Street art and mixology combine in equal measures at Toronto’s Cry Baby Gallery – a gritty art gallery that hides a New York-style speakeasy at the rear.
Cry Baby is the brainchild of The Minister Group founder Rob Granicolo and co-owners Stephen and Mike Gouzopoulos. The haunt sits at the heart of the West End’s Little Portugal neighbourhood, known for its vibrant restaurants and ever-growing art scene, and is the natural cross-pollination of the two.
Previously, the 1200 sq ft unit had been an informal live-work space for a clothing supplier. She’d used the shop for storage and lived in the crowded rear. Devoid of period details, it was a jumble of inexpensive finishes, with linoleum floors, false ceilings and covered walls, and a basic kitchenette and shower squeezed in next to a cot.
‘We took to demolishing that very quickly, so we could open up the space,’ says Granicolo. ‘We ripped ceilings down, levelled it to make it one open space and ran electrics through the ceiling to keep it clean.’
Exposed brick was given a lick of paint, and new cement floors left rough – (‘Polished concrete would look suspect at Dundas and Dufferin!’ jokes Granicolo). The white box brings street art from the city’s laneways into a more ‘formal’ space while celebrating its edge.
Curating Cry Baby’s fast-paced roster of exhibitions is artist Mony Zakhour, whose intimate knowledge of the local art scene fuels the experimental programme, with solo shows mounted for three weeks inside the space.
‘The Toronto art scene is untapped and is so talented, and we’re bridging the gap between fine art and street art,’ says Mony, whose own murals dot the neighbourhood.
‘[Cry Baby’s newness] is a plus,’ he adds. ‘This place has no fixed identity yet in the art scene, so we’re trying to start it off by curating artists we feel have a lot to say, [and] allowing them to throw some really dope art shows.’
Whether you’re an art lover or a cocktail enthusiast, the two feed each other.
‘By running the gallery [during lockdown], it keeps the curiosity( and the momentum) going,’ adds Mony. ‘People see shows from outside, and it ends up in the back of their mind – they want to visit. The show constantly changing gives them entertainment – it gives them something to look forward to seeing. And it’s introducing local artists to locals.’
At the back of the brightly lit gallery, a heavy curtain conceals the bar, its brooding design the gallery’s inverse.
‘We wanted it to be atmospheric and moody and very dim,’ explains Granicolo. ‘We were going to open from 8 pm, so we had no interest in a daytime vibe – we always wanted it to be as dark as it could be,’ he says.
Windows at the front of the bar have been bricked while an old warehouse window, reclaimed from an old factory of nearby Dufferin Street, has been installed as a lightbox complete with metal frames and spidery cracks in its opaque pane. The effect is plucked from an NYC 70s club.
Furniture and the rolled-steel bar front are custom-fabricated by Granicolo’s friend Damon Snider. The bar top itself is an oak butcher’s block. ‘It’s sturdy but inconsistent – which I like as a contrast to the concrete and metal,’ says Granicolo.
Hand-fabricated steel radiator grills and shallow wall partitions heighten the industrial vibe, while four backlit circular mirrors, glowing with amber light, are reminiscent of a solar eclipse. It’s an intriguing installation that heightens the feeling of discovery in the space.
Adds Granicolo: ‘We’re all obsessed with what we do, from the drinks to the art. But we want Cry Baby to be an enjoyable bar. We’re not afraid to play hilarious music and have a good time, but still, make really beautiful cocktails and offer an experience.’