I remember King West back in the day when buildings were boarded up and abandoned with dilapidated cars in the alleyways. It definitely wasn’t a safe place at night and it was practically impossible to find a cab. We would head down there occasionally for 606 and Roxy Blu (where I first discovered house music). Then West opened up and quickly became the “cool spot” in the city despite being in the middle of nowhere.
When Brassii opened in 2003, King Street felt like it could be somewhere in New York. Then Century Room and Brant House came on the scene and the party got started. As time went on and people came down Brassii lead to Buca, Jacobs and now Buca Bar and Century Room begot Blow Fish and Portland Variety. Brant House added Cheval (now Valdez) and partnered in the birth of Everleigh.
But this isn’t really about the evolution of King Street, although the transformation is extraordinary and begs further discussion. It’s about a group of guys who have been friends, family and business partners for longer then most couples have been together. Together they shared a vision to build an empire and today they sit on their respective thrones as the Kings of King West. – Melissa Austria
RALF AND ZARK
“So, I figured I’d better get to know this guy. If you can’t beat them, join them…”
Melissa: How did you guys first meet?
Ralph: I kept bumping into Zark in Yorkville where he was promoting for Fluid Sundays.
Zark: Ralph’s like “who’s this fucking guy”, then he showed up at one of my parties and realized that there were some cute girls there.
Ralph: So, I figured I’d better get to know this guy. If you can’t beat them, join them…
Melissa: So then you joined together to start ZRF (Zark, Ralph and friends) promoting some of the best nights in the city at the best clubs. How did it go from promoting to opening up Century Room?
Ralph: I actually did one of my first parties here back when it was a pool hall called Mocking Bird.
Zark: I wanted to do parties here after I came back from Miami but the owners wouldn’t let me.
Melissa: How did you know that you you’d made the right decision opening Century Room?
Ralph: Oh god in the first week. But those Century Room days are now non-existent; it will never happen again. We opened right after they introduced bottle service.
Zark: It was crazy – people were spending money. It was great energy.
Melissa: What is the future of King Street now?
Ralph: Now with all the restaurants, I think it’s one of those places where people come, jump around. But I do think that people still want to go and dance at some point. That’s why we made [Everleigh] a little more “lounge-y”. We kind of get a slightly older crowd. No 19 year old is going to want to hang out here.
Zark: The best years of Toronto nightlife have passed. It definitely takes more work… constantly coming up with new ideas… more programming. With Everleigh we’re trying to be less trendy and more about being a brand and a fun place to hang out on King Street.
Melissa: So you’ve been partners since 1999 then?
Zark: Nothing prepared me for marriage like my relationship with Ralph. You’re bound together by something you love, but there’ll be days that you’ll come to the office and want to punch the other person out.
Melissa: What happens when one partner wants to cheat on the other?
Ralph: It happened with Zark and Blowfish and with me and Portland Variety, but it’s all still under the same umbrella.
Zark: That’s the only thing I would do different. With different partners its harder to make a unilateral decision to do something like a percentage spend on marketing.
Melissa: So partners forever?
Zark: As long as we both keep making money for each other (laughing).