News / Toronto

Revamped Hugh's Room sees spike in bookings as community-centric music hub

A group of local business owners and music promoters banded together to raise nearly $150,000 for reviving the beloved venue.

Hugh's Room Live reopened last April as a non-profit restaurant/music club and is seeing success.

Torstar News Service

Hugh's Room Live reopened last April as a non-profit restaurant/music club and is seeing success.

Barely a year after a sudden shutdown, the live-music venue Hugh's Room is up and thriving.

"We've got bookings for the next nine months or so," said Brian Iler, chair of the board and one of the people behind the revamped Hugh's Room Live.

That's in stark contrast to how things looked last January, when the popular west-end venue abruptly shut down amid financial struggles — a trend that had already affected The Big Bop, The Hideout, The Kool Haus and others.

Shocked and saddened by the closure, a few local business owners and music promoters decided to revive Hugh's Room and turn it into a community-centric music hub. An online fundraising campaign raised nearly $150,000, giving the group confidence that it could make a breakthrough and revive music events.

By April last year, the venue was renovated and a lineup was already in place for initial concerts.

Iler said the new group brought back about 90 per cent of the former staff, plus a new music programmer and a new chef working the kitchen for the restaurant.

For Hugh's Room Live to function on a sustainable basis, it needs to host at least 20 concerts per month with an average of 120 people per night, said Iler.

"We're not there quite yet, but if we can do that, we'll be successful," he said, noting the challenge is to attract local and national talent who are able to draw enough of a crowd.

A sign of hope came last November when, for the first time, the group's inventory showed they had more income than expenses.

If the success continues, it will allow the group to generate enough money to be self-sustaining and eventually buy the property altogether. But for Iler and the rest of the group, the main goal is to preserve the venue's legacy of community building through various genres of music.

"Hugh's Room is just the living room, the listening room," he said. "If people come to the concert, they can expect it to be quiet, people paying attention to the music and engaging with the performers."

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