If you feel like jetsetting this summer, spend an evening at Mercer Street’s new Cove ThirtyOne. It’s billed as “Ibiza meets Mykonos meets Tel Aviv.”
Another weekend, another club opening. On Saturday night, across from Hotel Le Germain, just steps east of Second City HQ, Tommy King welcomed throngs of curious adults—not a club kid to be seen—for the grand opening of Cove ThirtyOne, his newest venture into loud house music and easy, breezy good taste. Cove has been slowly opening its doors to a growing buzz over the last few weeks, including a splashy, intimate viewing last Thursday night. I say splashy—and I really mean it this time—because King, an intrepid and amiable nocturnal impresario with big ideas and a refreshingly low profile, has curated his newest enclave with a mixture of global vibes—it’s a concrete potion of the shores of Ibiza, Spain, the ancient lore of Mykonos, Greece and the hidden stories of Tel Aviv, Israel.
Under renovations since January (31 Mercer Street was formerly home to Rockwood nightclub), the space was inspired by King’s nautical travels around southern Europe. Cove positions itself to feel like the “anti-club,” so much so that King doesn’t even want the word associated with the space, opting instead for “boutique nightspot.”
“Most places in Toronto, they put nice furniture, black walls, give it a name from Miami or New York,” he says, in an accent that, unlike Cove’s influences, you can’t place very easily. “So I was thinking, let’s bring the Mediterranean to Toronto. Why do we have to follow the Americans all the time? Why can’t we be our own different, organic way?”
To King’s credit, the stark, aquatic motifs do make Cove feel super Euro. The dayglo jellyfish dangling from corner to corner remind me of the ones in the posters for Netherlands-born EDM music fest Sensation, the ones that have been plastered all over bus stops across the city. The bars look like they’re floating on waves, and the ceilings above them are decorated to imitate droplets of water, misty like the Titanic sex scene. Visually, Cove is not a noisy club—it’s not garish in the way haute minimalism can be, nor is it kitschy in its often-tricky under-the-sea theme. The three-floor, 550-person capacity space is even designed like a ship-wrecked voyage to land: a dark and cavernous ground floor gives way to a mass of ocean blues, cool beiges, and burnt oranges on the second level, finishing with an open-air patio (set to open on the first weekend of June) that puts the Thompson Hotel’s sightlines to shame.
“My goal is the experience—it’s like going to theatre, you pay 15 bucks to lose yourself, to lose reality. People drink alcohol to lose reality. People do drugs to lose reality. It’s a truth,” King laughs, waxing poetic. “My thing is, you come to [Cove] and you forget about your problems. My specialty is that if you’re having a bad day, a little alcohol and a five-minute conversation can do a 180 on you.”
King’s vision extends beyond the walls and bottles, personified in Cove’s (seemingly) all-female bar staff. The girls, like mermaids liberated from Tumblr, are walking examples of King’s self-described high-art, high-style imagination: they coat their faces with a thick line of metallic makeup across the eyes and temples. (The girls initially fought the look, I’m told, because, well, you don’t fuck with a chick and her eye shadow. But the reception was positive enough for many to come around.) The uniforms, fashioned in the colour of shorelines (sea green meets azure), take the concept a step further: bottle service girls wear mini dresses with a high collar, and the ones behind the bar get a low-cut top and long skirts. King says he’s not driven by anyone else’s idea of “cool”—which means no obnoxious LED lightshows—and wants the patrons that dock here to feel the same way. “Whatever you are—loud, quiet, this, that—just be you. That’s what coolness is to me. Don’t try to be someone who you’re not.”
As a 15-year veteran of Hogtown’s nightlife scene, people often credit King as being instrumental in bringing Toronto’s underground rave scene to the foreground in the late ’90s with Exit II Eden and Karma Lounge. Like many of his contemporaries, he commodified the scene for the big-box masses. But he’s also a lot more progressive than you’d think: he engineered the gender-bending It’s A Boy’s Life party series at now-condofied IT NightClub at Queen and Church, giving a stage to drag icon Screaming Gina and hosting insane performances by equally legendary Sofonda Cox. So is Cove gay-friendly, I wonder? “100 per cent,” King says. “But I don’t think ‘gay-friendly’ should be a word—we’re just friendly in general. I don’t care what colour you are, what race you are, whatever—as long as you’re a decent person, you’re down with me.”
Only open on weekends for now, King envisions nights of deep house being spun for “creative, intelligent” people. But there’s much more in the works: he’s secured the services of Provoke, a curious promotion collective responsible for of-the-moment bookings of hot talents at places like Moskito.
Better still, though, is that Cove is housed on Mercer Street, a tiny strip that measures exactly 220 metres and makes everything with an address there feel infinitely more clandestine. Aside from an AAA-list hotel, a stroll down Mercer feels like sweet relief from the overflowing sidewalks in the city’s over-saturated downtown ‘hoods.
“I believe [this street] is the new playground for adults,” says King. “Richmond Street is being closed down, all the kids are being pushed over to King Street, so the adults are either going to Queen and Ossington or [to Mercer].” A few months ago, Montreal resto-lounge import Buonanotte opened at 19 Mercer, and it offers up delicious Italian fare when it isn’t over-run with suited-up bros on Saturdays. It, too, is meticulously constructed, and hoping to repeat its belle province success here in T.O. A few doors down, Maison Mercer houses not only parties for Joe Fresh and the MMVAs, but also a true piece of raver history. It’s an ambiguous turn-of-phrase, but Cove’s motto could be reflective of its small but growing Mercer Street community: “Simply for those who know.”
Cove ThirtyOne (31 Mercer St.) is open Friday and Saturday nights.