss in a losing culture war in this city as unique venues in the downtown core are shuttered, often replaced with condo towers. Earlier this month, the DIY venue Soybomb announced that it was closing. Not long before that, Hugh’s Room, a hub for Toronto’s folk and blues communities, announced its end. At the end of January, The Central will close—another piece of collateral damage of the redevelopment of the Honest Ed’s block at Bloor and Bathurst.
In some sense, this is okay. Venues come and go. Life goes on. But the ongoing cycle of music venues being pushed out also raises problems. As venues are close downtown, be it for reasons of safety or rent cheques, concert-goers are pushed further away. Not only does this harm the accessibility of the city’s culture industry, but it may also put people at risk. In early December, 36 people died in a warehouse fire in Oakland. Though a drastic comparison, it’s not an invalid one: as venues like The Hoxton close, the shows they once hosted are forced to move to underground warehouses and art spaces that are less safe and accessible to emergency services. There is room for improvement where keeping party-goers safe is concerned, and the flight (or exile) of venues from downtown has the capacity to exacerbate these safety problems. That doesn’t mean action needs to be taken on the part of the City to protect places like The Hoxton, but it’s worth recognizing that cultural hubs are a casualty of development.
Last call comes and goes on The Hoxton’s final night, and nobody seems to mind. Somewhere in the crowd, someone lights a joint, and then another person follows suit. Pretty soon, between the fog cannons and the hazy pot smoke, it’s tough to see. A girl takes most of her clothes off and dances on a platform beside the DJs. A man takes off his shirt and starts spraying alcohol—first, champagne and tequila soon after that—on the crowd. It’s approaching 4 a.m., and there’s little slowing down here. I check Twitter and remember that the world, at the moment, is churning away outside as humans inflict tragedies on other humans. The closing of a club is, in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential. But try telling that to anyone here.