Joining the ranks of the illustrious Queen West music scene, Rivoli is just half a block down the street from the Velvet Underground and the Bovine Sex Club. So, to have survived this long while rubbing shoulders with some of Toronto’s most well-known venues, Rivoli has to be something special - and it is. All you have to do is take a look at the venue’s CV to understand why the name Rivoli means something: some of the best musicians Canada has to offer - such as Gord Downie, Barenaked Ladies, Cowboy Junkies, Ron Sexsmith, Arcade Fire, and Sarah Harmer - have played here. Blue Rodeo’s first-ever gig was played at Rivoli. Oh, and let’s not forget that Leslie Feist served drinks here before making it in the music game and becoming known simply as “Feist.” What’s more, Rivoli is an historic spot for British stars Adele and Amy Winehouse: the former played her first Canadian gig here, and the latter her first Toronto gig. Other acts to have come to Rivoli over the years include Iggy Pop + Dave Grohl, Beck, Courtney Love, Tori Amos, Stone Temple Pilots, and Patti Smith.
Also serving as a Monday night comedy club, Rivoli’s stage has seen the likes of Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Kids in the Hall, Sean Majumbder, and the improv stylings of a very young Drake. Did we mention that Nicholas Cage, Jerry Seinfeld, and Dave Chappelle have hung out there too? It’s hard to imagine that the Bovine Sex Club would have an equal in terms of music history - let alone that this club would be just down the street - but Rivoli is more than a worthy counterpart.
Established in 1982, this multi-story venue occupies the space that was once the Rivoli Theatre, the small performance hall that was home to 1920’s vaudeville and burlesque shows. In its current form, there’s a street-facing patio, the second floor contains a pool hall, and the main floor is divided into a full-service restaurant, a lounge, and the “Back Room” - this latter, rather ominous sounding place is where the music happens. This room, with a 240-person capacity, is, like most downtown Toronto venues, long and narrow. Towards the front entrance there is a set of accessible washrooms, the mixing booth, and the bar. Along the left side (facing the stage) is a merch-selling area, and on the right wall is a line of seating. At the back is the stage, with the artists’ green room just behind it. At the very very back, behind the stage and green room, is another set of washrooms. The Back Room has beautiful hardwood floors, a deep browns colour palette with accents of red, warm lighting, and rich blue curtains on stage - all of which help make Rivoli one of the more aesthetically pleasing venues in the city. If anything, the club is a bit bougie, what with its $12 signature cocktails and fusion-food menu, but on the upside, the upscale vibe helps set it apart from other downtown music clubs. “A lot of Toronto's music venues are a little grotty,” says Glenn Shirley on Facebook, “but the music room at the Rivoli is quite nice” (2019). In terms of technical stuff, Rivoli’s capacity for putting on great live music comes down to its eight Yorkville speakers (four subs, two mid-hi), six Yorkville Amps, three Elite monitors, PA JBL drum monitor, 18 stage lights, digital projector, and retractable screen.
In 2014, ownership of the club was taken over by three young entrepreneurs, Sarah Henning, Jessica McHardy, and Jenna Wood - the first of whom was a Rivoli employee of ten years. They have since then refurbished the Back Room, re-felted the pool tables, and brought in some new toys like a photo booth and a snow cone machine. They’ve also introduced new theme nights, the idea being “not to make the Rivoli something different, but just to bring in some fresh energy" (Jessica McHardy, 2016).