Toronto considers making coffee shop permanent music venue

Toronto’s proposed new rules for live music would allow standup sets by established acts to continue at a weekly cost of up to $17

Toronto will consider making its pop-up coffee shop CaféTO the first permanent music venue in the city. The proposal by mayor John Tory would allow standup sets by established acts to continue at a weekly cost of up to $17.

CaféTO, located at the side of Toronto’s Yonge subway station, has been hosting music since 2014 in a space that is used mainly for coffee drinking. It started out as a pop-up concept but quickly established itself as an established venue and it has hosted the likes of Broken Social Scene and Japandroids in addition to regular standup sets by comedians and musical guest spots.

CaféTO co-founder Kim Fennell said the proposed rules were about not allowing the music to die out. “The simple fact is that there needs to be a place in Toronto where people can go and dance and party and listen to live music,” she said.

“That’s what people want. People already come from all over to CafeTO to watch acts. It’s a place where they’re happy. For the people who are already in the music industry, the sacrifices they make to do live music – for them to then have to leave because there’s no place to play – it’s a serious hardship.”

The City of Toronto proposed a summer extension for the pop-up coffee shop’s presence in Toronto and café owner Daniele Nigro has launched an online petition that, if successful, would see the pop-up become a permanent fixture.

CaféTO has become a popular hangout for music lovers as well as comedians and there are more than 200 visits a day from people looking to see and hear live acts. Fennell said this was proof of there being a cultural need for CaféTO to remain standing.

The pop-up concept for music venues began in 2015 in San Francisco with California’s Mission Street Records. San Francisco city has been in discussion to allow the annual Paisano Festival, which includes 11 stages spread across nine blocks, to be permanent as well as collaborate on a designated summer music spot with venues.

A permanent spot for music in Toronto’s popular Yonge subway station would be a positive first step, according to Giorgio Cassisio, head of programming for Paisano Festival’s host Artista, who said he has his eye on a spot near the Queen and Victoria subway station that does not require special permission.

Cassisio says that he sees CaféTO’s permanent as just the beginning and it can use that as a stepping stone for other pop-up venues in Toronto. “I think it’s the new rule set that will attract other established coffee shops to pop up at the various hot spots around the city.”

Fennell says that CaféTO will not be giving up its pop-up concept just yet. “The pop-up is like a car: it has a life outside of the city. It’s part of our culture and our habits. Nowhere else in the world do people gather for coffee and music and enjoy the venue in the same way that we do in Toronto,” she said.

“We have so many other great spaces throughout the city where people can be ‘up close and personal’, either out in the park or at the symphony; they should be able to go there as well.”

CaféTO is at 3583 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M4N 2E9.

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