In the latest instalment of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to a time when the Ryerson campus served as the breeding ground for Toronto’s alternative-scene explosion.
Club: Nuts & Bolts, 277 Victoria St.
Years of operation: 1977-1988
History: In many ways, fabled alternative bar Nuts & Bolts was one of Toronto’s most unlikely dance-club success stories. Housed in the basement of a six-storey office building on the edge of Ryerson University’s campus, Nuts & Bolts was owned by Frank Cutajar, a farmer-turned-urban-businessman who was also proprietor of the All-Star Eatery, located on the ground floor of the same building.
According to all I spoke with and based on my own experiences—my first professional DJ gigs in Toronto were at Cutajar’s gay/alt club Showbiz, located around the corner, upstairs at 3 Gould St.—Frank was far from cutting-edge or visionary in his approach to running clubs. But he hired wisely.
It seems Nuts & Bolts’ first manager, Ed Jandrisits, was heavily responsible for the bar’s post-punk lean as he, in turn, hired a new-wave-loving staff. Jandrisits set the tone for the venue’s family vibe, with a great number of its bartenders, DJs and other staff—including infamous doorman Henry, who greeted people as they made their way down a dark staircase and through double metal doors—remaining at the club for years, often in a variety of jobs.
David Heymes, with Philip Brown in background (photo courtesy of David Heymes)
One such example is David Heymes, an early Nuts & Bolts customer hired by Jandrisits to do lights and then to DJ four nights per week between 1978-80.
“Nuts & Bolts was a very cool underground place at the time,” Heymes recalls. “Only Klub Domino on Isabella was playing the same music. Bolts was also a very unique place where people came together and did not judge others.”
Open six-to-seven nights weekly for most of its lifespan, Bolts had staying power thanks to the energy of its staff, loyalty of its new music–seeking audience and creative vision of subsequent managers, including Art Gilewski and Heymes, who took over the role when Gilewski departed in 1985.
Nuts & Bolts regular Debi Tobar (left) with friend (photo courtesy of Debi Tobar)
Why it was important: Throughout its history, Nuts & Bolts was a gathering point for a variety of outsiders—punks, new wavers, house heads, goths, gays, bisexuals, artists and others. In sync with the downtown culture of its time, Bolts opened in 1977 just before David Marsden took the helm at CFNY (now 102.1 the Edge) and developed it into a true alternative-music station under its famous “spirit of radio” banner. The club and the radio station were parallel entities, with Nuts & Bolts then one of the only licensed spaces in Toronto where people could dance to songs like The Vibrators’ “Disco in Moscow” or The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette.” As a result, patrons visited the club religiously.
Aug 29 1987 live at Nuts & Bolts by megaspock
“The crowds at Bolts were always incredibly diverse,” recalls Iain McPherson, a.k.a. DJ Iain, who got his professional start spinning Wednesdays and then weekends at the club in the mid ’80s. “There were punks, fashionistas, skinheads, university preppies, goths and so on, and yet there were hardly ever any fights, despite the fact that we were drawing on groups of people who, in other situations, often did not get along well.”
Jason Fox (photo courtesy of Jason Fox)
“What made Nuts & Bolts stand out from the other clubs was its cohesive alt-community,” agrees Philip Brown, another musically adventurous DJ who developed his reputation playing first at Domino and then as a resident at Bolts. Brown brought his blends of ska, reggae, new wave and dance-punk to the club for three years, beginning in 1985.
“Musically, we were all about a great mix of styles, with enough flexibility to keep everyone entertained, rather than creating musically compartmentalized theme nights,” says Brown. “If you went to Bolts, you were open to all of the subs of subculture, and moved forward as music and style changed, rather than staying stuck in a particular place and time.”
Similarly, the club itself was treated to renovations in the mid-’80s that put signature characteristics in place, namely Nuts & Bolts’ two-tiered stainless steel dancefloor—slippery when wet, but crazy fun to dance on—complete with lights built right in and neon lighting above. The soundsystem was upgraded, the large load-bearing columns were painted a faux marble and local artists including Fiona Smyth and Kurt Swinghammer decorated parts of the club with original murals.
Manager Art Gilewski was a driving force through many of the changes and is frequently credited with helping to revive Nuts & Bolts as attendance began to dip about seven years into its existence. Gilewski hired DJs—including both Brown and McPherson—who constantly looked forward and heavily influenced the next decade of Toronto’s downtown “alternative” nightlife as they did so. McPherson also played a significant role in connecting alt, industrial and early rave audiences.
Veroshi Fame’s Jon Christian, Philip Brown and Deborah Forbes (photo courtesy of Philip Brown)
Who else played there: Nuts & Bolts explored and exploded with a rotating roster of local DJs. Some played there for mere weeks or months, others for years at a time, so to list them all is impossible. A DJ named Tom Brown did a rockabilly night. Stephen Scott famously DJed on Thursdays during the run of popular weekly Ballroom Blitz. Ivan Palmer held down Sundays for good chunk of 1985. House and dance music DJ Chris Torella—of the Starsound Records shop on Yonge and influential monthly music magazine Streetsound—anchored Nuts & Bolts’ weekends for a stretch. Community radio host and deeply knowledgeable sonic warrior Chris Twomey presented Toronto’s first industrial music specialty night on Sundays.
“He was always edgy,” recalls McPherson. “Twomey’s music was incredibly controversial, as were his amazing videos; it was stuff you would never see elsewhere.”
And though its sightlines were far from ideal, Nuts & Bolts hosted occasional live performances, most notably by both Divine and Front 242 in 1987, as part of the club’s 10-year celebrations.
“We had our regular cashier act as the hostess for Front 242’s green room when they came to play,” McPherson shares. “She ended up marrying the lead singer and moving to Belgium with him.”
Pointedly political industrial/noise band Varoshi Fame—of which both Phillip Brown and David Heymes were members for a period—also played Bolts a number of times.
What happened to it: From the mid-’80s on, as alternative music became far more popular and accessible, Toronto saw licensed clubs such as The Copa, RPM, The Dance Cave, Silver Crown, Boom Boom Room, Tazmanian Ballroom and others open and include alt theme nights in their lineups. Nuts & Bolts now had far more competition, as audiences began to follow specific DJs or music genres rather than sticking to one or two favourite haunts.
Profits were down and the lease at 277 Victoria came up for renewal in 1987; as none of Frank Cutajar’s existing businesses were thriving at the time, he closed the All-Star Eatery and moved Nuts & Bolts to 3 Gould in 1988, morphing it with Showbiz, where the club faded over time.
Heymes went on to manage The Copa while Brown, McPherson, Paul Talan and others opened the Lizard Lounge to usher in the 1990s.
The basement and ground floor of 277 Victoria St. remained empty for some time and became a Second Cup location after construction from 1988-90 added five more storeys to the office building. Later, with an eye towards development of Yonge-Dundas Square and the surrounding area, there were plans in place to demolish the building and build a 45-floor hotel. Today, 277 Victoria is home to Toronto Public Health, housing a variety of offices and departments.
Upstairs at 3 Gould Street, the former club space went on to house a variety of retailers before Salad King restaurant expanded to two floors. The heritage building at Yonge and Gould was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 3 of this year. It has since been demolished.