Inspired by the arts and surrounded by a time of creativity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the spirit, energy, and friendship of Patti Habib and Richard O'Brien led to the opening of The BamBoo at 312 Queen Street West in downtown Toronto, becoming a staple for the city's music scene.

Full of colour and life, the BamBoo played an important part in the burgeoning arts community on Queen Street West during the 1980s. From the Horseshoe Tavern to the Rivoli to the BamBoo, this stretch of live music venues along an artery of Toronto's downtown supported and celebrated local artists for over a decade.  

1980s Queen Street West

1980s Queen Street West

During the 1980s, Toronto’s Queen Street West neighbourhood was full of avant-garde artists characterised by social activism and engagement. The nearby Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD) helped to create a space for experimental and conceptual art and music.

Today a hotspot of high-end fashion stores and coffee shops, the Queen Street West of the 1980s was a vastly different place, filled with cheap apartments, parking lots, greasy spoon diners, and dive bars.

A colour photograph looking west along an intersection at Queen Street West and Beverley Street on a sunny June day in 1981.

Queen West and Beverley Streets, looking west in June 1981. The BamBoo Restaurant was located just a few blocks west of where this picture was taken.

Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 76, Item 30

Wicker World
A photo of the interior of a restaurant featuring pink walls and white tables and chairs.

An interior view of the restaurant, featuring its tropical décor with a view to the backyard patio.

Photo by Patti Habib, courtesy of Patti Habib

Wicker World

Patti Habib and Richard O’Brien met while both were working at the CBC. Both had an interest in Caribbean culture and an affinity for late-night parties. Seeing a "For Lease" sign at a wicker furniture store at 312 Queen Street West, they snagged the opportunity to create a live music venue and restaurant.

With their spirit and vision, Patti joked about calling it "Liquor World" but chose instead "The BamBoo", as a namesake to the previously “Wicker World” furniture store. The BamBoo became a Toronto landmark and tropical haven filled with reggae music and global cuisine.

A black and white photograph of a man and a woman looking at the camera. The man wears a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. The woman wears a floral dress and sunglasses. They stand on an outside patio of a restaurant.

Co-owners of the BamBoo, Richard O'Brien and Patti Habib at the TreeTop Lounge above the BamBoo, c. 1990s.

Photo by George Tamber, courtesy of Patti Habib

A Hard Rock Soft Open
A black and white poster advertising the record launch and sneak preview of the Parachute Club’s album to be held on Monday, July 11, 1983. Admission is listed at $5 along with a cash bar.

Invitation to Parachute Club's record launch for their self-titled album, The Parachute Club, on July 11 1983 at the BamBoo Club.

Courtesy of Patti Habib

A Hard Rock Soft Open

Although not yet officially open to the public, the BamBoo held its first event on July 11, 1983 as a record launch for Toronto band, Parachute Club.

Working without either running water or a liquor license, over 500 fans turned up to support the band and the new club. One month later, its liquor licence secured, the BamBoo opened its doors on August 16, 1983.  

The Art of the BamBoo

The Art of the BamBoo

Habib and O’Brien both loved African and Caribbean rhythms and wanted their new club to reflect their taste in music, a blend of styles often referred to as  “world music” during the 1980s and 1990s. Friend and artist Barbara Klunder designed and created the BamBoo’s signage, hand-drawing menus, murals, artwork and even their own font type. Inspired by the geometric, abstract, and colourful elements often found sub-Sarahan African and Caribbean art, Klunder’s unique drawings defined the BamBoo's brand.

A colourful postcard featuring abstract and geometric faces. On the left the words “Bamboo” are written vertically.

Postcard from the BamBoo

Artwork by Barbara Klunder, courtesy of Patti Habib

Great Food, Great Music

Great Food, Great Music

The BamBoo wasn’t just a great music venue but a successful restaurant as well. The menu was full of dishes inspired by Caribbean, Indonesian, and Thai cuisine.

The BamBoo’s Thai Spicy Noodles soon became a must-order item on the menu.

Early chefs included Vera Khan, a master of Caribbean flavours, and Wandee Young. Born in Phuket, Thailand, Young helped to introduce Thai flavours to the BamBoo menu.

In 1997, the chefs and owners of BamBoo published a cookbook, The BamBoo Cooks, which featured some of the venue's most beloved recipes. 

The BamBoo Cooks

The BamBoo Cooks

 Cover image for the BamBoo cookbook featuring a colourful illustration and the words “The Bamboo Cooks! Recipes from the Legendary Nightclub”

Cover image from the 1997 “The BamBoo Cooks! Recipes from the Legendary Nightclub” cookbook by Richard O’Brien and Patti Habib.

 A colourful page featuring the recipe for the BamBoo’s dish, Thai Spicy Noodles, including an ingredients list and method for cooking.

A recipe for one of the BamBoo’s most popular dishes, Thai Spicy Noodles. From “The BamBoo Cooks! Recipes from the Legendary Nightclub.” Courtesy of Patti Habib

A Black man wearing sunglasses smiles and holds a tray of appetizers. He is outside on a patrio

On top of the BamBoo restaurant, accessible via a rickety metal staircase was the TreeTop Lounge, a Jamaican-style bar that also served barbecue alongside mixed drinks.

Courtesy of Patti Habib

The Sattalites

The BamBoo House Band: The Sattalites

The Sattalites were often considered the BamBoo’s unofficial house band, playing at the venue roughly once a month. The band formed in 1981 and featured a pop-reggae sound that perfectly matched the BamBoo aesthetic.

Band members included band founder and flugelhorn player Jo Jo Bennett, singer/saxophonist Fergus Hambleton, Neville Francis, Bruce McGillivray, Dave Fowler, and Bruce "Preacher" Robinson. The band's music career has spanned six albums and two JUNO Awards. 


This online exhibition uses third-party applications including Spotify and YouTube. Check with your organization’s web administrator if you are unable to access content from these channels in the exhibition.

A Space for Music

A Space for Music

As a venue for large-scale music events such as Afrofest (the largest free African Music Festival in North America), as well as hosting weekly events dedicated to jazz or reggae music, the BamBoo regularly provided a venue for numerous local bands and artists to perform.

No single genre of music dominated the stage at the BamBoo. JUNO-Award winning reggae musician Leroy Sibbles performed at the BamBoo frequently. Singer Molly Johnson also stopped by, performing first with rock and then jazz bands throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Canadian rock band Rough Trade, known for their provocative lyrics and costumes, also could be seen at the BamBoo.

A black and white photo of a man on stage singing while holding a microphone

Jamaican-Canadian reggae singer, Leroy Sibbles performing at the Bamboo.

Photo by Biserka Livaja, courtesy of Patti Habib

A colour photograph featuring two men in a radio room. Both are in front of microphones and are wearing headphones. In front of them a radio mixing console sits on a desk along with papers.

CKLN was a Toronto radio station that worked often with the BamBoo to feature African music. Musicians featured on CKLN programming also often played the BamBoo.

Courtesy of Aser via Flickr; Licensed under Creative Commons


Along with providing a venue for Toronto’s local artists and musicians, the BamBoo’s owners also helped local music find a place on the radio. CKLN became a licensed radio station, on the frequency 88.1 FM, in 1983 the same year the BamBoo opened. The station became known for its music programming. Musicians who played the BamBoo often were featured on CKLN's Diasporic Music and Reggae Showcase


The 1980s were a turning point for African music in Toronto, with the first local recordings of Ghanaian music as well as Toronto's first African band, Wana Wazuri.   

Many of these new Toronto artists played at the BamBoo and were featured on CKLN. For many years, the BamBoo sponsored CKLN’s Sounds Of Africa weekly music show. Launched in 1986 by Thad “Thaddy” Ulzen and Sam Mensah, the program became a showcase for African music in Toronto. Often featuring Ghanaian music, many of the artists featured on Sounds of Africa also performed at the BamBoo and other live music venues along Queen Street West. 

In 2011, after three decades of independent radio, CKLN lost its FM radio frequency and subsequently wound down its programming. 

A black and white image of an events calendar featuring upcoming musical acts and when they were scheduled to play.

A flyer for the 10th anniversary CKLN street crawl in 1993, featuring live music at a number of West Queen West venues, including the Horseshoe Tavern, the BamBoo, and the Rivoli.

Courtesy of the Lilian Radovac Collection and


This online exhibition uses third-party applications including Spotify and YouTube. Check with your organization’s web administrator if you are unable to access content from these channels in the exhibition.

Listen: A. B. Crentsil's "Montwe Mma Yen"

Listen to "Montwe Mma Yen" from the 1985 record "Toronto by Night" by Ghanaian music star A.B. Crentsil and his Ahenfo Band. Recorded in Toronto and produced by Ghanaian expatriate Alfred Schall, the record was a hit on radio stations such as CKLN 88.1. During the 1980s, Toronto was a recording centre for Ghanaian highlife music, an uptempo, synth-driven style characterized by jazz-like horns and guitars.

A colour photograph of an alley in which six people are walking away from the camera. One woman who is holding a white bag is turning back to look and smile at the camera.

A group leaving the BamBoo after an event in the 1980s.

Courtesy of Patti Habib

The End of the BamBoo

The End of the BamBoo

From 1983 until 2002, the BamBoo was a central music venue for Toronto, influencing music, fashion, politics, and food. However, co-owner Richard O’Brien began to suffer serious health problems in the late 1990s. A serious stroke in 2000 left O’Brien paralyzed, leaving much of the management responsibilities to his co-owner Patti Habib. When the club’s lease was up for renewal in 2002, Habib made the difficult decision to close the BamBoo for good. 

The BamBoo’s final event, called “The Boo-Hoo”, was held on Halloween of that year. Musical guests featured the Parachute Club's Billy Bryans as well as the Sattalites, a nod to the two bands that had been so integral to the legacy and popularity of the venue. 

After the BamBoo shut, former owner Richard O’Brien tried to keep the spirit of the original venue alive by opening the short-lived "Bambu by the Beach" in Toronto’s Queen's Quay. O’Brien passed away in 2005.