One of Canada’s most infamous rock and roll landmarks is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a month long celebration. Toronto’s Bovine Sex Club first opened a little over two decades ago and has since become the home away from home for some of the biggest artists on the planet. Along with being a rock and roll hangout, the venue hosts countless punk rock, hardcore, and straight-up rock and roll shows.
Originally founded by an eclectic group of Toronto nightlifers—including DJ Chris Sheppard, Wes (Happy Dog) Thuro, and current owner Darryl Fine—the Bovine has been frequented over the years by the likes of the Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes, Motley Crew, Kings of Leon, and Joe Strummer (to name a few).
AUX sat down with Darryl to discuss the history of the bar and some of its more memorable moments with some of the biggest names in music.
AUX: Take us back to the beginning. When did the Bovine first open?
Darryl Fine: We opened on January 2, 1991. Nobody came for the first three weeks, even though at least five hundred people have told me they were here on the first night. Around the middle of February, the place exploded and we were busy six nights a week. Every night except Wednesday. We don’t know why Wednesdays never worked, but we were busy six out of seven nights. It took off really quickly.
How did the three of you come up the vision for the Bovine?
The idea for the Bovine came up after going to New York and Paris and a few other places. We were young and adventurous and we kind of knew what we were gonna do next. We visited a place in New York called the Scrap Bar that was full of junk, but not as much junk as the Bovine. They had three things on the wall and a bunch of spray paint, whereas the Bovine is an apocalyptic explosion of scrap metal and reused material. We sort of honed in on their idea. Scrap Bar was a very hipster, crazy New York place. We’re not New York, but certainly Toronto has its own hipster edge. We tried to take this really great idea of having this post apocalyptic art and mess at the Bovine and mix in a real traditional meeting place. Kind of like a rock and roll Cheers.
So it started out as a bar as opposed to a live music venue?
We started without live music. We played a lot of retro rock. We were running cassette and Beta tapes. We’d mix three hours of music onto that format because there were no compact disks at the time. And when they did come out they certainly weren’t recordable so you couldn’t make compilations. So when a band like Kyuss would come in, Josh [Homme] would visit our DJ and actually give her the a mix on cassette tape. It was all DJ driven after parties.
When did you start bringing in bands to perform?
The live stuff came from the change over in the crowd. About five years in, we started to have live rock for special events and then we created what was called ‘A Band Week’ every month. I mean, let’s face it, all the people coming here played in bands, all the people working here were in bands, everyone was going to concerts, everyone was bringing people back for the after-party, we were kind of like that home away from home for bands on the road. So we decided to start having live music and that changed everything.
What are some of your more memorable performances?
We’ve had Brant Bjork play here. One time Perry Ferrell got on stage and borrowed equipment when he was touring Satellite Party. He did four Porno for Pyros songs and four Jane’s songs. There were only forty people here when he started but by the time he hit the fourth song there were 140. And by the time he finished we were at capacity. That’s how fast the text messages went out. Against Me! did a show here that was unplugged, but plugged in. They called it acoustic but it was really rock, it was unbelievable.
Why do you think so many artists frequent the Bovine?
It’s kind of like their home away from home. There’s not a lot of hassle factor here. If you’re a famous person and you’re in the crowd it’s pretty respectful. People might come up to you once in a while and ask for your picture, but there’s no shit show from the customers. Joe Strummer used to come in here when we had a smoking room; he’d bring his drum tobacco and papers and chain smoke for hours. He’d talk to people and just hang out. Even on the slowest nights, he was really comfortable. [Marilyn] Mason was the same way. He used to come in without his makeup on and just hangout. I think it’s easy for musicians to envision the Bovine as their local spot in Toronto where they can be with rock and roll people, but it’s not a big hassle. The drinks are stiff, not too expensive, the music is loud and they’ll probably end up talking to other musicians.
You’ve had countless artists frequent this place. What have been some of the more shock and awe nights at the Bovine?
[Joe Strummer] was huge for me. But mostly because he came on his own sometimes. I think the biggest shock and awe night was probably in ’92 after the U2 concert at the old CNE. They were certainly the biggest band in the world at the time. Somehow Chris and Wes got them to come back here. That was a really big night. I’d look over to see my buddy playing pool with the Edge. [Adam] Clayton was in the basement smoking cigarettes with his wife, while Bono was in the back room hanging out… and of course he wore his glasses the whole time. It was crazy having the biggest band in the world at your bar. There were other crazy nights too. Lollapalooza came down once after the show with every band from the mainstage. Ministry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice T, Ice Cube, George Clinton, P Funk, everyone was in the room at the same time, six limos were parked out front. All those guys were great. We’ve had great nights with Lenny Kravitz…we’ve had lots of crazy nights here.
Is it possible for you to become star struck any more?
For sure. When it’s someone I’m really into at the time, that makes more difference to me than a nostalgia band. I’d like to meet the Rolling Stones at the Bovine, but I don’t think it would be as big a thrill as meeting Jack White here. Something that’s more present than past, ya know? When Velvet Revolver came to town, it was first thing anyone in Guns N Roses had done in years. They came by and took over the bar and Scott [Weiland] was in his prime. That was a real festive night. I’m not the biggest Velvet Revolver fan, but I liked their music when it came out. And of course when Slash is at the bar, it’s like heaven.
What shows have you put together for your month long 20th Anniversary Celebration?
We’ve picked some current stuff that’s up and coming. Our opening show is through our association with Warped Tour. Our relationship with Kevin [Lyman] has existed as long as Lollapalooza has been coming to Toronto. He used to be the production guy for that before he started the Warped Tour. Kevin wandered in here years and years ago and we’ve become really good friends. The Bovine does an after party at the Warped Tour backstage every time it comes through Toronto, so to kick off our 20th anniversary showcase we invited Kevin up to DJ. We’ll also have the Flatliners perform with St. Alvia and Hunter.
On the 17th, we have Carol Pope playing and we’re gonna redress the bar with big visuals. On March 4th and 5th we’re hosting the reunion of the Asexuals. We’re also holding a reunion for the Sinisters and they’ll play with Damn 13. We have a lot of bands coming back and a lot of new bands. It’s kind of a mix.
For a complete show listing go to BovineSexClub.com