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The scraps, stunts and multi-million-dollar investments behind Charles Khabouth’s empire of cool

Life is one never-ending, exclusive party in Charles Khabouth’s 17 faddish restaurants and nightclubs.

The Impresario: Charles Khabouth

It costs $750 (i.e., a three-bottle minimum) to sit down in Khabouth’s new Adelaide West nightclub, Uniun

For those of you who have never been to Uniun, the latest addition to Toronto’s dance club scene, here are some of the things you will notice should you go. Though Uniun’s address is nominally 473 Adelaide West, if you actually stand at the corner of Adelaide and Portland you will not see the entrance: to find it, you have to cut through a small parking lot and then walk up a dark alley, at which point you will find a pair of bouncers manning a black velvet cordon.

Once inside, you will be greeted by tall, thin women with the suspender-trays worn by cigarette girls in the Roaring Twenties; they will be giving out lollipops, popcorn and artfully wrapped candy bundles. Aside from the equally statuesque bartenders and the security men (one of whom has the bulk and flattened nose of a KGB assassin) the only other staff are the go-go dancers, who’ll be wearing nothing but high heels, Bono-style goggles, long braided ponytails and glittering body paint. You will watch them (a tricky gambit in that staring would mark you as a rube) not because they are naked (well, okay, partly because of this) but mainly because they’re managing to exuberantly dance on chest-high Grecian columns without falling off, all the while wearing the pissed-off expression that people get when forced to wait in driving hail for a bus.

The patrons, meanwhile, will be a mixture of what you expected and what you didn’t expect. Uniun is expensive—it costs $750 (i.e., a three-bottle minimum) if you want to sit down—and so the crowd tends to be somewhat moneyed, the men coiffed and dressed in slacks and jackets, the women favouring ultra-short skintight dresses. Yet there will be people in jeans and T-shirts, and there will be women dressed more demurely, though they will be in the distinct minority, as will patrons above the age of 40. You will also notice that Uniun has an atmosphere—all those flashing lights, all those bottles of Veuve—that is repellent to the urban hipster, there being not a beard, dreadlock, tribal piercing or tattoo sleeve in sight. You will see celebrities: at the Uniun opening I shared space with Ben Mulroney, Mats Sundin and, surprisingly, one of the interventionists on Intervention Canada. The club is mostly empty until 12:30, the earliest time nightclub-goers deem acceptable to be seen in public. Then, as if a switch has been thrown, it will
instantly fill.

As for the club itself, the bar runs about two thirds of the length of a large, rectangular room before giving way to the dance floor, which is notable in that the walls and ceiling pulsate with half a million dollars worth of LEDs, programmed to create combinations of colours and patterns in time with the music. The room has a premium sound system and long stretches of leather banquettes, and is intended to be Toronto’s exclusive stop for the sort of modern celebrity DJs who tour the world, playing short sets for dance aficionados.

The person responsible for all of this is the owner, Charles Khabouth, who has been opening nightclubs in Toronto since the 1980s and has brought an unparalleled level of sophistication to the city’s entertainment scene. If you spot him, he will likely be saying hello to the vast number of clubbers who know him personally. Yet it’s more likely you will not see him. On nights he works late, he makes brief visits to each of his 17 businesses, a roster including the Guvernment complex, a warehouse-sized venue on Queens Quay that hosts concerts and massive DJ dance parties; the upscale, intimate nightclub Cube; the grungier Queen West venue Tattoo Rock Parlour; and the sprawling lakeside party venue Polson Pier. If you factor in his eating establishments—he owns the King West resto-lounges Patria, Weslodge and Spice Route, and the Yorkville bistro La Société, and has three more due to open this year—Charles Khabouth entertains, on a Saturday night, roughly 15,000 people in Toronto, making him by far the biggest individual restaurant and nightclub owner in the city. His company, Ink Entertainment, earns annual revenues of $60 million.

Khabouth intends to become an international phenomenon. In August of last year, he launched Veld, an annual electronic dance music festival, in Downsview Park, attracting more than 20,000 people. He’s since been approached by investors to take the festival to other countries—he has three full-time staff working on that project. And the American luxury hotel chain Loews approached Khabouth in 2011 and asked him to recreate La Société in their Montreal location. It opens this April, and the plan is for Khabouth to open restaurants in Loews hotels throughout Canada and the U.S.—the next will likely be in Philadelphia or
Los Angeles.

Then there’s Bisha, his eponymous condo/hotel project on Blue Jays Way (his real first name is Bechara, Bisha for short, but he changed it after his family came to Canada from Lebanon). Khabouth intends to open Bishas all over the world: though the Toronto location won’t open until 2015, every unit has been pre-sold since mid-2012. “I can say, with 100 per cent certainty, that Bisha is going to go global,” he
told me.

“You mean Asia?” I asked. “Europe? South America?”

“Everywhere.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/nondoctor Jamie Drummond

    “That’s why it was called house music in the first place—it was DJs mixing records in their own basements.””

    Debatable.

  • hellouser

    All of his clubs are the same played out shit with the same boring Torontonians, especially the colder-than-Toronto-weather women. Theres almost no difference between any of his clubs; same top 40 radio shit, same drinks, same 2am cutoff and same pseudo high class crowd. The only thing that separates any of Toronto’s venues are the slight differences in decor. Otherwise, Toronto is a pathetic attempt at a clubbing scene. Until this city changes its way from being ‘career city’ the artificial clubbing atmosphere will never change.

    Kudos to him making millions of dollars, but that doesnt take away from the fact that everything hes done is so…. bourgeois.

  • bobbydigitial

    they left out that he made a ton of money selling coke in his clubs

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.c.j.downing Keith Downing

    Not even close to being true…

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.c.j.downing Keith Downing

    What? Toronto is world famous for it’s house music scene. DJ’s and patrons come from all over just for the music.

  • hellouser

    So what? Beta in Waterloo was able to get Tiesto two nights in a row. That doesn’t put Waterloo on the world map or even deserve to be treated like some clubbing capital. Toronto still stinks and most of the people attending Charles’ clubs haven’t a fucking clue about dance music anyway. Proof? VELD. That ‘festival’ somehow gathered 20,000 kids all wearing neon sunglasses all listening to commercial DJs. And I use the word DJ here loosely. But since when did neon glasses and commercial crap become the definition of electronic dance music? Guvernment, despite getting proper DJs in there, is still plagued by the god awful crowd; posers and asians well past their youth all cracked out on drugs.

    Nobody comes to Toronto for the clubbing scene, don’t try to make yourself feel better, the reality is people LEAVE Toronto for a real party experience. The 2am alcohol cutoff is also to blame and part of the reason why drugs are such an issue. City officials are surprised that drugs are a problem in clubs when alcohol is taken away… and then they wonder why the streets at 2am are filled with idiots and just as many cops to handle the situation. The reality is, the conservatives (not the political party) should be thrown out of office as they have no sense of logic. What needs to happen is to extend the alcohol time limit and let bars/clubs stay open for longer that way you dont get a massive crowd of morons all at once, everyone just gradually goes home otherwise everyone will know they need to get plastered before 2am.

    Toronto sucks and so does much of the rest of Canada. Leave for Europe or South America if you want to party.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.eriksen.79 Mike Eriksen

    id say all drugs not just coke get asked more if i want mdma in the guv than if i want a drink lol! bit of a problem there if u ask me.

  • kim

    Thank you for this great article. Khabouth has earned one of my highest respect for being such a hardworking and ambitious businessman, and even now, at 51 years old. People can complaint all they want about his clubs being the same, his clientele being snobby rich people…well guess what, he’s there to make money and he’s pretty good at it. Toronto people are, sadly, very predictable in terms of trend and hype. Khabouth is a genius on catching and understanding this city. He has invested his life into his work/dream and I am glad he is making a fortune out of it. If half of Torontonian can work as hard as him and be willing to take chances in life and risk everything to accomplish their dream, this city will be a much better place. Kudos to him and thank you for investing into the city, pumping money into the economy, creating jobs and opportunities to people and inspiring people like me, who works really hard and want to achieve their dreams.

  • Methinks

    I think hellouser has been refused entry to a few places…hence the anger. South America and Europe can have him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.c.j.downing Keith Downing

    “don’t try to make yourself feel better…” I know this a lot to ask of an internet forum, but please, can we debate this issue as civil adults?

    I will start, by agreeing that having Tiesto perform at Beta two nights in a row does not put Waterloo “on the map.” Even though Tiesto is one of the biggest EDM performers in the world, simply fronting the cash and providing a venue for any international act to perform, does establish a city as a good host for other such artists, no matter the genre.

    In regards to neon glasses and commercial music defining EDM, since when did the mainstream become the definition of anything? Was Blink 182 the definition of punk rock when they were at their peak? No! They were pop-punk. Those that liked punk rock at the time may have been perturbed by the rise of Blink 182, but they just kept liking what they liked about punk rock and did away with the rest. The same could be said for the contemporary house music scene and the sudden popularity of certain house performers. One could even call it pop-house, but I’ve never been a big fan of genres.

    I’ll also agree with you that the crowd at Guvernment – both the intensity in numbers and the lack of respect once inside – has not been the greatest lately, but there are other places in Toronto that do house music justice that don’t fall under the Ink Tickets umbrella. Footwork (located @ Brant & Adelaide) is a great example of a place where the level of douchebaggery is minimal, and music is the first priority. I have met several people that will drive up from the states just to come to Footwork.

    The 2am alcohol cut-off would not be a solution to the “problems” you seem to have with the Toronto’s dance music scene. The people that go to clubs to dance, listen to music, and be with their friends would stay until the music stops and the lights come on (no, not just because they are super-high). If that time happens to be 2am, 3am or 6am, so be it – they are there to dance. Those who claim to be music enthusiasts, whose night ends when the booze runs out, are what I would deem “posers” (be it folk music, rock, hip-hop etc.). Be that as it may, I have never been to a bar where they are hovering over the mute button at 1:59 am, counting down the second to clear everyone out. The earliest I’ve ever left a closing club is probably around three in the morning.

    Also, “posers” is a term I struggle with, because if you’re having a good time, and not acting obnoxious, what is the harm in that?

    It seems like you have pigeon-holed Toronto, which is a shame, as not only is it great for house, it is great for all kinds of music! Everyone parties differently, and you are entitled to your opinion, I just don’t think you’ve given it a fair chance.

  • Guest

    I worked at one of his clubs for just over 5 years and during that time I was able to learn (and earn) a lot because of him. He has worked hard for his success and in turn has created a ton of jobs in our city. I wish him the best of luck in his future projects!

  • Happy & Safe

    “celebrity DJs expect $30,000 a night, with a handful of top-tier performers such as DeadMau5 earning half a million dollars a shot”

    Hilariou5 !

  • Happy & Safe

    “a lineup that, at midnight, was just starting to form on the far side of a black velvet cordon”

    A fortune may be made if one does not underestimate the gullibilty of people.

  • Jessica Chan

    Totally agree with you. I have been in many parts of the world including Ibiza to party and I have to say Toronto has it good. And I think Charles is amazing for making it happen (EDM) here in Toronto.
    And, very disappointing to see the other user being uncivilized through the forum.

  • Sirena

    he’s too old for his own scene

  • terencewiig

    LOL … you’re not too old if it’s your club. Dude’s fit, too. Get over it.

 

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