Saturday, March 27, 2010

Showdown at the Basement Bar - Millenium Lounge Part 2

I didn’t stay at Millenium lounge long enough to find out the history of the place and how it came to exist in such a state of abandonment. The owners were a hard working older Greek couple that ran the place by themselves. During the week the small restaurant had a kind of cheap and dingy appearance, with beat up tables and deep couches scattered about. It was a subterranean basement lounge, existing on a level beneath the legitimate retail shops and restaurants of the Danforth, both literally and figuratively. The only people I ever saw eating or drinking there during the week were a few old Greek men who seemed to be friends of the owners. Friday and Saturday were a different story altogether. On those nights the place was rented to Jamaican party promoters who marketed and organized jams in the lounge. In order to accommodate all of the people that were to be crammed into the small space, all of the tables, chairs, and couches, were moved into the back stairwell. This back stairwell I speak of was actually a fire exit, which of course is illegal and dangerous to block. I learned where all of the furniture went one night by chance while looking for a means of escape from one of the predictable and regular melees that were to become common fare in my world.

The furniture was moved to the fire exit, the DJ equipment was brought in and sound checked, two or three security personnel rolled in, and the bar staff arrived, such was the beginning of the party. The jam progressed nicely every time until that magic point when all hell broke loose. It happened every night that I worked there with varying degrees of severity. The location of the fight within the bar, along with the time of the night were key to determining whether or not the event would continue after order was restored.

The ceilings were low, and by midnight the stagnant air hung with a thick fog of marijuana smoke. Most nights I was high from the fumes alone, but hey who’s complaining about that. The funniest part of this was watching some Rasta leaning on the bar smoking a huge blunt while the owner ran by spraying air freshener just in case the police came by.

The final night of my employment at the Millennium Lounge ended with a fight as usual, but with a twist. It was not uncommon that the altercations were between girls, but that evening a very special woman was at the heart of all of the drama. It began with a scream from the washroom area at the back of the bar. Being close to my location I was in good position to observe a bleeding girl run into the crowd to seek shelter from the mystery assailant. A moment later her troubles were revealed in the form of a burly pursuer with a tormented grimace. My first impression was that the behemoth was a man, but a closer look proved her to be female, at least in the technical bits a pieces kind of way. To this day I remember that she wore a denim shirt open over a black t-shirt, jeans, and Timberland style boots. Her hair was loosely braided in cornrows that seemed in need of attention. She stood six foot three if she stood and inch, and most likely could have done well on an NFL defensive line. At the time there was a bar between her and I, and for that much I was thankful. As the other girl ran and was absorbed by the crowd, the monster’s rage continued unabated. Seeing that her prey had eluded her she faked a lunge at the crowd and smiled as they flinched in unison. It was then I realised that the packed bar had somehow shrunk and that there was now a large empty space surrounding our huffing antagonist. All of the partygoers were collectively pushing towards the entrance and away from our enraged friend with the wild eyes.

Seeing that she was clearly in control and unchecked, she spun to face me and advanced towards the bar. Unsure of her intent I began my retreat towards the kitchen where there was an exit. There I bumped into the owner, the little Greek woman was standing her ground. She must have been the only person in the place who remained unafraid of the angry giant. At that point the three bouncers had finally managed to push their way through the crowd, which was steadily moving in the opposite direction. The showdown had begun, and for dramatic effect the DJ had killed the music. The Jamaican gladiator grabbed two Heineken bottles, and grasping them by the necks smashed the ends off along the wooden surface of the bar. Other than in movies, I had never actually seen this done before and the effect was terrifying. The bouncers tried to surround her, but she kept the bar at her back and swung wildly with her makeshift weapons. Safely behind the wood I had a perfect view of all the action with minimal risk. By now the other patrons were getting into the action and the crowd jeered, taunted, and gasped at every jab and parry. One of the bouncers lunged while she was distracted, causing her to slip backwards and drop a bottle. She turned back towards me and tried to snatch another empty Heineken, but the little owner lady was too fast. She pushed past me and swept all of the bottles behind the bar in one swift motion. Infuriated, our colossal menace tried to clamber over the bar to get at the owner, who dexterously ducked behind me and ordered me to stop her. I turned to flee but the owner was again barring my progress and telling me to help the bouncers. Needless to say, the six dollars and hour she was paying me was not nearly enough money to motivate the kind of loyalty required to engage in battle for my boss. Now having the advantage the bouncers tackled her from behind, and after a fierce struggle managed to eject the beast.

At the end of the night I decided to look to see what kind of emergency exit the kitchen offered if there were ever a reoccurrence of such an event or perhaps worse. When I opened the door to the back stairwell I found it blocked by all of the tables and chairs that used to reside in the dining area. That detail sealed the deal and I quit then and there. I heard through the grapevine that a few months later the husband got beaten at an event and they closed the bar down. I was saddened to hear this because I quite liked the couple, even though they were desperately cheap. I never wished ill will on them. But, when you engage in that kind of business to keep the doors open, I guess the outcome was foreseeable. I ran into him a year later, he had a job as a caretaker for the building I worked in and was in good spirits. He seemed so much happier now that he didn’t have to carry a can of air freshener around anymore.


  1. Oh the Greeks, I'm semi-married into them. I love them and their desperately cheap ways. Also former restaurant owners. I think it's in their wheeling and dealing semi-nomadic nature (don't tell them I may or may not have equated them with gypsies) to make deals with whomever. I've been in Toronto for less than a year and the mere mention of Millenium lounge made me do the "Oh...shhhh, ah, rough" cringe.

  2. Yeah, that was my first job in TO, back in 1998. What a rude awakening. Most of the restaurants in the city are family owned, so there is this whole cultural paradigm that needs to be accounted for. I really liked that couple, if only for their tough spirit.