Live shows! Serious beats! Fetish nights! While the Brunswick House tries to keep it clean, The Annex WreckRoom is entering a new golden age. And it’s not just for undergrads.
It’s 11:07 p.m., and the tank-topped boys are already getting down on a dance floor bigger than your $400,000 condo. To match, the beats are just starting to get slicker—and the bass, bigger—at the latest instalment of Yes Yes Y’All, the storied, three-year-strong queer hip-hop night that happens every third Friday at The Annex WreckRoom. In last week’s print edition of The Night Shift, we turned our attention to the ongoing trials and tribulations of trying to party in The Annex. (Well, it was mostly about the Brunswick House’s never-fading foibles.)
It’s an odd neighbourhood, that Annex, dominated by sorta-student haunts and packed with too many sushi options that only seem to keep getting more expensive. (But, I digress.) For as much debate as there’s been about the Brunny and the unquantifiable impact of its neighbouring bars—from the noise to the general mischief of post-verbal 2 a.m. drunk undergrads—there’s a vibrant transformation happening at The Annex WreckRoom, which could possibly be deemed the most serious “club” bar on a strip where there’s not much to see besides Lee’s Palace and the bottom of your pint glass. The WreckRoom—with virtually no public complaints and zero liquor license sanctions to its name—has remained an ever-evolving old faithful, and now sports an overhauled series of bookings and an overall upgrade in the user experience that attracts more than just the young and stupid. In short: they’re doing it right.
11:24 p.m.: It’s been years—at least, like, four Rihanna weave colours—since I’ve been to the WreckRoom. And I can’t tell if I remember it or not. I don’t see the stripper pole. But maybe I only imagined it existed on one of those blurry nights. There’s a glimmering disco ball, and the urinals have ice. A Jack and ginger is $6.50. You can see Honest Ed’s behind the projection screen that doubles as a curtain, and you can hear the humming bass from the Pizza Pizza below. Drinks fly across the table. The security is surly, but not in your face about it. (Plus, they ID everyone, so feel good for five seconds.)
Rick Lourenco joined the WreckRoom team two years ago to oversee the venue’s social media and marketing channels. It was around this time, he says, that the team began to produce some larger-scale EDM events to capitalize on a growing resurgence, focusing on the drum ‘n’ bass demo. As the webmaster behind TorontoJungle.com and an ally of newly-formed Electronic Nation, Lourenco has been involved in the 416 dance scene for over 15 years. Now he acts as the WreckRoom’s event and marketing director. “My role at WreckRoom was a natural progression, bringing talent into a fresh, new room with such a proper sound system,” he writes to me. “The music really needs to be felt to be experienced correctly, so it just made sense. The management at Annex are firm believers that sound is extremely important, and we work constantly to ensure it’s up to par.” Yes, the sound is, indeed, the most impressive difference during my re-introduction visit.
12 a.m.: Yes, there’s a girl with a bowler hat on. Yes, this is the most diversity I’ve seen at any queer thing in a while. Yes, these kids all look like they’re fighting their way through some degree, not busing in from other area codes to “ruin” this ‘hood, as is often assumed at places like the Brunny. It’s great to see boys who found men to love them for who they are, because you’re never more yourself than when you dance for real. (I mean, I’ve had dudes that can’t even deal with my dip it low.) Otherwise, tonight’s Yes Yes Y’All crowd is a melange of seapunk girls and dudes as predictable as the calendar. And you know everyone is in here for the long haul, because they checked their bloody coats.
I ask Lourenco to describe the blossoming WreckRoom in a sentence: “Caring and dedicated staff, one of the best sound systems in the city, and centrally located to avoid the chaos of downtown, but still providing the full nightclub experience.” The crowd is a little harder to pin down, as the recent flurry of demos to roll through here has been incredibly varied: gay nights like this, k-pop nights, ’90s parties (Clueless!) by Dirty Bingo-ers the Good Kids, dubstep shows, and even fetish nights. After they booked Azealia Banks beefer Angel Haze on New Year’s Eve, I was all ears. “The motto is: ‘This is your club, we just work here!’” says Lourenco.
While the Brunny faces a continual shitstorm on account of its supposedly lax security, the WreckRoom is getting more ambitious as the leading spot on the strip, and doing it without pissing anyone off. The circumstances work in their favour: no direct neighbours, the parking is cheap and plentiful, it’s directly across from Bathurst subway station, and there’s a smoking area in a hidden back parking lot. I ask Lourenco how he feels about the current bar climate, and how the space fits in. “I love the neighbourhood, and there are many great venues on the Annex strip. But none can provide specifically what we can. The majority are designed as pubs, whereas we’re built for a DJ/band-driven events in a nightclub environment.” Aside from logistics, Lourenco credits the security team and the staff ownership of the venue as key factors in staying fuckery-free. “I think our attention to the relationship with our customers is important, and that is shown nightly.” As for 2013, the WreckRoom’s got solid relationships with every big promoter right now, and hopes to branch out its programming to include CMW, Nuit Blanche, Pride, NXNE and even TIFF.
Oddly enough, I found myself at the Dance Cave on Saturday night, which is perhaps the Annex’s second best bet for a good time. But, besides the $3.50 drinks before 11:30 p.m., they haven’t got shit on the WreckRoom. Worst of all, it’s majorly NSFA: not safe for adults.
So it’s comforting to know that fun, in its purest form, will live long and prosper in the Annex.
Yes Yes Y’All happens every third Friday at The Annex WreckRoom, 794 Bathurst Street. Full event listings here.