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30 years of punk rock fury, Bovine Sex Club owner Darryl Fine is a self-described "live music junkie." (Photo: Nadia Doss)

Toronto’s Bovine Sex Club Celebrates Three Decades Of Uncensored Mayhem

Chixdiggit frontman KJ Jansen interviews owner Darryl Fine about the live music venue’s crusty and cherished history. 

by Shelby Monita

Interview by KJ Jansen

The heartbeat of Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood, the Bovine Sex Club is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. What started in 1991 as a club with a name that many of us were too sheepish to say in front of our parents organically grew into a staple of the local music scene.  A tried and true punk rock dive bar, the Bovine has played host to great bands like Against Me!, Cancer Bats, Anti-Flag, Sum 41, and many more, building their reputation as an inclusive space that provides a platform for local and emerging acts to cut their teeth.

While the stripper pole that once stood strong in the back room has been removed, most of the club has remained the same. The venue’s outside facade boasts its iconic “junk-yard but make it cool” kind of decor. Inside, eclectic curiosities fill the ceiling while stickers and graffiti cover every other available surface.

To celebrate 30 years, Canadian pop punk mainstays Chixdiggit are playing three nights back-to-back with different local acts each night. You can catch the celebrations for yourself on November 4, 5, and 6. We asked Chixdiggit frontman KJ Jansen to interview Bovine owner Darryl Fine, looking back on 30 crusty years of memories.   

How does it feel to be celebrating 30 years of the Bovine ? 

We are disappointed to be celebrating in COVID times. We had so many “larger than normal” shows booked throughout the year but decided in the Fall of 2020 to let them all go. Peeps had enough issues, including their COVID lives, family and work stress, isolation stress, and fears to deal with. They really shouldn’t be worried about loving up the club. It was for the best. We are excited to have this one three-day weekend with you guys (Chixdiggit) on November 4 to 6. It’s our little jewel in the start-up schedule for the live music program. We are sneaking it in before the end of the year. It’s also your 30th anniversary, so we are set!

What do you think of the comparison that the Bovine is the Canadian CBGB’s? 

We hear that quite a bit. It’s a really nice thing to hear. Every major city has their CBGB-like long-term, small dive bar/live music venue. Las Vegas has the Double Down, Les Foufounes Électriques ( the old version ) in Montreal, Wild at Heart in Berlin, Liars Club and Exit in Chicago, The Crowbar in London etc. I lived in New York in 1982 and couldn’t have imagined the impact of getting a chance to go to CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City and the lot. 

How did owning the Bovine make your travel memories unique?  

By the time the Bovine was 10 years old and continuing until today, every time I travel someone in some foreign place recognizes me because of the Bovine and creates a detour or unique experience that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The love of the Bovine by bands, promoters, production crew, and tourists visiting Toronto created hundreds of opportunities to travel and visit these peeps in their home cities or to attend with “privilege,” at music or film festivals abroad.

I’ve travelled with the Warped Tour a few times for a few stops (thanks Kevin), walked the Red Carpet at the Cannes Film Festival (thanks Alain), and been inserted into LA and the Palm desert rock and roll lifestyle (thanks John, Mike, Hutch, Davey, and the rest of you…LOL).  I even had a frantic man on the Metro in Paris mime me to walk fast with the train as it sped away. He was in the car, I was on the platform. He wanted to unzip his coat and show off his original Bovine Sex Club T-Shirt. That’s pretty exciting for a chance meeting in the Paris Subway!  I have met up with my favourite bands and production peeps all over the world for festivals. When I ride a motorcycle in Central America in the winter, almost everywhere I stop there is a Bovine connection. I really have had a lot of fun because the club is so well loved.  

What do you think the next year looks like for the club? 

I honestly don’t know. In Canada, the federal government has supported us during COVID and that is why we are still here. We have received rent subsidies, labour subsidies and generous grants through FACTOR. I think they have done enough to set us on our way again, but it’s really hard to know. We could be in lockdown again this winter. Or we could be at full capacity with festivals and late hours? I’m trying to stay positive in either case. It’s a battle. 

What do you do for fun when you’re not running your club?  

If I’m in Toronto on a night off I’ll go to a show at another venue. I am a live music junkie. And I like to visit my peers in the biz. They deserve my support. Other than music, I am into action and movement: motorcycles, skiing, sailing, beaches, surfing, fitness, etc. Is this my online dating profile that I am writing or what!? Oh, also, I have cats.

Chixdiggit will perform at the Bovine Sex Club Nov. 4 to 6. For more info visit www.bovinesexclub.com