The El Mocambo nightclub, an iconic Toronto venue for decades, was sold Monday for $3 million. The El Mocambo, affectionately known as the Elmo, which erected its famous palm tree sign in 1946, has seen the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello (both of whom made live recordings there), U2, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Ramones, Queens of the Stone Age and many other greats perform on its stage.
New owners Sam Grosso and Marco Petrucci, who are 50-50 partners, got word that real estate deal seven months in the making was finalized at 5 p.m. Monday "The purchase price was $3 million, which includes the building, the business, the trade name, the sign, email address, all that," Grosso told Billboard.biz.
Grosso owns the sizeable west end bar and restaurant The Cadillac Lounge in Parkdale and the tiny Graffiti's Bar & Grill in Kensington Market, which both book live music. Petrucci owns the event facility 99 Sudbury.
"The Cadillac is a comfortable cool rock n' roll little joint and we book a lot of cool bands, but it obviously doesn't have the history that the El Mocambo has," Grosso said. "So when my business partner put this on the table, I said, 'Listen, we gotta do this. Frankenstein is on the table and you gotta get him resurrected."
The Elmo faced closure 11 years ago when it was last sold to Abbas Jahangiri in September 2001 for $928,000 (CDN). He planned to turn it into a dance studio, but there was community uproar and he agreed to keep the downstairs a music venue (in 2003, the property was briefly listed for $1,888,888). However, it was the upstairs where the legendary musical performances had taken place. The dance studio only lasted a year; then it became a full-time music venue.
Veteran talent booker Yvonne Matsell was hired by Jahangiri 11 years ago this Christmas and Grosso plans to keep her on. "I've known Yvonne for 18 years and I'm excited to work with her for the first time," he says.
"It's a new breath of air," Matsell told Billboard.biz. "Music lovers have taken over, people who really have a good knowledge of running venues. I commented on the fact that it needed tender loving care and he totally agrees with me. And he is very adamant that the fact that the Stones played there 25 years ago is a big deal. So it gives me every possible feeling that music is the criteria here again."
The new owners plan to restore the venue, move the upstairs stage back to its original position, serve food and decorate its storied walls with memorabilia.
"Obviously, we're going to pour money into it and we're going to resurrect the neon sign that's up there; that's one of the first things we're going to work on. But it's going to be a slow progression. Hopefully, people are going to come to the El Mocambo. We're going to introduce a food menu; we're going to have dinners and shows. We're going to have early shows, late shows. We're going to cater to a lot of different age groups."
Grosso has a meeting on Wednesday with Enzo Petrungara, general manager of the Phoenix Concert Theatre, who booked shows at the Elmo in earlier days and has some photos he's willing to donate. Grosso says he also has T-shirts ready for printing.
"For several months I was like, 'Is this gonna happen? Is this not gonna happen?' The past 10 days this surge of excitement came to me. Let's get this done. I'm so pumped up about this project," he says. "I know I'm not going to make any money for a long time. I might never make any money, but I'm so excited to get in there and rebuild it and just get it alive again.
"It's surreal that I've purchased this building," Grosso adds. "I'm a huge Stones fan, but I was only 9 years old in 1977 [when the group performed there]. I wasn't there and Steve Ray Vaughan [Live at the El Mocambo - 1983] was one of my favourite VHS when I was a kid. If you had told me 10 years ago, I would have looked at you like you had three heads. 'What are you talking about? I'm gonna own the El Mocambo? You're insane.'"