Toronto is undoubtedly one of the best cities in Canada to party in, but over the last few years the nightlife scene here has taken on a new identity. As condos consume the skyline and make noise bylaws even harder to navigate, numerous clubs have closed while DIY party organizers increasingly struggle to secure spaces to throw their jams.
I started coming here in the first place because, as a 19-year-old American college student, Toronto was the closest major city to me where I could legally get drunk. Naturally, within two years of driving back and forth to get off my face as many weekends as I could afford, I moved here.
Back in my early Toronto party days, I frequented the famed giant clubbing complex Guvernment (for a time, one of the best clubs in North America) and house music haven Footwork. Neither exist today. Embarrassingly, though, the first club I ever went to in Toronto was This Is London, a mainstream spot where Avicii was DJing. This was seven years ago. It doesn't exist anymore either.
I don't even really go out anymore, but for years it was a given that almost every Friday and Saturday in Toronto I was partying. This weekend, I went back to the district that gave way to my party girl phase to make sense of what it had become. But before that could happen, I took to Yelp to find some of the lowest-rated nightclubs in the city. (Spare me your logic on why I shouldn't be going to Yelp to find clubs, for I do not care.)
From that, I developed a list of two-star nightclubs. First stop: Maison Mercer. But since, at 26, I get tired easily and had three clubs total to go to in a single night (a record, even for me), I showed up at 10 PM. I will gladly take the L for what happened since I have always known that Toronto parties don't really get going til around midnight.
Esteemed Toronto producer-DJ Internet Daughter (who has not showed up at 10 PM to any party ever probably, unless she had to play an early slot) agreed to join me on my descent into club hell. We stood outside Maison Mercer—located in the heart of the Entertainment District—waiting for nearly an hour for it to open. All the while, a group of several large male bouncers picked on us.
"You're a little early," one of them said, laughing, then informing us that the club wouldn't open until 10:30. It was supposed to open at 10, according to Yelp anyway. Adding insult to injury, both of us were wearing outfits to blend in with other club girls. I, for one, felt extremely uncomfortable and on the verge of a panic attack, so I started chain-smoking Belmonts while huddled in the nook of a brick wall.
Maison Mercer is known for having a legendary sound system and for trap bros. Most of the bad reviews on Yelp cite issues with bottle service not being up to par, rude staff (can confirm via bouncers, tbh), and priciness. I'm pretty sure I've been there before, but it's hard to know since the clubs in this district tend to look and feel similar.
Then, presumably since a sufficient line hadn't developed, the bouncers pushed the open time to around 11:30. "Time is ticking," Internet Daughter told me. All of a sudden, I noticed I had been standing in what looked like a dried-up, diluted pile of piss and vomit, distracted by the hoards of bachelorette parties on the sidewalks and how utterly taken over by new condo buildings the area had become since the last night I'd spent in it. My first bad club experience of the night was classic Toronto: waiting in line for something that I didn't even end up getting into.
We stopped by a nearby fast food restaurant to use the washroom; the dining room was full of people in dress code attire. Then, unwilling to walk in heels, we grabbed a cab. We had to move on, otherwise how else could we make what happened so far seem minor?
As soon as we pulled up in front of Cube on Queen Street West, a couple of guys with British accents asked us how to get to another club nearby. Clearly they were already done with whatever we were about to enter. If Yelp was to be believed, who could blame them?
I've been to Cube, which is owned by Toronto-based club empire INK Entertainment (also owned Guvernment), exactly once. It was for a Tinder Social date in which I spent most of the time dodging a finance bro's boner as he aggressively dry-humped me on the dancefloor. I was pretty sure I would never be back.
Like any INK club, Cube is pretty sick in certain ways. The sound is good, the decor lavish—but these days, places like this play host to a certain crowd. That is, from my POV, trust-fund university kids who look like they just started going out. Maybe it's just me looking back at it with a different lens; it could have always been this way. But back in Guv, I distinctly remember meeting and befriending ravers and sketchbags while dancing until my hair was dripping with sweat. That made the whole experience feel a bit more authentic—at least until you started coming down.
Complaints on Cube's Yelp page range from "watered down drinks," to people being pissed off at paying $15 only to enter a half-empty club, and one guy (bless his heart) who was shocked that due to dress code he couldn't get in wearing his Gucci sneakers. "When I got to the door the Bouncers [sic.] told me they don't accept sneakers," that particular Yelp reviewer wrote in 2016. "Well I don't know if they have a thing against swagged out white guys, but denying a guy that looks like a trust fund baby is always bad for business."
As I sat on the ledge of a bottle service booth—of which most of the dancefloor is almost completely surrounded by—listening to tracks by Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, and Sia and gazing at a nearly empty dancefloor, I immediately thought I was drinking straight Sprite even though I had ordered a vodka-soda that cost almost $10 with tip. When I called the bartender out, she apologized and replaced my drink, which is generally shocking and refreshing since I've been treated like I was human garbage by bartenders at other INK venues in the past.
We spent a good amount of time in the red-tiled and mirror-walled bathroom taking selfies as the washroom attendant expertly avoided being in our shots. Then, we watched as a bunch of rich university kids got rowdy when a hot waitress brought a bottle of Ciroc in a glowing ring to their booth, another carrying a big sign that read "Six Side." "I wish I could get this excited about Ciroc," my friend commented. A couple shots later and after discussing how it seemed pretty unnecessary for there to be three guys on the stage DJing to like 50 people who were barely dancing, it was time to descend further in the night.
I've never heard of Fiction Nightclub, and there is a reason. It's on Pearl Street in the Entertainment District. As I started writing this paragraph, I immediately felt sick to my stomach remembering the smell of the place. But I digress: Even though I've had a lot of questionable experiences clubbing, this might have been the most uncomfortable I have felt.
As I pulled out my phone to check my map and make sure we were on the right block, a guy came up to us and gave us tickets to get into Fiction. "Oh, great! Thanks!" I tell him, relieved I didn't have to walk anymore in my heels.
Once inside, the woman at the door informed us that we had to pay $10 each to get in. "But we're on guestlist," I insisted. She rolled her eyes and said "It doesn't matter." After I paid, a security guard grabbed me by the back of my jacket, insinuating that I had to check it. Once we entered the dark dancefloor, illuminated in part by green lights, I was overwhelmed by what felt and smelled like a wall of cologne. The club was not even halfway full, but it was at least 90 percent male. Young male. And I'm sure they all paid more than us to get in.
I was so confused by the darkness and the stench that I went to the DJ booth thinking it was the bar. To our left, part of the club was closed off, and to our right, we found the actual bar. But before we could order, two security guards came up to Internet Daughter, "You have to check that," they told her about her small backpack she was using as a purse. They towered over her and wouldn't back down, so she disappeared down some stairs. I immediately was aware of being alone and knew what was going to happen.
A guy years younger than me approached, asked me my name and if I was there alone. I quickly told him no and that my friend was just checking her bag. Another guy came up behind guy #1 and said, "Is he bothering you?" to me. (Even though he asked this, I quickly got the sense he was also hitting on me, as pickings were slim at the club for hetero males looking to mate.) Graciously, my friend returned, and I evaded all of the waves of fuckery by heading to the bar to order tequila shots ($8.75 each). As I was waiting for our drinks, though, guy #1 asked me for my phone number. "Maybe I would give it to you if you bought me a drink," I told him, laughing.
He then proceeded to plead: "But I'm a student; I'm poor! I'm at Ryerson studying engineering—I'm going to be rich someday! Just give me your number." I told him no again, then he turned to whine to his male friend, who, within earshot of me said, "Don't worry about it, bruh, she isn't worth it. Save your money."
Other women have posted on Yelp about the general creepiness at Fiction. "I don't recommend this club for any groups of women just wanting to have a fun night out," one wrote. "The minute you walk in, it's as though you're on show and the men are bidding for you. My group and I made a circle in the dance floor and were having to constantly push away men from harassing us."
The sound at Fiction—which was playing mostly mainstream hip-hop, such as "Look at My Dab" by Migos—was lackluster, though loud enough that you had to nearly yell to be heard by someone next to you. I can't be sure how long we lasted. It felt like an eternity.
Before we parted, though, we witnessed a loud argument between two university kids outside the washrooms who disagreed about the definition of "light skin." Truly, that is when we knew it was time to retrieve the bag my friend had been forced to check and cut.
Back on the street, I could breathe. But as I looked around, I realized that the district was crawling with cops, and there was a big police van parked on the block. One cop was questioning a large drunk dude. We promptly hopped in a cab, went to a basement venue about 15 minutes' drive away with cheap drinks and people wearing sneakers and washrooms covered in tags and stickers. Maybe the clubbing district in Toronto never was really fun. More likely: 19-year-old me was just 19.