Former St Charles Tavern site to be redeveloped into condo

Gay men used to ‘meet under the clock,’ which would be restored in new development

Another Toronto landmark will soon come down to make way for a new condo development, if a proposal for a new 45-storey condo tower at 480-494 Yonge St gets city approval. The lot, at the corner of Yonge and Grosvenor Streets, currently includes one heritage listed property, as well as the historic clock tower built in 1870, which a century later adorned the top of the St Charles Tavern, a popular gay hangout from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The proposed new development would retain the façade of the heritage property and maintain the clock tower as the centrepiece of a new plaza fronting the building on Yonge Street, but would demolish other properties.

The clock tower originally topped Old Fire Hall No 3, which occupied the site until 1929. A variety of retailers took over the site until the St Charles Tavern opened in 1951. By the 1960s, it became well known to the general public as a gay bar thanks to its annual Halloween drag contests, which also attracted crowds of gaybashers who would pelt rotten eggs and tomatoes at patrons. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the city and police would do anything to prevent the annual attacks.

Nevertheless, the St Charles was a popular year-round hangout for the queer community and its slogan, “Meet Me Under the Clock,” doubled as rallying cry for both community events and casual cruising. Its upstairs space was also home to a number of queer dance clubs over the years, including the Maygay, Charly’s and Y-Not.

The St Charles closed in 1987, unable to keep up with competition from a growing number of gay bars on the strip. A number of dance clubs rotated through in the upstairs space thereafter, including Empire, Time, The Tower and Circus.

The proposed building is 153 metres tall. It’s proposed to house 423 residential units, including 26 units to replace rental housing that will be demolished to build the project. It’s proposed that 83 units will have two bedrooms and 41 units will have three bedrooms. The proposal only includes 131 parking units, but room for 438 bikes.

City staff have already flagged a number of issues with the proposal, including its height and massing along Yonge Street, impact on heritage buildings, shadows it will cast on the future park at 11 Wellesley St W, impact on traffic and parking and the need for more family-sized units.

All of the buildings on the site are subject to the Heritage Conservation District Study Area Designation By-law, which requires council approval for the demolition of any property on Yonge Street between Davenport and College. The by-law was passed after the surprise demolition of the Strollery’s building at Yonge and Bloor, and is meant to give the city time to complete a heritage district study in accordance with the Ontario Heritage Act.


A public consultation process on the proposed development will likely begin in the spring.

Rob Salerno is a playwright and journalist whose writing has appeared in such publications as Vice, Advocate, NOW and OutTraveler.

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