Michael Wekerle at the Elmo Tuesday.
Michael Wekerle at the Elmo Tuesday.

Michael Wekerle Invites Media In For An Elmo Walkthrough

Five years and $30-million later, Michael Wekerle is almost ready to announce a date for the reopening of the El Mocambo on Spadina Avenue in Toronto.

A media walkthrough of the urban chic refit Tuesday came with a waterfall of historical facts about the two-storey walk-up that is now three stories plus a full basement that houses 38 washroom stalls.

The two performance areas combined can host 700 people, each room acoustically sealed so that a rock band can be blasting in one and an acoustic soloist in the other without any audio bleed-through.

The added third floor includes a 96-channel SSL board with a corresponding studio that can capture video and sync the two for live feeds, but the purpose of this big-ticket investment has yet to be articulated, although live broadcasts seem definitely to be a part of Elmo's future if one is reading between the lines.

The affection for detailing the club’s run in the sun (under the ownership of Michael Baird, it ran from the mid-'70s through to the mid-'80s when it attracted a pantheon of rock, blues, jazz, new wave and edgy singer-songwriters) is visible in the many blow-up portrait scrims (many taken by photographer Patrick Harbron), and a faux walk of fame with the names of former headliners inset in the stairs connecting the separate spaces.

Wekerle’s almost devoted obsession to rekindling a decade that came and went is obvious, but less obvious is how he plans to recoup his investment.

No date has been announced for an official opening. and he readily admits he has made claims to dates too many times to do so again. That said, he did, at one, point mention April 1, and confirmed that a celebration honouring Ronnie Hawkins’ storied career is pencilled in for April 4.

Beyond this, he says talks have taken place with George Thorogood, Billy Idol, Pearl Jam, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. The spaces are available to be booked for private and public events, for now it is a non-exclusive club in as far as bookings go, and in-house concerts are likely to offer a mix of Canadian and international names.

The main room on the second floor has a legal capacity of 400, with a 300-person capacity on the ground floor.  

Asked about ticket prices, he seemed caught off guard but suggests they could run anywhere between $100 and $1,000.

Wekerle, who has made his wealth as a co-founder in merchant bank Difference Financial, purchased the club in November 2014 for $3.6-million. The venue by then had lost its cachet and the lineups that once were a routine feature had dwindled to almost nothing.

An earlier number of $20-million was reported as the overall investment he has made in taking the club to its bones, excavating the basement by 10-feet and adding 30-feet to install the club’s third floor featuring the electronics, a green room and two small seating areas for VIPs. The number has since ballooned by an additional $10-million (“give or take a million,” by his own admission).

A shrewd businessman who has been able to sell his concept for the El Mocambo to unnamed investors clearly suggests he has an end game to recoup an extravagant investment. What that is is the million-dollar question that everyone wants to be answered.

Michael Wekerle, for now, has yet to show his hand, but on Tuesday he did finally show his club to the media and most left impressed by what they saw, and equally confused as to what the big play in waiting is for a small club that once was famous.

---CityNews reporter Lindsay Dunn’s report from Tuesday’s media walkthrough at the Spadina Avenue club can be viewed here.

Leave a comment