The Rivoli

Coordinates: 43°38′57″N 79°23′42″W / 43.649276°N 79.394914°W / 43.649276; -79.394914
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Location334 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Coordinates43°38′57″N 79°23′42″W / 43.649276°N 79.394914°W / 43.649276; -79.394914
OwnerJohn Christensen
Genre(s)Alternative, Indie
Capacity70 (dining room),
200 (back room),
200 (upstairs pool hall)
Rivoli Toronto [1]

The Rivoli is a bar, restaurant and performance space, established in 1982, on Queen Street West in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The club originally earned a reputation as one of Canada's hippest music clubs,[1] and many major Canadian comedy and musical performers have played on its stage, including The Kids in the Hall, Gordon Downie, The Frantics, Sean Cullen and the infamous Dark Shows. The Drowsy Chaperone premiered at the Rivoli and went on to subsequent productions and eventually a highly successful run on Broadway.

Venue layout & design[edit]

The venue is divided into three main areas, the front, the upstairs and the back. The front of the venue has a bar along most of its west wall. The east side of the front room, separated from the bar by a dividing wall, are tables for dining. Upstairs there is a pool hall with 11 vintage and antique tables. The space is large and sometimes dance nights or private parties are hosted there. The back room of the venue contains a stage at the back. There is a smaller bar in the back room, and some bar seating along the side walls.

The audience area is sometimes open for standing room, sometimes tables and chairs are set up, and sometimes chairs are set up in rows. Seating is rarely assigned or reserved. Patrons are typically free to eat or drink in the front room without paying for admission to shows. The Rivoli's menu is known for an eclectic and upscale motif.[citation needed]

The Rivoli sign, seen outside the club on Queen Street West, features the handwriting of musician Mary Margaret O'Hara.[2]


Launched in 1982 by the hospitality entrepreneurs Andre Rosenbaum, David Stearn, and Jeff Strasburg[3] (already partners, since 1978, in Queen Mother Cafe down the street),[4] their new venture the Rivoli almost immediately became synonymous with Toronto's 1980s black-garbed Queen West scene. Mike Myers' Saturday Night Live German club character Dieter was inspired by a Rivoli waiter.[citation needed] This reputation waned as the club's clientele became more eclectic and upscale, but the Rivoli's atmosphere is still unique.[citation needed]


The Rivoli has had a long association with alternative comedy, of the sketch, improv, and stand-up variety. Additionally, primarily through its Monday night comedy shows, the venue developed a reputation as a breeding ground or career springboard for talented comedy performers, some of whom would go on to prominent careers in the entertainment industry. Talent scouts for Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival and the major television networks still routinely trawl the Monday night comedy shows.[citation needed]

The Kids in the Hall[edit]

Soon after opening, among the variety of acts, the Rivoli began hosting an early iteration of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe, consisting at the time of Toronto-based improv comedy performers Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, and Luciano "Luc" Casimiri who did their short 10-minute sketch comedy sets at the back of the bar-restaurant in addition to appearing at other performance venues around the city such as the Poor Alex Theatre, Factory Theatre, and Theatresports competitions at Harbourfront Centre.[5] The group would soon be joined by Frank van Keeken, Norm Hiscock, Garry Campbell, Toronto actor Scott Thompson, as well as Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney who had moved from Alberta.[5][6]

By 1984, the troupe found its core five on-stage players—Foley, McDonald, Thompson, McCulloch, and McKinney—who began performing a lot more frequently at the Rivoli as part of comedian Briane Nasimok's comedy night showcase on Mondays, eventually taking it over for themselves.[5] On McCulloch's insistence, the group decided to do a fresh stage show every week at the venue—getting together on Fridays after finishing their full-time day jobs and coming up with an hour worth of material by Monday night.[5][7] Their 2-hour Monday night Rivoli shows consisted of an hour of new material followed by an hour of improv.[5]

Though initially performing for small audiences of 10 to 15 people,[5] the troupe kept on with their Monday night shows at the Rivoli, and, over the years that followed, continued developing a quirky and surreal sketch comedy repertoire[8]—distinct from other Toronto comedy staples, the Second City and Yuk Yuk's.[9] Building an audience proved difficult due to the group's insistence on not repeating previously-performed material; they often faced situations with individual audience members liking them one Monday and returning the following week with more people, only to then be disappointed by not recognizing any of the sketches.[5] To that end, during spring 1985, the Kids decided to temporarily break with their new-material-every-week practice by doing a 'best of' week, which they were accommodated for by the Rivoli owners that in addition to Monday, also allowed them to perform on the more coveted Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.[10] Within a few months, the Kids would be noticed by the Saturday Night Live scouts and its co-creator and returning producer Lorne Michaels, an established Toronto-raised show business insider who, following an audition that also took place at the Rivoli, proceeded to hire McCulloch and McKinney as writers for SNL's 1985-86 season.[9][10] Three years later, in fall 1988, he put the entire troupe on television as a 25-minute sketch show pilot on CBC in Canada and HBO in the United States, leading to it being picked up as a series in 1989 by both networks.[9]

From 1987 to 1990, the Journal of Wild Culture held its regular avant-garde vaudeville nights, the Café of Wild Culture, featuring a mix of artists exploring the magazine's ecology and imagination mandate.[11]

The ALTdot COMedy Lounge[edit]

Since the 1990s the Rivoli has been home to The ALTdot COMedy Lounge, Toronto's most popular alternative comedy show.[citation needed]


Many big name Canadian and international artists who have played at the Rivoli:

Canadian music legend Neil Young played a private concert at The Rivoli on November 10, 2023. The event was a 50th birthday celebration for Dani Reiss, CEO of Canada Goose (clothing). Arkells also played at the event.[12]

Recent history[edit]

In 2014, the original owners sold the business to Jenna Wood, Sarah Henning, and Jessica McHardy.[3] Henning left the venture in early 2020; several months later amid the COVID-19 pandemic, remaining partners Wood and McHardy listed the business for sale for Can$500,000.[13][14]

In May 2022, on the occasion of The Kids in the Hall television show returning after 27 years, the Rivoli unveiled a plaque honouring the troupe and recognizing its association with the venue.[15][16]


  1. ^ Griffin, John (May 2, 1985). "Hit album makes a believer of Gowan". The Montreal Gazette. Montreal. p. B4. "[...] Gowan, who, on the phone anyway, seems more the affable hockey-and-beer type than a denizen of such desperately hip clubs as Montreal's Beat and Toronto's Rivoli."
  2. ^ "How three young women are reinventing a Queen West institution". Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b Ritchie, Kevin (8 June 2016). "Rivoli Redux: fresh touches come to the Queen West venue". Now. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  4. ^ Carlberg, Amy (2 December 2022). "This 44-year-old Toronto restaurant is what remains from when Queen west was cool". Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Semley, John (3 October 2016). "How the Kids in the Hall pioneered an alt-comedy scene at The Rivoli". Now. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  6. ^ Callaway, Jimmy (26 November 2013). "The Rivoli is for sale". Vulture. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  7. ^ Jian Ghomeshi (28 May 2014). "Dave Foley is "Spun Out" in Studio Q (timestamp 10:44)". Q. CBC Radio One. Archived from the original on 23 April 2023. Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  8. ^ Dee Humphreys, Jessica (16 January 2022). "A look back at the early days of 'The Kids in the Hall'". Toronto Star. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  9. ^ a b c Semley, John (20 October 2016). "Kids in the Hall: The Rivoli years". Now. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  10. ^ a b Semley, John (2022). "The Kickstarters". Toronto Life. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  11. ^ Lypchuk, Donna (March 30, 1989). "Mock on the Wild Side". Metropolis.
  12. ^ "Neil Young & Crazy Horse Apparently Played A Billionaire's Private Party". Stereogum. Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  13. ^ Trapunski, Richard (7 July 2020). "The Rivoli is for sale". Now. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  14. ^ "Landmark nightclub, pool & live music bar". Chi Real Estate. 2020. Archived from the original on 8 July 2020. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  15. ^ Devo (20 May 2022). "Comedy troupe 'Kids in the Hall' returns after nearly 30 years". Breakfast Television. Citytv. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  16. ^ Leblanc, Gilles (16 May 2022). "Queen West landmark the Rivoli honours Kids in the Hall with plaque". Toronto Star. Retrieved 22 April 2023.

External links[edit]