From the closing of Naco Gallery Café to a new-ish place called The Half Point just down the street, it’s a time of beginnings and endings on Dundas West.
Judging by the reaction to my installment on Roncesvalles last week, and The Grid’s subsequent cover story on Parkdale, it’s clear that people are passionate about the threat of “too much change” in their neighbourhoods. Gentrification, or something like it, has its fans as it does its critics. Another one of these communities undergoing change is DuWest.
The Dundas West BIA defines this new, set-to-stun ‘hood as “the stretch along Dundas West from the CNR Tracks west of Lansdowne to the east corner of Rusholme Road.” I’m not sure if anyone actually calls it that yet, no. I mean, isn’t DuWest still largely considered and treasured as Little Portugal? (Or was West Dundas West too easy?) But it’s developing, creating a triangle of change with neighbouring Roncey to the west and Parkdale/WQW to the South. This stretch of Dundas is next on the list, in my opinion, to be pushed to its gentrifying limits, judging by the slew of nighttime destinations that have arrived in rapid-fire succession, starting right at DuWest’s eastern boundary. Brockton General, Churchill and Enoteca Sociale all opened in 2010. Earlier this year, a little to the west, Sarah Magwood (a past Grid cover story subject) opened up her vintage shop. The Henhouse, at Sheridan, has been going strong since 2009.
But a pioneer and a cornerstone of this community—and the only real nighttime destination near DuWest’s western border—is now closed. Last Saturday night, Naco Gallery Café said its farewells, effectively ending the space’s three-year position on Dundas West, at Margueretta. With the possible intention of ensuring only the most dedicated and loyal found their way in, the windows were covered and there was a tiny handwritten note directing you around back. It was almost like a birthday party, or what you’d imagine the best wake to be and/or feel like—you know, that whole “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” vibe. There were streamers, and beach balls with happy faces printed on them were being tossed around. The DJ set up on a gingham-clad picnic table in the storefront window. Even until its last official breath, the final order of business for Naco remained focused on one thing: Giving people a good time. There were balloons floating along the ceiling, a piñata hanging in place of a disco ball, Catholic paraphernalia looking on. It was a celebration, no one was in mourning—or at least they weren’t until the morning.
When owner Julian Calleros opened the multi-purpose space, there was virtually nothing this far west of Dufferin. In retrospect, it was a pretty risky move that cleared a path for still-crawling DuWest. Known for its all-inclusive, queer-friendly environment, Naco was never short of experimental in its offerings. Last Friday, for example, there was a Yoko Ono tribute thing as part of the latest Sheroes jam featuring installations and GIF art. (Dare you to find a tolerable party series like this somewhere else.) Two weeks ago, Naco hosted a pop-up shop with local fashion label Muttonhead Collective. And all the aforementioned religious iconography? Remnants of Calleros’ Jesus Project, his last art show at the space that he’s worked on quietly, in his spare time, for what seems like forever. And for one last night, we were his disciples of dance.
But Naco was about so much more than just the dancing and the nighttime thing. It was a café, after all, opening as early as 9 a.m. for food and coffee and brunch, and staying late past 2 a.m. for art and music and all that’s in between. It was one of those rare places that managed to juggle a lot of functions at once, and do it well. Rumour has it that the closure is the result of a simple-slash-typical landlord-tenant fallout, and I’ve heard the new owner plans to renovate the space and turn it into something “fancy.” Of course, that’s just the type of thing that would prompt some to scream, “bloody gentrification.” And, as Calleros said in his goodbye speech, “Thank you for coming, and being here all these years. That’s it now, nothing let to say. Let’s smash this fucking piñata!” Sometimes, what else is there to say? We can get more piñatas and another Naco, sure, but they won’t ever look or feel the same—just like the neighbourhood it’s in.
Perhaps you’ll just have to make due down the street at 1602 Dundas St. W., where there’s a new-ish bar that landed on the strip last October without so much as a sign on the door. I guess that’s because, up until a few weeks ago, this spot was still unnamed. A quick look at the recent DineSafe inspection reveals the name as The Half Point, or at least that what it’s called in its most official capacity. (There isn’t even a trace of a website or a phone number or a Facebook page.) On Naco’s closing night, this place was jammed, all steamy, seductive windows and ’70s rock humming through the door. If Toronto Life considers Churchill a “lo-fi” bar, then The Half Point would pretty much be inaudible—and that’s the lure.
The space is wide and long, with vinyl being played at one end and sectional couches all around it. True to lo-fi-bar form, there are chalkboard menus (and $4 PBR, guys). The chalk is always a fun thing, though: There are random drawings and scribbles across the back wall, and a welcome message at the entry that changes daily. (On Sunday, the greeting, hilariously enough, is “Rural Juror.”) It’s all red, too. It’s like a Rothko painting in here—everything from the walls to the tea lights in front windows to the chairs.
At 11:11 p.m., single-girl wishes are coming true across DuWest. It’s all guys in here, some with hockey bags in the corner. The music ranges from The Velvet Underground to Blondie to Portishead to Peaches to Amy Winehouse. There’s a familiarity here, yet another somewhere-to-go in a new, still-very-uncharted part of town.
Here’s to ends, and beginnings.