As Vaughan’s nightlife scene grows, could the era of trekking downtown to party soon be a thing of the past?
On a Friday night near the end of summer, I rented a Zipcar and drove north to check out a different scene. Past strip joints in industrial projects, we ended up at Vaughan’s Interchange Plaza at Highway 7 and Jane Street. There’s a Putting Edge and an Irish pub. There’s also a Boston Pizza, an Ikea, an AMC theatre, and big-kid arcade/resto Dave & Buster’s. Most surprising were the three nightclubs anchoring an entertainment hub that was non-existent when I was growing up at the edges of North York. In less than half a decade, Interchange has morphed into a party playground. I had stumbled upon a “Little Richmond.”
We decided to enter Luxy—a sprawling 13,000-square-foot, multi-room “palace” with loud design and sound to match—because Google said it was named Best Nightclub of 2011 by Torontonightclub.com.* The self-appointed “King of Clubs” was hosting a Smirnoff Red Door party, where the vodka was cheap and the door prizes literally came out of a door. Bar maidens wore their best DayGlo. Some guys looked like Pauly D; others like Frank Ocean. The odd Selena Gomez was sprinkled in for good measure.
Luxy prides itself on giving a taste of what Toronto’s core used to offer in bulk. “We consider ourselves a real nightclub,” says general manager Kris Lemanski, a 20-year veteran of 416 nightlife. “You don’t have drinks at the bar; you have a drink on the dancefloor. You come here if you want to dance, not pose.” Instead of international DJs, Luxy partners with radio stations like G98.7 on events and books mega performers like Nicki Minaj and The Black Eyed Peas. “We’re a destination location, like the Guvernment, except you don’t have to go all the way down there,” says Lemanski.
There’s something for everyone at Interchange. According to its website, Berlin Nightclub—reborn after 17 years downtown—takes cues from Paris with “live performers such as belly dancers, bongo players, acrobats, and jugglers.” (There’s also an Oakville location.) The newest dance enclave is Ivy Social Club, described on its website as “a striking and sumptuous 1940s Vegas-style joint [that] pays tribute to Cecil B. DeMille’s extravagant Hollywood style.” It’s evocative of King West.
Convenience and cost are the selling points of Little Richmond. If you drive downtown, you drop $20 on parking before anything else. Luxy’s close proximity to major highways makes it accessible to a lot of people. Lemanski says the crowd, which is mostly under 30, comes from the immediate surrounding area and as far away as Barrie and Guelph. The parking is free, and the lot full of BMWs and Lexuses. You can easily stay over, with a range of hotels within walking distance offering rates of around $150 per night.
By 2015, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station will open just north of Interchange Plaza, making it accessible by subway. Those as far down as Lawrence West will be able to go north in almost the same amount of time it takes to go south, and perhaps faster than it would take to get to Parkdale or Dundas West. And let’s not forget what this might mean for York students who are looking for a night out that doesn’t involve a two-hour commute. The creation of Expo City, a new development adjacent to the incoming VMC station that will include two condo towers, is also a game changer. The units are cheaper than in the core and bigger, too. It’s turned out to be an attractive proposition for young professionals—during the first month of Expo City sales, in August 2011, 70 per cent of the units sold.
Lemanski doubts Vaughan’s “entertainment district”—which stretches from Interchange as far west as Weston Road—will actually become a Little Richmond. “York Region isn’t going to hand out liquor licences to anyone,” he says. “There will be growth, but I don’t think anyone wants that club hopping, and our goal is not to head in that direction.” Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from our own Richmond, but never say never when a younger demo with cash (and a condo down the street) starts demanding more.
Vaughan’s rapid-fire evolution is concurrent with the remodelling of our downtown nightscape. Clubland is transitioning into condo-happy complacency. Marshalls and movies will be Richmond and John’s main attractions, and Adelaide is now more Soho House than Crocodile Rock. Yorkville is struggling to remain alluring now that TIFF has moved south. And it’s no shock to hear that King West is frequented by nearby condo dwellers rather more so than by those from the outer boroughs. For their part, the west ’hoods continue with unprecedented growth.
So what will happen as Vaughan continues to build upon its own scene? Will there be any reason left to voyage downtown? More importantly, what will remain for those of us who live here?
CORRECTION, SEPTEMBER 26, 2012: The original version of this article featured a misspelling of this URL; it has been corrected.