A drag queen is dressed in a white dress gown. They're holding a rose in their hands. Behind them, partially in darkness, a crowd of people can be seen looking at them. A disco ball can also be seen hanging from the ceiling.

Riding the Waves: El Convento Rico

El Convento Rico

A drag queen is dressed in a white dress gown. They're holding a rose in their hands. Behind them, partially in darkness, a crowd of people can be seen looking at them. A disco ball can also be seen hanging from the ceiling.

Drag Queen Samuela Samantha at El Convento Rico, El Convento Rico, 1992. Courtesy of Samuel Lopez.

Three people stand together. In the middle is a drag performer in a black evening gown. One of the other two individuals is holding a beer bottle and is wearing a brown jacket, a decorative necklace, and a skull cap. The other is wearing a beige dress shirt and is holding a cigarette in one of their hands. Behind them are dark blue walls with a candelabra.

Clientele and performer at El Convento Rico, 750 College Street, 1992. Courtesy of Samuel Lopez.

The front facade of a white building. The building is quite narrow, and the edges of two buildings can be seen right next to the white building on either side. The shadow of a tree branch is on the front of the building. A sign spells out El Convento Rico. Above it is a multi-colored mosaic with an illustrated depiction of a nun. Above the very top edge of the white building, blue sky can be seen along with a few clouds.

El Convento Rico, 750 College Street, August 10, 2022.

A Space for Everyone

El Convento Rico opened as a nightclub in 1992 in the Little Italy neighbourhood. At the time, few spaces outside of the Church-Wellesley Village were welcoming to 2SLGBTQ+ communities. The nightclub’s owner, Maritza Yumbla, wanted to create a space that was open to everyone. Having moved to Toronto from Ecuador, Yumbla called her venue “the rich convent” in Spanish, referencing both her Ecuadorian roots and her childhood hopes of becoming a nun.  

 

Drag Shows

The nightclub was among the first to highlight and provide space for Latinx 2SLGBTQ+ communities in Toronto. In late 1992, Latino Group Hola founder Samuel Lopez asked Yumbla if they could start holding events at El Convento Rico. These included the Miss Latin America pageant, a drag show featuring performers in outfits inspired by their native countries.

The success of these first drag shows led to greater awareness of the club as a space welcoming to the Latinx queer communities. Today, the club holds several drags shows weekly, including one of Toronto’s longest-running drag king shows.

30 Years Later

El Convento Rico blossomed into a popular feature of Little Italy’s nightlife. The club continues to be a welcoming presence in Toronto for the Latin American 2SLGBTQ+ community, as well as for numerous others. As an inclusive space meant for all, the club’s weekend crowd consists of gay, straight, young, old, and many BIPOC communities.

Drag shows with a Latin American influence are still a regular occurrence and long lines continue to adorn the stretch of College in Little Italy that the club occupies to this day. Guests and staff attribute El Convento Rico’s longstanding success to Yumbla’s strong work ethic. In May 2022, she opened a tapas bar, Qué Rico, down the street from El Convento Rico.