I remember long gone summer days when one could leave the city of Toronto by going onto Queen Street. It was possible in one moment to be in the middle of the hustle and ‘tude of downtown and on the next be in a Caribbean oasis where friendly faces were as common as ice cold bottles of Carib beer; And there was a lot of beer.
Once located at 314 Queen West, I speak of course of the now defunct Bamboo: More a laidback sanctuary than a bar and more a private party than a club. With its tacky beach décor and wild colours, it was the type of place where you could earn your chevrons quickly and where it did not take much to become a regular. The managers remembered your name easily and the wait staff would pass knowing smiles as a reminder that you were in a cosy and temperate Shangri-La. This was a place where if you tipped honestly, you get ongoing drink samples ‘on-the-house’ and an unspoken promise of even better service on your next visit.
It was not unheard of to order a round for a stranger just because they were there. As chances were someone had already bought you a round just because you were there. It was an institution that kept on giving.
The rooftop patio at Bamboo was a rarity. A place where suits, artistic types and just about anyone could check the North American rat race at the door and let themselves be people wanting to get some sun. Enjoy a forum where conversation flowed like Appleton rum and if you stayed late enough, catch some calypso, reggae or just about any rhythm that would have your hips jumping for the rest of the night.
Then about four years ago… It came as a total shock to find our favourite hang out was closing its doors. Not due to lack of business, but greed from the landlord. Bamboo’s lease was due and the landlord was trying to capitalize more than they could chew by asking for an arm, a leg, plus the other leg and a few remaining fingers to renew it.
Bamboo’s owners, unable to reach an understanding were forced to relocate to what felt like an ill, third-rate site on Queen’s Quay. What was once an ode to the zest of Caribbean life became a shadowy, sunless pub. Although they shared the same name, the soul of the original Bamboo can be said to have died peacefully on Queen Street West. What carried over was a hollow shell as very few regulars or for that matter even fewer staff ever made the transition.
After two years of limbo, the skeleton crew of the once mighty Bamboo closed its doors, this time without fanfare or much press.
From The Ashes…
…And obviously deeper pockets, Bamboo’s successor flew up from its ashes: Ultra Super Club. An establishment trying hard to channel its predecessors laid back coolness to the point of adding the word ‘Super’ onto its name, as if to make sure we knew it’s special.
Now I am not saying Ultra Super(!) Club is an ugly duckling. The new owners obviously spent a lot of coin making the place look like a fleshed out ad for Wallpaper magazine. Nothing but high-end Ikea looking furniture here, but true coolness comes from a vibe and not just the décor, even if it did help a little.
While trying to be open-minded I commissioned a second expedition to USC in July. The first had been passable at best. However during winter visiting the patio would have been outright stupid and cold, but for those who like to be told the obvious, it was very cold.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Sure it still tries too hard to impress. You can expect a lot of couples and large parties to be there. Also if you are interested in meeting members of the opposite sex, once the music explodes into party mode, the meat market becomes open for business. So if you are single, well, you really can’t go wrong with that. But Bamboo it is not.
Unlike Bamboo, the drinks are on the pricey side. However $6 for a local beer is hardly highway robbery but I guess someone has to pay for the new Ikea décor and in this case that someone is going to be the women who might easily pay $12 for a cocktail. Enjoy.
Sure I have not spoken much about the interior of the place and there is a reason for that. I am focusing on the rooftop patio, but for those who are wondering about the lower floor of USC: It is quite elegant with a lot of red fabrics and a Yorkville feel: Which is generally snooty and pretentious, particularly from the still-not-gorgeous-enough-to-be-models-but-would-like-to-be members of the staff.
It is a good place to hold a summer gathering, but I am sad to inform that Bamboo and what it once represented will not be found in here. Even if it is cleaner, more modern but at the same time, more phoney. Bamboo, you are and will be missed.
Want to check what Bamboo, ahem, Ultra looks like now? Click here.