508 Queen St W, Toronto, ON
Just a few hundred metres up the street from the Bovine Sex Club, and a few blocks away from Rivoli, Velvet Underground is yet another Queen West venue. Opened in 1995, the Velvet spent 20 years as the area’s primary goth or industrial club, with more of a focus on DJ’s than live bands. In 2015 however, the entertainment company Embrace Presents bought the premises, and, following renovations, reopened it a year later. Under new ownership, the Velvet has transformed into a proper live music venue, with an increased capacity (355 to 440 people, standing), a new PA, bigger stage, and bigger dance floor. As a “nod” to the Velvet’s former identity, though, they put on regular goth nights - on those nights, the OG fans of the venue still have their favourite space, the way they like it best.
The Velvet’s square-ish stage (18’x 18.5’) can be approached from two sides, which effectively doubles the amount of space from which audiences can get a front-row experience. Like most venues in a downtown, metropolitan setting, the Velvet has a long and narrow shape, with a rather obtrusive set of pillars that run through the venue length-wise. But that being said, the overall aesthetic of the club is very clean and modern, with its simple black-on-black interior interrupted by swaths of bare brick. The bar is very long, with three separate Point of Sales stations to ensure efficient service to a full-capacity crowd. As an extra bonus, the Velvet Underground also has a very respectable rooftop patio.
Bands looking to gig at this venue should know a few things: first, your set has to include an intermission - or you’ll be financially penalized. Second, if you sell merch during your show, 20% of sales (on soft goods like shirts, not CD’s) goes to the house and 80% to your band. Third, there is a 50% Damage Deposit required when you sign on. Fourth, the venue will promote your show through social media, and of course via the marquee. Backstage, the green room has a private washroom, shower, kitchenette, and a nice assortment of sofas.
Audiences report that the bar staff are considerate and efficient, “supply[ing] tap water when you are dying, and they fill 100 cups of water when the show is over for everyone” (Dylan Jay on Facebook, 2019). Brittany Langley, also writing on Facebook, says that "the room is really nice, very intimate, [with] lots of different viewing angles and a pretty good view from anywhere you stand. Plus there are elevated areas for short people like me,” and goes on to say that “the staff are wonderful and I've never had any issues any of the many times I've been!” (2018). However, as with nearly all venues, there are mixed reviews. Victoria Ngai writes that the “sound is muddy and high frequencies are way too blown out and harsh … the views are bad for anyone not in the front 3 rows or not tall” (Facebook, 2019).
The only way to find out how well the Velvet works as a venue is to check it out in person. Even if you don’t end up being impressed by the sound or sight quality, you can see some pretty well-known acts at decent price: past acts of note that have gigged at the Velvet Underground include Mdou Moctar, Alanis Morissette (who celebrated the release of her chart-topping album Jagged Little Pill there in 1995), TRUST, Junkhouse, Free Nationals, King Buffalo, Felly, and last but not least, Australian pop-genius Mallrat.