Decked out in a Tijuana t-shirt and rocking there-was-no-water-in-my-apartment-this-morning hair, Richard Lambert taps his foot on the hardwood floor of The Hoxton. Between chats with his landlord and phone calls from contacts he reassures are not being purposely ignored, Lambert mulls over what exactly The Hoxton is. Situated at King St. W and Bathurst St. in a building with no street number (the address is 69 Bathurst St. for the curious), The Hoxton will mean many things to many people.
“It’s an event space. It’s a nightclub, it’s a corporate event space, it’s a concert hall, it’s all of the above and that would be perhaps the reason for its possible success,” Lambert told OurFaves last week. “You’re not leaning on just one concept. “
If you’ve never heard of Lambert, you probably know him through his food, club and vintage fur coats. The nightclub impresario is behind the uber popular Parts & Labour, 69 Vintage and The Social (now defunct). Up until about six months ago, Lambert was an ever-present figure at his beloved Parkdale restaurant, Parts & Labour, but most recently, he’s been logging long hours in the west end at The Hoxton prepping it for its opening just in time for the Toronto Film Festival.
Once The Hoxton is up and running, Lambert won’t have much of a break. With the closing of The Social comes a new project – The Dog & Bear pub – slated to open in November. It’s an homage to an identically-named pub in Canterbury, England owned by Lambert’s father.
If you’ve ever wondered where one of Toronto’s most prolific trendsetters dines, drinks and rests his head, read on.
How would you define exactly what The Hoxton is?
The idea is that it’s a cultural event space, so I deem some of that nightclub stuff to be culturally driven too. So bands, DJs, acts locally and from all over the world. I feel maybe in Toronto, it’s a bit of an old man city in the sense that they don’t view anything noisy as cultural. We’re going to be doing a lot of stuff with Fashion Week, with MOCCA, which is the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art on Queen Street. TIFF, all those things to me are cultural, perhaps lacking a bit in the King West area is culture. No disrespect to a lot of the other clubs around here, but they seem to be more just nightclubs. We want to be a bit more culture-driven, definitely. Which really in the end is important for Toronto as it becomes a bigger city.
What do you think of the King West area in terms of culture? Now that the Thompson Hotel has opened, do you think it will become a rich centre?
Perhaps. It’s definitely a commercial neighbourhood, more than I’m use to being in. My early roots in Toronto are Queen West, 69 Vintage, The Social and then later on in Parkdale, Parts & Labour. So for us, it’s been a learning experience being here and just learning about King West in general. I had my preconceived ideas of what King West was and it wasn’t necessarily that positive, to be honest. And since I’ve come here, I’ve noticed there have been a lot of let’s say cultured people who were from Queen West perhaps, or from all over, who have moved to this neighbourhood. Artists, architects, all sorts of people. I’ve been pleasantly surprised as to how King West is. I think it’s losing a little bit of the stigma that may have been there as it grows.
The Social, from what I understand, closed on July 2. Would you consider that to have been a success?
It was a great success. It leap-frogged us to be able to be in a position where we could take on such a massive project as this. There’s a lot of The Social in here, but it’s like a grown up version. I don’t want to say Social on speed, but bigger and better. And a lot of our clientele has actually come with us, so back in those early days, 2004, when we opened The Social, those people were 19 and 20. Now they’re 25, 26 and they’ve got jobs and end up buying a condo in King West and now we’re here again. We’re getting that grown up business – it’s nice to keep your clientele, like at Parts & Labour too.
Social was a big part of my life, running it and being there. It was time to move on. We’re actually turning it in to a British pub, we’re renovating it now. So the space lives on, but in a more relevant way for that neighbourhood, with it becoming more residential. Before, it wasn’t really. The south side was all industrial when we moved in there and there was residential north. Now the south side is awaiting 20,000 residents and the extension to CAMH is huge, so we wanted to put something there that was more relevant.
Did you close The Social because you weren’t getting enough traffic?
I think the Social concept…it was time to move forward. When we started, there was no one around there. The Drake wasn’t even open when we we started renovating – it opened while we were renovating – and it was so far out of the way and there was a lot of poverty out there and a lot of empty buildings. Now, that’s changed and it’s all cleaned up, so therefore, an underground bar/nightclub is not necessarily the place for it.
Can you talk more about the new pub going up in its place?
I grew up in England until I was 21 and I lived with my father in his pub in Canterbury and his pub was called The Dog & Bear, so I’m calling this place The Dog & Bear in honour of my father and, I guess, to give it some authenticity. It will be an authentic British pub with sports, food – a little bit like a gastropub but not too fancy. It’s not like a Spotted Pig, that’s a bit more like Parts & Labour. It’s a lot simpler but there will be good food.
It’s the kind of thing that a guy or girl will come home from work who live in their condo across the street. They don’t want to cook dinner, but they want to be able to eat and have a drink without it costing more than $20 – $25. And that’s what they can do. It’s going to be a laid back place.
When is The Dog & Bear slated to open?
When is anything slated to open? I guess, November. We’ve started the demo of the old place.
Who will be behind the design?
Just myself and partners Jesse (Girard) and my architect Steven Fong. It’s a bit warmer, it’s more cozy. It’s a little simpler.
How did you get your start in the entertainment scene?
We were in vintage clothing, we opened the clothing store, 69 Vintage. That was our very first business. We were doing the exporting and eBay sales. And we used to throw parties at our house and then we decided, ok, let’s get into the nightclub business. The Social wasn’t even a nightclub when we first opened. It was a bar, it had food. It was a bit more of a bar with music and it just took off and pushed more toward the nightclub thing. I was in the restaurant business when I moved here, for three years, so general hospitality has always been my thing. Just being nice to people.
So that’s really important to you – being nice to people?
It’s the one missing thing about some people who get into hospitality is that you just got to be nice. It’s not that hard.
Bars and clubs open and close in Toronto pretty frequently. How have you managed to still be in the game?
I don’t really know (laughs). It’s all about your contacts and the people who support you. We couldn’t have done any of this stuff without the support of many people. That’s like your lawyers, your architects, your bookkeepers, your accountants, your staff, the support of your clientele. It’s one big thick web of support that I guess is based upon what we give to them too.
It sounds a bit cheesy, but you only get what you put into it. Sure we have good ideas and good style, but I guess it’s hard to pump your own tires about how you’ve had success but so far, all of our concepts have been pretty solid, touch wood.
Speaking of success, what’s the story behind Parts & Labour?
Parts & Labour, I miss it. I’ve been working on The Hoxton for so long, I’m used to being there everyday. It’s an interesting kind of concept of fine dining, design, music with our two-tier space. We have a live venue downstairs, so again, a lot of culture there, some arts. We’ve done a bunch of fashion events too. It’s not too dissimilar from The Hoxton. Instead of it being a nightclub, it’s a restaurant.
That was a different concept in the sense that it was in a neighbourhood where there was no traffic. Parkdale is kind of a place where everyone has said, watch out, that’s going to be (big), but it’s still waiting. We’ve noticed since we’ve been there that it’s getting more gentrified. That was more of a merge of people from the people behind The Social and the people behind Oddfellows on Queen and Shaw. Matty (Matheson), our chef, his food has carried the restaurant quite a lot.
You talked about Parkdale, but what is your favourite neighbourhood in Toronto?
That’s a hard one. When I first moved to Canada, I moved to Brock Avenue in Parkdale. I don’t know, it’s the west side in general. Anything west of Bathurst, probably mainly Queen. I’d say Queen Street, really. I’ve not been around King West enough. It’s not necessarily where I’d choose to be. Socially, I like very small bars, the Communist’s Daughters of the world. My favourite area of Ontario is Georgian Bay. That’s where I’d rather be.
I really like Trinity Bellwoods, that area. I guess that would be my favourite area – Queen and Shaw.
Is that where you live, then?
I actually don’t. Temporarily, I live in Church Street, which I also love. I love Toronto, I really do. As an immigrant, I have been here for 12 years and there isn’t an area I don’t like. I think people take it for granted. I think it’s one of the best cities in the world to be.
What restaurant do you frequent the most often? Is it Parts & Labour?
For sure. Closely followed by Terroni.
What is your favourite thing to order there?
Spaghetti Pummarola. Spaghetti with red sauce.
You like simple things.
I do, actually. Yeah.
Where would we find you on a typical Friday or Saturday night?
Parts & Labour or The Hoxton. Dinner at Parts & Labour and then I come to The Hoxton or perhaps the Thompson, my neighbour.
What is your favourite day of the week?
Because it’s all over. We have brunch at the restaurant, but other than that, pretty much that’s the one day where work disappears.
You don’t get stressed out about Monday?
I’ve always tried to keep the stress levels down. It’s not that easy, but there’s not much you can do about it anyway.
What is your favourite drink?
Rye and Coke.
From anywhere special?
One of the pluses of owning bars and nightclubs and restaurants is you’re never too far from a drink.
Interview and photos by Maria Cootauco