The live music scene in Toronto is nothing if not fluid. The latest? The Cadillac Lounge’s place in Parkdale is up for sale, and also the fate of this gritty Graffiti’s Bar amp; Grill and music space at Kensington Market is also in doubt. On the flip side, an overhauled El Mocambo is set to reopen next spring. The man with links to those three places is the gregarious Sam Grosso. The Globe talked to the 49-year-old club proprietor at his west-end Cadillac roadhouse.

Unlike other team owners that are being squeezed from their places by large rent, you have this building. So why are you promoting the building and shutting down the Cadillac Lounge?

Owning the building is terrific. The mortgage is a portion of what the rent would be. I wouldn’t have the ability to afford the fair market lease. What I do is a market item, with country music and rockabilly. I opened this location in 2000. I was behind the bar, working six or seven nights a week. It was always a Saturday night. But life happens. You meet a woman, and then the next thing you know you are getting married, after that you are having kids. You’re attempting to keep this crazy lifestyle by conducting a live music bar and a restaurant along with a terrace bar and a special events location. I am looking for a father and a husband. I’m wearing lots of hats.

Take a hat off then. You are sitting on all this equity. Can not you afford to employ someone to run the place?

I tried that, back when everything was humming on eight cylinders here. A large Cadillac running down the street, nothing can stop me, right? We had a cabin in Prince Edward County, so we thought we would purchase a house there and live whole time and return to Toronto on weekends. Hire a manager. Slow things down a little. However, once I did this, following a year, sales began dropping. I let the manager go, and started managing again myself. I have been doing that for over three decades now. It’s hard. In this business, you must focus. You must work 10 or 12 hours per day.

People expect you to be here, right? They would like to see you when they arrive in.

Absolutely. This type of place is character driven. I’d really like to get a place where I did not need to be there. But that is not how it is with me. For a brief while I possessed the Cadillac and Graffiti’s in precisely the exact same time. It drove me mad. I must be here. I speak to people. I meet new people and I visit old friends. It’s natural. It’s easy to me.

You have tried different models, so far as presenting live music. You are doing these romantic sit-down displays with dinners, with earlier starting times. Are not they working?

They are. We sell out. But it’s not simple to do these shows. You need to know the bands, and you have to deal with them directly. Once a booking agent becomes involved, forget it.

You have been outspoken about the unwillingness of young people to cover live music. Have you ever considered that they just don’t have enough money?

I understand that. You can not blame them. The rents they cover are expensive. However, you can sit on a given Friday or Saturday night, and observe 100 people stop at the doorway. The cover may be as little as $10, and they won’t pay. A number of them do not even understand the cover. They see a man at the door collecting money, and they walk out.

I bumped into you in Graffiti’s last week. The rumour is that it is going to close on Jan. 1. As the former owner and the person who opened the area in 1995, what are your ideas on the possibility of this venue shutting down?

It’s unfortunate. That is where it all began, with that tiny 30-seat bar. The speakers hanging from the ceiling are the very same ones that I put up 22 years back. Justin Rutledge started there. Serena Ryder played there. Jeff Healey would fall in. We’ll see what happens though. From what I know, it has not been marketed yet.

Let us discuss the El Mocambo, which you owned for a brief while. Back then, you told me about your ambitious renovation plans. Nevertheless you sold it in 2014 to entrepreneur Michael Wekerle. Why?

I didn’t have the money to remain in. I mean, Michael’s currently [many millions] to it, after purchasing the building for $3.7-million. And he is not finished yet.

Does he understand what he is doing?

I believe he does. He is mad as can be, but he has such a way of thinking outside the box. He didn’t purchase the El Mocambo to the real estate. He purchased it for content.

You’re referring to his group branching out into artist and record label solutions, using a recording studio on site, right?

Michael can sell that El Mocambo brand repeatedly and over again. But they will also bring in bands to perform on the second floor. They will get 400 to 500 people in and charge $100 for an act that would usually play a larger hall. But they are playing an iconic place, and the El Mocambo will record those shows and make money off that as well. I truly believe it is going to be the best place in North America.

Is Wekerle paying you to say that?

No. But once in a while, he buys me a few beers. I like that. I deserve it, you know?

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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