Smiling Buddha has long been known as an on-and-off hub for emerging Toronto indie rock bands as well as a prototypical dive bar that resisted gentrification. But as of this month, new life has been bestowed to this College and Dovercourt spot.
While the massive porcelain Buddha, colour blocking painted walls and cracked peach and white linoleum tiling remain, a few exciting changes have come, like a return to regular concert scheduling. Thanks to new owners, Neil Hunter and Erin Taylor who formerly ran an underground DIY space on Sterling Road, bands wont be interrupted mid-set or be shocked to have their levels turned down halfway.
They've also enlisted stalwart booker Mark Pesci to take care of programming.
"Every musician has played here at some point in their career. They may not be in their current band, but they have been here in some form or other," said Mark who has booked bands here as far back as 2005.
Last Friday I saw Hooded Fang play a special cover set of New York's Seminal No-Wave ambassadors ESG to a happy crowd that kept the vibe bouncing off the walls. Had they played at a larger venue, it might not have been the same.
The Bruce Lee painting acting as stage backdrop is a welcome new addition to the old 70s lamps, and weird kitschy art like a knitted wall-hanging that reminds me of Tool's Ænima album cover.
The bar is well stocked, and on the cheap with cans of Strongbow cider for a mere $5.00, premium pints of Sapporo and Blanche De Chambly are as low as $5.50, and you can even splurge on a 600 ml bottle of Beau's Lugtread for $7.50 if you've just been paid and are feeling like a baller.
Straight shots start at $3.75 and you don't even have to rent out a booth! In fact, there are plans to bring the former restaurant booths back and to resurrect the kitchen (a Chinese menu is unlikely), but these are long-term goals.
"I don't want to pigeon hole the place as people know my background in the punk and hardcore community," said Mark. "But we want this to be a place where you can show up and know that you're going to be able to hear, give or take, a certain kind of music." So if you're a fan of guitar-based and danceable music in the vein of rock, punk, new-wave, you should be able to show up any weekend and not be disappointed."
The Smiling Buddha is currently open every day from 7 pm until close, with standup comedy on Mondays and live bands Friday and Saturday.