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Eat & Drink

What bars used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 23, 2014

toronto Empringham hotelFor as long as there's been a Toronto (or York,) there have been bars and pubs. The earliest drinking establishments often doubled as general stores, hotels, community meeting places, and restaurants. The Toronto Coffee House--the first business to include "Toronto" in its name--was one such early establishment. Opened in December 1801 by William Cooper, who was variously a wharf keeper, teacher, auctioneer, and coroner, the establishment served brandy, wine, and London porter beer.

Cooper said he hoped to operate his coffee house "as nearly on the footing of an English inn as local circumstances" would allow. As it happened, early Toronto had a shortage of public buildings, and it appears at least one coroner's inquest was held at Cooper's tavern.

Since then, Toronto has embraced alcohol, seen banned it completely during prohibition, and accepted restrictive laws that still limit its availability outside of bars. Despite an 11-year dry spell, many of Toronto's oldest drinking establishments can trace more than a hundred years of history.

Here's what Toronto bars used to look like.

See also

toronto st charles hotelSt. Charles Hotel, King and Yonge, 1911.

toronto red lionThe Red Lion Hotel, Yonge and Bloor, 1912.

toronto oyster barOyster Bar, 1913.

toronto silver railThe Silver Rail, Yonge and Shuter, Toronto's first licensed cocktail lounge.

toronto jolly millerJolly Miller Tavern, Yonge Street, 1945.

toronto jolly millerJolly Miller Tavern, Yonge Street, 1955.

toronto beauchamp tavernBeauchamp House (formerly the Greenland Fishery Tavern,) Front and John streets, 1885.

toronto angelos tavernAngelo's Tavern, Chestnut and Edward, 1955.

toronto brown derbyThe Brown Derby, Yonge and Dundas, 1952.

toronto brown derbyThe Brown Derby, Yonge and Dundas, 1971.

toronto o'keefe'sO'Keefe's Pub (during tour by Fosters Advertising,) 1956.

toronto colonial tavernColonial Tavern, Yonge Street, 1977.

toronto hard rock cafeHard Rock Cafe, Yonge and Dundas, 1979.

toronto pretzel tavernThe Pretzel Tavern, Adelaide and Duncan, 1979.

toronto wheat sheafThe Wheat Sheaf, King and Bathurst, 1981.

toronto horseshoe tavernThe Horseshoe Tavern, Queen Street West.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Beauchamp House, 1855, Toronto Public Library, B 11-19b; Empringham Hotel, 1900, Toronto Public Library, 966-2-13; St. Charles Hotel, 1911, City of Toronto Archives; Red Lion Hotel, 1912, Toronto Public Library, JRR 716 Cab; Oyster Bay Lunch Counter, 1913, City of Toronto Archives; Jolly Miller Tavern, 1945/1955, City of Toronto Archives; Brown Derby, 1952/1971, City of Toronto Archives; Angelo's Tavern, 1955, Toronto Public Library, S 1-2315; O'Keefe's Pub, 1956, City of Toronto Archives; Colonial Tavern, 1977, City of Toronto Archives; Hard Rock Cafe, 1979, City of Toronto Archives; The Pretzel Tavern, 1979, City of Toronto Archives; The Wheat Sheaf, 1981, City of Toronto Archives; Patrick Cummins



Chester / August 23, 2014 at 12:29 am
Do an article about the Brown Derby, very interested in its history and location.
Pretzel Bell / August 23, 2014 at 01:55 am
It was the Pretzel Bell Tavern, not the Pretzel Tavern. Good article!
Pretzel Bell / Spoke Club... Part Two / August 23, 2014 at 02:01 am
The Pretzel Bell Tavern building was called Bishop's Block. It was disassembled and reconstructed when they built the Shangri La Hotel. I'm quite disappointed that they don't seem to have put on shutters beside the windows like every single Georgian building of this one's era had. If it is supposed to be as realistic a recreation as possible of the old building, it needs shutters! There is a photo of the old Bishop's Block building in 1856 and you can clearly see them.
Wade / August 23, 2014 at 07:24 am
The thing is those were mens bars. women most probably never never there. I doubt patrons were poor and I doubt patrons got drunk. they probably boasted about business while sipping wine and reading newspapers. horseshoe surprisingly looks humble, and a lot less sketchy.
Wade / August 23, 2014 at 07:26 am
Oh yeah and that kid with a big nose on hard rock cafe photo made me laugh
Wade / August 23, 2014 at 07:37 am
what can i say? the idea of a bar changed so much over the course of last 135... my decent bars include 460 on spadina and bovine sex club. Great live rock music, cheap shots! I don't want to go out to a rip off dinner franchise like most bars have become
Mayor McCokehoover replying to a comment from Chester / August 23, 2014 at 08:36 am
Yeah, it's interesting to see the Brown Derby how it evolved from small place to large place then into shabby one-off businesses in the 80s, only to be replaced by 10 Dundas.
John replying to a comment from Wade / August 23, 2014 at 08:52 am
From what I know, there were men's bars, and Ladies and Escorts lounges.

The Albion Hotel in Guelph, which until quite recently was only very minimally renovated from that era was still set up that way. From the front door, you go right to the bar, and go left for the lounge area, where ladies with escorts could go.
Becca / August 23, 2014 at 12:58 pm
Seriously cannot believe the Hard Rock Cafe at Yonge & Dundas dates back to 1979!! That was a big surprise, I didn't know the chain was that old.
@ Wade / August 23, 2014 at 01:06 pm
A strange assumption, Wade. Victorian Toronto was a broad mix of society; from the prim upper classes to the brawling lower classes. Every vice known to mankind flourished back in the 1800's; prostitution, drugs, alcoholism, crime; you name it and it was here.
For some reason people are only comfortable imagining Toronto was prim and proper; "Toronto the Good". The ironic thing was that the 1800's were a bit of a Wild West time here with all sorts happening. I've never really understood why although few people really know much about Victorian Toronto, almost everyone is keen to stereotype it as "prim and proper".
McRib / August 23, 2014 at 01:49 pm
The Pretzel Tavern was at Adelaide and Simcoe, not Duncan.

tc / August 23, 2014 at 07:09 pm
McRib is right...The Pretzel Tavern is now the Soho House. The top photo looked very familiar.
Oyster lover / August 24, 2014 at 07:07 pm
Wonder how the heck they got fresh oysters this far inland in 1913? That is a long train ride.
Lochlan / February 20, 2015 at 07:19 pm
did the Angelo Tavern become a restaurant on Edward in later years?
Jay / April 5, 2015 at 08:26 am
Real strong article. Great work
Laurin replying to a comment from Wade / July 6, 2015 at 08:56 am
Hey now, that's the backup drummer for Anvil!
Laurin replying to a comment from Wade / July 6, 2015 at 08:59 am
Is it just me, or does the guy in back in the O'Keefe's photo have lust in his eyes looking at that big beer? That is a VERY big smile...
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