Clubland has a new social butterfly. Inside Charles Khabouth’s third big club opening this year (and R.I.P. Devil’s Martini).
Scheduling the grand opening of a club on a Saturday night is just like beer before liquor: a bad idea. Sure, it will be rammed to holy hell, but it will also feel much like any other club-club on a Saturday, with all the mind-numbing and binge-drinking that nightmare hangovers are made of. (Wednesday night openings—now that’s where it’s at.)
In the weeks leading up to last Saturday night, I remained uninspired to visit club king Charles Khabouth’s third new venture in the last 11 months. With the opening of Uniun, I anticipated one of two things: that the third time would be a charm, or that he would strike out. Ultimately, my friend Pam came through with her typical A-game wisdom (“Let’s just check this shit out and see what happens”), and off to Adelaide we went.
Turns out that Uniun, with its misspelled moniker springing from the same corporate-cool brainstorming style as our recent FSHN Week, is no less or no better than you’d expect. Of course, with every Khabouth opening, it’s rife with claims of “revolutionary” this and “LED” that. I’m a big fan of his recent King West efforts: the yellow-doored Weslodge and Patria, the sorta-hidden restaurant that quietly debuted during TIFF (and where I watched Stephen Dorff hit on at least seven girls). Patria feels elegant and collected; its success doesn’t depend upon the flash factor. Uniun, conversely, is Patria’s handsy, lush-y aunt. It just wants to have fun like it’s 1987, y’all.
That is, if you can find the place. Just south of Adelaide, and east of Portland, lies an out-of-the-way entrance with what feels like 30 parking lots between sidewalk and door. If the trek feels familiar, that’s because it is: Uniun is housed in the former home of my college education, Devil’s Martini, which closed after 20 years to a restrained chorus of purring cougars, and will, according to its website, “allow for the launch of a line of beverages in 2013.”
It’s just around midnight when we huddle under the door’s dim light to get out of the rain. There are no real clubs next door, and no one’s waiting for cabs or guest list. It isn’t a mess. It makes you realize how Devil’s discreetly survived for so long. Everyone is in who needs to be in, so the crowd is at its peak. “Oh, that’s not enough drink tickets to party,” someone says to me on my way through the door. “Take a couple more.” I’m pleasantly surprised—I came prepared to pay for a two-drink minimum.
Inside, the first thing I see are tits: topless, spray-painted women climb up on risers to go-go. Uniun’s post-industrial vibe is as slick as a limited edition Porsche BlackBerry. The 16,000-square-foot interior is touted as featuring “state-of-the-art sound technology and a high-impact LED light installation that will play a major role in the club-goer’s entirely new experience.” The re-design was helmed by Kenny Baird, a longtime Khabouth collaborator who worked on CiRCA and Chroma, and since the space is a former pantyhose factory dating back to the ’20s, he had architecture to work with, adding 14-foot bronze metal arches, aged wood, cement finishes and “retro chandeliers.” That light installation is actually a ceiling dripping with light-up icicles that pulse with the music. It reminds me of, gasp, a Power Ball art piece. (Okay, I like it, shut up.) There are also “vignettes emulating tableaux vivants, with art objects displayed in a Victorian salon style.” Think bell jars, apothecary bottles, crystal spheres and globes.
Two whiskey doubles, no rocks, with a splash of ginger later, and we take in the crowd: eTalk’s Tanya Kim is dancing with her brood of broads and, yes, there’s the typical spotting of Toronto’s social-lite girls. (How I wish we had bona fide celebutantes.) Models are giving out candy, another pleasant surprise. Some guy is wearing legit LeVar Burton Star Trek glasses. And the suits. So many suits. On a Saturday night. Is this, like, a thing? There are also a lot of folks with their coats on. (Hey guys, remember that one time, at the Cube opening, when you lined up for two hours at coat check? Lulz.) If it all sounds banal, check the tweets coming from the epicentre.
Because it will only open for Friday and Saturday nights, Uniun proclaims it is a dance club, proudly serving a 1,500-person capacity of sweaty, salivating, insatiable bottle-service lovers who want to jam the fuck out. (Oh, private-event rental and catering is totes available, too.) What I love most is the DJ booth set-up in the centre, designed for the serious music lovers’ optimal viewing. VIP areas flank the pit, and they’ve got a private bar with table seating. There’s also a modest lower level for a lounge escape. What concerns me most is the music: I heard a “Diamonds” remix and, wait for it, “GANGNAM STYLE.” For Khabouth, whose great success at the Guvernment proves he’s not only a true music lover but also a skilled ambiance engineer, the moment is just a bit embarrassing, but I guess you can’t blame him for his clientele.
Uniun (473 Adelaide St. W.) is open Friday and Saturday.