For live music fans, the experience is as much about the venue as it is about the music. Take, for instance, the humble but historic Horseshoe Tavern, located at 370 Queen Street West; this steadfast establishment has been showcasing live music and launching careers for over seven decades. The stage has been graced by such major names as the Rolling Stones (where Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman reportedly worked security), Willie Nelson, Stompin’ Tom Connors, the Police, the Talking Heads, and many more!! This December, they will celebrate 73 years celebrating Canadian live music!
The Horseshoe Tavern was a favourite for the Tragically Hip, and they even paid homage to it in popular Canadian classic Bobcaygeon. The lyric “That night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors” refers to the iconic black-and-white squares underfoot that the Shoe (as it is affectionately called) was famous for. It can be considered one of the first sports bars too, in a sense. They were the first bar to bring in a television set, which they used to broadcast the 1948 World Series. But that aside, the Shoe truly was – and is – an influential force in the evolution of live music in the city (and country)!
Image courtesy of fantastic BlogTO
Beyond the acoustics and atmosphere, when you encounter a music hall with so much history, there is a humility and a kind of weight that comes from knowing the talent that has come and gone over the years. Gimmicks, and bells and whistles are not needed here; with the ghosts of so many influential musicians walking the figurative halls, a certain reverence is demanded that raises this tavern above the crowd.
Built in the 1860s as a blacksmith shop, multiple businesses occupied the building, from a shoe shop to a fine goods retailer, and many in between. In 1947, when the liquor licensing changed, entrepreneur Jack Starr purchased it with plans to convert it to an eatery-tavern that offered live music as well. Although, perhaps somewhat ironically, the focus was very much on food and drink initially, with the music almost being an afterthought.
Horseshoe circa 1970. Credit to: Patrick Cummins
That, of course, was before the venue started booking star-studded lineup after lineup through the 1950s, featuring namely Country acts. While the Horseshoe Tavern has stayed connected to its country roots, it has played a pivotal role in the birth of other music movements over the years, like the emergence of the Punk and New Wave scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In the early 1980s, Jack Starr sold the Horseshoe Tavern and it changed hands (and configuration) a few times over the years. The venue has evolved over time but has always been slightly ahead of the curve, both in terms of identifying talent and in setting operational standards that are widely used in the live music business today. In fact, the Shoe has never been a follower; their penchant for celebrating the underdog has kept it removed – musically and socially – from “the scene”, and yet it has become (and remains) a Canadian cultural landmark in the world of music.
Come here for the live performances, or just to kick back with friends and pints in the bar or playing pool. The owner has cleverly decided not to update the decor to something more modern and slick – contrary to the many other bars that open and close cponstantly all over Toronto, trying to latch on to the newest, hottest trend. The Shoes needs none of this hype; the small-town roadside bar decor and feel is priceless, and gives us the warm fuzzies! Remember hanging out in your friend’s basement? Heading out for you first beer on the town after turning 19? That’s the kind of comfort and enjoyment that this long-standing community favourite inspires.
Here are some interesting articles that chronicle the Horseshoe Tavern’s history and influence over the years: “Toronto music mecca Horseshoe Tavern celebrates 70 years”, “The legendary history of Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern” and “A brief history of the Horseshoe Tavern”.
Try it for yourself:
The Horseshoe Tavern
370 Queen Street West
Hours: 12:00 PM – 2:30AM 7 Days a Week
Front Bar: 416-598-4226
Are you familiar with the Queen West and The Fashion District locale? Have a look at our Queen West Neighbourhood Page featuring our flavour video, city census data on the area plus past amenity blogs! And for more, here are our other Neighbourhood Pages in the City of Toronto! We adore Toronto real estate!
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Perfect for gathering pals for a beer or two before seeing your new favourite indie act at Horseshoe!
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