With year-round events including concerts, film shoots, fundraisers, raves and even weddings, The Opera House has been a destination for entertainment in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood for 30 years.
At least 3000 people a week tour through the Queen Street neighbourhood on event nights to visit the venue at 735 Queen Street East.
“I would like to think that the venue has helped with the revitalization of our neighbourhood,” says The Opera House owner and general manager, Athena Ellinas-Towers, and there’s no doubt that’s true.
Back in 1989 when Athena opened The Opera House with her family – Dad (Adam), Mom (Eleni) both brothers brothers (Gus and Chris) – the only other ‘entertainment venue’ she remembers in Riverside was Jilly’s (now transformed to The Broadview Hotel). She said it was a struggle to get patrons. Newspaper articles and reviews about the grand opening of The Opera House described the neighbourhood as a “dingy” part of town.
“In reality, it was at that time,” says Athena. “It was a huge risk to undertake such a venture but I was young and eager to make my mark with my family’s support.”
As Riverside continued to evolve over the next 30 years, so did the family business.
When Athena and her brother purchased the landmark building it was known as La Plaza Theatre. For the first six months, they ran it as a dance club, before transforming The Opera House into the concert venue and event space that it’s famous for today.
“Glam rock and grunge was the rage so we went with it,” said Athena.
Then came the addition of The Opera House Grill and Patio in 2015. That same year the new restaurant’s “Shaggy Burger” was mentioned as one of Toronto Life Magazine’s top 25 burgers.
“Living and working in Riverside for the past 30 years has been a blessing,” says Athena who is a long-time volunteer member on the Riverside BIA Board of Directors. “We never imagined the changes that have evolved since 1989. We dreamed of the potential in Riverside but it has surpassed our expectations.”
Karen Lloyd is a writer, photographer and website designer in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood. This blog is part of the series Riverside Business Profile. Read other blogs from her: Riverside Patios, Places to Stay in Riverside, Brunch Spots, Health & Wellness in Riverside, Kid-Friendly Riverside, Event & Catering Spots, Riverside Chefs, Self-Care in Riverside, It’s Easy Being Green in Riverside, The Dirt on Gardening in Riverside, Eat Around the World in Riverside, and Saying ‘I Do’ East of the Don.