Club 120 and 120 Diner have now shut their doors permanently in the wake of COVID-19
Yet another business closing and a great loss to our hospitality and entertainment industry here in Toronto, as well as a place the LGBT community has called home for over a decade. Club 120/120 Diner owner Todd Klinck has just post a heartfelt letter to staff, artists, DJs, promoters, online supporters, and in person customers, that as of this Friday their businesses will no longer be in operation. They will still be serving take-out dishes up to and including this Friday May 8. and also selling off the liquor that they have on the premises.
Both Todd and his co-owner Mandy Goodhandy have been great supporters of the LGBT community for years, previously operating Club 120 as Goodhandys, leaders in the porn, BDSM, and fetish communities, purveyors of awesome inclusive club nights, and a safe-space for all, especially the trans community. Their lower level dining space, 120 Diner, offered delicious eats, and was known throughout the city as a great place to catch live jazz performances. A tremendous loss on all accounts.
Here’s hoping that they will once again be able to reinvent themselves and come back with another venture.
Below is the full letter written by Todd:
Dear staff, artists, DJs, promoters, online supporters and in person customers. It is with a heavy but optimistic heart that we must announce today that 120 Diner and Club120 will not be surviving the pandemic. We tried very hard to navigate the system and hang in there, and we were able to keep our lease intact until at least the end of May due to the generous donations on GoFundMe and in person, but with the way the world is turning, there is no sane or rational way that we can keep this space alive.
For those of you who wish to read long-winded details, we have decided to share with you exactly the reasons why we have to close down.
The uncertainty of the restaurant and club business is the main reason it will be impossible for us to hold out. All indications point to a world where restaurants will at first re-open with limited capacity and the structure of the virus and how it spreads makes us wonder if the medical community will even permit crowded bars and nightclubs to open ever, before a vaccine.
That being said, we would like to share with you some facts that will also shatter some myths. One myth that we have always wanted to shatter is the one that goes “People who own restaurants and nightclubs are rich”. Sorry to say, but 120 has always been a labour of love, and we almost went under several times. 120 Diner quite honestly never reached a point where it broke even, Club120 upstairs was the beast that quietly subsidized the Diner so that live music and comedy had a place to thrive. Without the big parties upstairs, the Diner would have ceased to exist within the first couple months. We’re going to list some of our monthly expenses at the bottom of this post to help you understand the struggle we faced. The purpose of this is NOT to cry victim – we are not now, nor will we ever, play the victim card. But we are heartbroken to visualize a city where perhaps 50% and even up to 75% of all bars and clubs and restaurants will not survive. Take our struggle and multiply it by tens of thousands of other small businesses across the country and try not to weep.
The government has done some pretty amazing things in Canada in terms of getting support out quickly, especially to individuals. But the support for small businesses like ours has been mostly about optics and politics. The CECRA program (the rent relief program that suggested commercial landlords would reduce rent to 25% for 3 months) is not useful. Most landlords don’t want to apply to it for a variety of reasons. Small businesses can’t keep paying expenses while the powers that be try to find solutions. We are still proud Canadians, but so far, we have not seen a lot of viable help. Restaurants, bars, and clubs make up an important part of our cultural fabric. We are a huge part of the economy. And it’s not our fault that a pandemic appeared out of nowhere and shuttered our doors with no warning. Our industry, and other industries that rely on small or larger groups, have arguably been hit the hardest. And virtually no politician has expressed this view or gone to bat for us directly. Time will tell, but it looks grim.
INSURANCE. I will list our expenses below, but one thing I want to highlight is the insurance industry. Our renewal was due at the end of April, so I had already put out for a quote in early March. BEFORE the official shut down, we got one offer from one insurance company. $56,000.00 per year. That is on top of the $5,020 +HST that our landlord charges us for TMI (Taxes, Maintenance, Insurance). So the insurance companies would be getting $56K from us directly, and an unspecified additional amount from our landlord. Our insurance has fluctuated between $25,000/year when we opened in 2006 and went as low as $20,000/year a couple years ago. We have not had a SINGLE insurance claim. No slip and falls, no lawsuits, no accusations. My insurance agent who specializes in bars and nightclubs tells me that he has no other clients with the same track record. Yet the insurance industry (which is unregulated) had the balls to more than double our rates this year, due to what they say is a high number of claims from licensed establishments. (When we asked for a new quote after the pandemic hit, my broker couldn’t even get a second quote from anyone – the industry behind the scenes is in shambles and it takes weeks to even get a call back.) I think the insurance industry is gouging businesses simply because we choose to sell alcohol.
LANDLORD. Our building is owned by Madison Properties. They are a large developer and it has not been a secret that our spot is slated for demolition for 2 massive condo towers. That said, the landlord recently signed another 5 year lease with us. Within that lease however, there was a “9 month demolition clause” which would have allowed them to give us 9 months notice at any point. The 5 year lease also included an increase of $5,000 per year, which would have made our rent rise to over $17,000 a month total by the end of our lease in 2024. Some details about Madison. First off, they have always been professional and courteous. They did not meddle in our affairs. We signed the lease with open eyes, even though we knew it was pretty one sided, we always had hope that we could withstand the rent increases. Initially, they signed a rent deferral program for April and May 1st, but that deal was only good for them – we would have had to pay the rent we didn’t pay for April and May over a 7 month period starting June 1st. So as the pandemic developed, in April, we sent them a pretty detailed rent proposal that would have allowed us to stay open. It was fairly aggressive in scope, in that it asked for severe rent reductions, but we feel it was fair given that in the current climate, the value of this real estate should be decreased quite significantly, because the ability for us to make revenue has decreased to zero for now, and we anticipated not being able to get back up to full revenue until somewhere in 2021. We also put a request in that asked them to remove the “9 month” clause. This was because if we were going to go into debt even further, we would need to know that we weren’t re-opening and then being given a 9 month eviction notice right away. Instead of replying to us, the Landlord waited more than a week, until the day before the end of May and then sent a form letter from their lawyer to all of their tenants. The letter essentially “reminded” us of our deferral agreement and let us know we would be in default if we did not honour it. So we paid them the reduced rent for May to honour the agreement. But this does not leave a good taste in our mouths about the Landlord. They too are a business and I’m sure they are struggling, but at the very least, they should have replied to our proposal directly.
MONTHLY EXPENSES continue to pile up. Our hydro bill is $2,000/ month. Gas bill around $1,000. Water around $1,000. We have what I like to call “loan shark payments” to a business loan company. One of those predatory ones that targets businesses when they know they are in trouble and offers them a shit-ton of money to bail them out. We are not proud that we had to use their services, but we had a big slow down last summer and we would not have been able to continue without their help. So add around $6,000/ month in payments to that company. Staff, payroll deductions, other utilities, bank and credit card fees and interest, costs of goods, the list goes on and on. Our fixed costs were close to $90,000/month. For us to stay open and wait, just with the bare minimum (no staff, lights and gas off), reduced insurance (insurance to protect the space but not to allow us to open), and maintaining our lines of credit, overdraft debt, and loan shark debt would be over $30,000/ month. We were closed on March 15th and we had a really slow January, so we were already in debt at the time of our sudden closing. Businesses like ours cannot withstand periods of no cash flow.
Enough of the lamenting about our process, and on to the positive stuff.
First off, some history. We were able to open a club in 2006 called Goodhandy’s, change its name to Club120 in 2012, and open a restaurant called 120 Diner on the main floor in 2014. All amazing experiences.
Goodhandy’s revolutionized the sex positive community and became a place where promoters produced events for many marginalized communities: trans people, South Asian queers, Middle Eastern queers, Asian queers, queer women, burlesque shows, and many, many more.
As Club120 developed, we started to become a hub for world class electronic music and the afterhours scene. We nurtured local live hip-hop. We opened our doors to straight promoters while still keeping our “safe place for everyone” mandate intact. Our most successful party for the last year has been a party that was always listed as “Private Party” on our website and that most of you did not know about – it was a party that catered to young Latinx people and the international student community. They chose to keep their party private because they had a huge list and they preferred to control who came in the door, to make things extra safe. It was always packed, with a line-up, and we are grateful for their business. We are proud to say that Club120, at the time we closed in March 2020, was almost entirely booked up for the rest of 2020. Those are all the parties that will not happen, but it’s worth saying – we were destined for a kick ass year.
We have worked with dozens of promoters, but we cannot fail to specifically mention DJ Blackcat and his extended family in the urban community and vogue community. Blackcat is one of the founders of The House of Monroe and that house was born under our roof. Blackcat consistently produced queer parties for the black community (of course while welcoming everyone) and it’s one of our biggest honours to know that he thinks of us as friends and that he always goes out of his way to remind people that it IS possible to find club owners who will treat his community with respect. Blackcat was the first promoter to hold an event at our space and he stayed here for the entire 14 years we were open. We are honoured to have had the trust of all of the wonderful promoters over the years – it is a lot of work to produce events, and we worked hard to keep our part of the deal which was to provide a safe space for a very diverse range of events while always remaining sensitive to the unique needs and desires of the promoters.
120 Diner became a hub for live music and comedy. Our music curator Ori Dagan labouriously programmed literally hundreds of musical acts including those who became like family from the loving and vibrant jazz community. Special thanks to our resident acts – Heather Luckhart’s Blues Jam, Jenni Walls’ Singular Sensation, the Daley’s, 5th Element, and so many more. Too many comedy groups to mention, but we must mention two of our longest running residencies: Comedy Kapow, which was sold out practically every Friday night from the minute 120 Diner opened its doors, and Malpensando, which started as a small Spanish language troupe that grew into an empire. We learned that the live music community is another marginalized group – we had no idea about the level of talent in this city, but the talent runs deep and we learned that just because you have a couple Juno awards and even in some cases Grammy awards, the hustle never ends – live musicians and singers have it really rough in this country trying to make a living and we’re so happy that we were able to work with so many talented people.
120 Diner also became a place where we learned so much about restaurants. This is thanks to our loyal and tireless chef Richard Henry. Our food was high quality and hand crafted from Day 1, and Richard never did get the public credit that a chef of his caliber should have received. There is virtually no restaurant journalism in this town. Don’t be fooled by the word “Diner”, while the food was inspired by a Diner vibe, we think the word “Diner” does not begin to describe the special and unique menu that Richard created for us.
And while this post does not even come close to trying to say thank you to everyone, we must mention Mason Byrne. He has been our loyal handyman, assistant, sous-chef, guy that you call when the toilets are overflowing at 3am when there are 300 people inside, and everything else. I have never met an individual who knows so much about so many things, and who is such a positive and lovely energy.
Our staff have all been informed of this decision in a separate private message. We thanked them for their contributions, because quite honestly, we know that the staff, above all, is the most important ingredient in a successful hospitality business. We were very picky about who we brought in, and we worked with dozens, maybe hundreds of amazing people over the years.
This is not the end. Once the dust settles we will be back. We are not ready to retire. Mandy’s interests lie heavily in the live entertainment and spiritual world. Todd was just getting going with his passion, the Afterhours and electronic music world. Spring 2021?
Until then, Mandy will be presenting her new events “Cocktails and Tarot Readings” online and Todd will be studying to become a real estate agent. Mandy will also provide the occasional online concert and both of us will be presenting the occasional (On the Fringe) interviews on Zoom. Watch for invites to a series of online goodbye parties during May and June. Mandy will also be keeping our newsletters going with updates and maintaining our online presence.
The world may be a better place once we are released from our lockdown. As a society, we’ve learned to live with less frivolous consumerism. We’re seeing a reduction in pollution. We’re connecting more with our families and friends. We’re getting used to a slower pace in life. We’re even learning how to cook and exercise at home. These are all great things. The other thing we are optimistic about is the possibility of a new future, a reset, where rents are drastically reduced and where a whole new batch of restaurants, bars, and clubs will open. A new future where artists and entrepreneurs will be more appreciated and will continue to blossom with even more opportunities. Let’s stay hopeful about the future of the world, because this may be a time for great social change. In the meantime, thank you again, from the bottom of our hearts.
Co-Owners and Co-Founders, Todd Klinck and Mandy Goodhandy
PS: Food will still be available from 120 Diner until this Friday from Ubereats, or by take-out. Now is the time if you are addicted to any of our dishes, to get your last fix. 5pm to 10pm up to and including Friday. Additionally, we still are offering booze sales by appointment. Some below cost, and it would help us out if you took it off our hands. Text Todd at 416-706-4237 regarding that.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.