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Inside the El Mocambo’s $30-million reno

By Kate Dingwall| Photography by Derek Shapton

Music fans were inconsolable when the El Mo’s obituary ran in 2014. Thankfully, freewheeling financier Michael Wekerle swooped in to save the space. The worn-down, derelict building was in rough shape. Wekerle spent more than $30 million digging a new basement, adding an elevator and otherwise bringing the place up to code while preserving its legendary mojo. Case in point: live recordings of the Stones’ stealthy 1977 sets will be released in full for the first time later this year.

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

The new and improved El Mocambo brilliantly balances out the venue’s lore with more relevant rigging and design. There are tour-grade sound systems and a full recording suite that enables artists to both livestream and record album-quality tracks. Soundproofing allows for, say, a high-energy EDM concert in the upstairs hall, while something unplugged and intimate is happening downstairs.

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

The space was ready to go in February of 2020 when the pandemic brought the big relaunch to a screeching halt. Instead, the venue hosted a series of soft launches, including virtual shows and a Big Wreck concert in the fall (the first with an audience)—with Our Lady Peace helping the El Mo officially cut the ribbon a year later. Here’s the marquee:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Nostalgia is the ruling aesthetic. Vintage tickets line the entryway and sound baffles are printed with archival El Mo imagery (a stone-faced Bono here, Mick and the boys there):

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno
Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Here’s the smaller of two stages:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

The staircase is bedecked with banner acts, one for each step. The venue has hosted the likes of the Ramones, the Beach Boys and U2:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

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Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Blondie lyrics (and Debbie Harry) help concert-goers find their way around:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

The original neon palms from the façade now flank the second-floor stage, with newer LEDs on the restored sign out front:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

And here’s the second-floor bar, with a subtle art deco palm frond detailing:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

There’s a sneaky tiki bar at the far end of the upper tier:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno
Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Souped up bathrooms offer none of the sticky-floored repugnance of the old El Mo:

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Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Here’s the recording studio:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

And the new green room, with a full shower, a TV that feeds into the stage and elevator access so performers don’t have to haul equipment up several flights of stairs:

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

Inside the El Mocambo's $30-million reno

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