Let’s face it: a lot of Toronto clubs tend to follow a bit of a formula: LCD TVs on the walls, quirky bar counter, interesting light fixtures and tons of attitude. If that sounds familiar, then The Cage 292 may be just the thing to snap you out of club cookie-cutter land.
First of all, when they say cage, they actually mean cages. There’s one at the back of the all-black room that usually features a go-go dancer (largely female, though males are on the way), and there’s a giant one at the front that surrounds the club’s live-music stage. It’s sexy and dark and dangerous. I love it.
The Cage 292 offers a pretty diverse calendar, with weekends geared toward the dance music crowd. I was going to check out the Saturday Retro ’80s and ’90s night, but lack of a weekend babysitter landed me there on Wednesday night, which caters to the club’s heavy metal fans.
If I was a little nervous at the idea of mincing my way across a sticky floor through a crowd of drunken head-bangers, I was quickly reassured; the place is immaculately clean, slickly decorated and really welcoming. The bartender smiles at people as they come in, while the smell of cooking draws me inexorably to the back room. Behind the counter is a friendly, burly guy (cute as hell, too) wielding sizzling pans as he whips up a home-cooked buffet that smells absolutely divine. And get this: it’s completely free.
“We cater to a lot of the university crowd in here,” explains the cook, Mike McRobb, who also happens to own the joint, along with the Winchester Bar and Restaurant in Cabbagetown. “They’re good customers, and they don’t generally have a lot of money, so it made sense to offer some food to go with the entertainment and bar service.”
The food is delicious. There are caramelized carrots, jambalaya, sausage penne and handmade potato gnocchi. Definitely not your average pub grub. There’s also comfy banquette seating to enjoy while noshing down, along with pool tables that boast a good view of the main room’s live acts.
At this point, I should probably fess up to my own musical tastes, which tend to steer clear of screeching guitars and screaming vocalists. But the music here is good. Seriously good. Porn Star Circus is playing the night I visit, and they are one of the tightest live bands I’ve seen on a Toronto stage. Their sound is metal but with plenty of melody and musicianship to keep even the jazziest poofter (moi) entertained for more than an hour . . . sort of like Nickelback, but, you know, good. It helps that the sound system is state of the art, filling the room without making your eardrums bleed.
The other thing I notice is how well-mannered the crowd is. There’s dancing and lots of action, but I never once feel unwelcome or in any way threatened. Maybe it’s the good food that keeps everybody happy, or maybe it’s the friendly, laid-back staff. Or perhaps I’m far more butch that I previously believed.
So yeah, I’m thinking it’s probably the food.