Get to know a bartender: Teddy Fury of The Horseshoe Tavern
Back in 1986, a drummer by the name of Teddy Fury got fired from his band and decided that in order to get his life together he should try his hand at selling real estate. So he enrolled in a program in order to learn the ins and outs of the industry. In the meantime, to make ends meet, he took a side job as a bartender. He had no experience in the business, but had spent a great deal of time playing — and drinking — in bars. So much so, that he had gotten to know the owner of the Horseshoe Tavern at the time, X-Ray McRae, quite well.
In fact, it was only after a bit of nudging from him that Fury actually took the job.
In the 26 years since, Fury has become one of the most recognizable and well known bartenders in the city. He never did end up selling real estate, but he did get back behind the drum kit where he's been playing with The Royal Crowns for over 20 years.
Needless to say, you don't spend a quarter century at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern without walking away with a few stories. Here are just a few of the ones we covered during an interview last week.
How long have you been a bartender?
26 years. When I started I was just going to do it for two years. I was taking this real estate course. I had just been fired from this band I played in at the time, and I had this plan. My mom had sold real estate and she told me, you know, you might not have any income for a year so you should save up a little nest egg — like 10 grand or so.
So I knew the owners of The Horseshoe at the time and they had heard I'd gotten fired from this band, so they called me up and asked me if I wanted to do some bartending. I needed the dough, so they put me on a three month trial. So that was my plan, work at The Horseshoe for a couple years, save up $10,000 and then sell real estate.
But then, you know I met this woman who I ended up marrying and had a kid with. We subsequently ended up getting a divorce, but it was the first time in my life I ever had a plan — and it didn't work out dammit! So I think that something drew me here. Like, nobody really leaves, it's pretty awesome. There's something pretty great about the Horseshoe.
What's kept you here?
The first thing that kept me here was the desire to finish the course. I hadn't intended on meeting someone and falling in love and having a family at that point, so that happened and then kind of fell apart — although I get along great with my ex-wife and I've always had 50/50 shared custody.
But, I mean, I could make quite a good living at this. And I stopped playing music for three or four years and when I got back into it they would give me all the time off that I needed to do that, which was really, really great. As the years have gone by, the only downside that I've found is that the first 10 or 12 years I was doing this all my friends were still night owls, and now I'm about the only one left, like the old man in the sea.
But I think, as cornball as it sounds, it was the first time ever I really felt like — maybe someone could see something in me that I couldn't see — I never really felt like I was good at anything before and, I guess, I was good at this. And I love people... it's kind of like having a party every night in your house but then someone comes in to clean it up.
What do you do with yourself when you're not working?
I've been playing in this band called The Royal Crowns for over 20 years. I play with another guy called Ronnie Hayward. RC have a record coming out at the end of May so I'll start to get busy with that.
But there's also a lot of mundane stuff like everyone else. You know, shopping, laundry, cutting the lawn. And I love laundry, I do — it's an instant gratification thing that I like. But you know, playing and writing music are the big things.
What's kept you in Toronto?
I don't know... I just feel very at home in Toronto. I wasn't born here, but I've spent most of my life here and I've noticed in the last 10-15 years how fantastic Toronto has really gotten.
I mean, my daughter is 22 and she went to school in Montreal for four years and came back and I say to her "when I was your age we'd go to New York for three or four days and come back and be burnt out and — no offence to Guelph or anything — but it would be like coming back to Guelph."
Whereas now, there really is this fantastic vibe and energy here and it doesn't feel temporary. You know, artistically, creatively...even with food. It's kind of all here.
Who is your favourite regular?
The last wave of the rounders are kind of going, with the changing face of Queen West, but also, they're getting older. So we had a couple guys the last four of five years that died, like Danny McCue who was awesome and Rudy who was really, really great, and there used to be a guy, he lives in Parkdale, called Jimmy.
But it's that kind of school, that kind of Bukowski-esque, beer parlour thing that is changing. The dying of the rounder is a sad thing. Those were always the guys I liked best. And Rudy, I remember from when I was a kid! He used to work at a place called Barney's, which was a tiny little kitchen deli that my dad would take me to. So I new him as a kid and then he started coming in here. He's also the author of just about the best Bukowski-esque line. I walked in to start my shift one day and he says to me: "Here comes the little cocksucker that gets all the pussy." And I just about hit the floor, just, wow — fucking poetry. Could Shakespeare have said that? I think not (laughs).
What's the strangest thing you've seen here?
The wildest thing I ever saw was when we caught the two little people fucking on the pool table. It was a hot summer weekend and — little known fact, pardon the pun — there's a little-people convention that happens in town every year.
So there were these two stoner bands playing that weekend and, man I think everyone in here was on Ecstacy or MDMA or whatever. So all night long there were just all these shenanigans going on and at one point all of these little people arrived who also seemed to be wailed on Ecstacy.
Anyway, it was hot and humid and at one point towards to end of the night this couple got up on stage and they were so fucked up that they started making out, like the girl took her top off. And so you know, it was just like more and more mayhem was ensuing and I was working at the back bar counting and there were dwarfs everywhere, like some bizarre Wizard of Oz, hippy thing and I remember I was counting Sleemans and then all of a sudden I remember hearing, as I like to describe it, "screams like I'd never heard before."
And it was this couple... I could hear this wild screaming and then the sound of people moving and I turn my head and she's got this little hippy dress on and he's got her and he's just boning her on the pool table with this shit-eating grin on his face like "I can't believe I'm getting away with this."
Any famous run ins?
Well, my other favourite story is from when the Rolling Stones played here, which was 1997 I think. They had gotten here hours before or something and at one point Kenny, the owner at the time who still has a small stake in the place, tells me to bring this case of water downstairs to the office.
So I go walking into the room and put the thing of water down and look up and there's Ron Wood and his wife and Keith Richards is laying there on the sofa. And so the one thing that I always did know from working here, when you're the staff you need to give people distance. But I mean, if I was on the other side of the bar I'd freak out, so I'm thinking, man I gotta get out of here and then I just think "shit, it's Keith Richards, what the fuck!"
So I just kind of walk over, and I love Ronnie Wood but I mean, that's Satan — it's Jerry Lee, it's Santa Claus all rolled into one — it's Keith Richards laying there on the sofa. So I turned around and just stuck my hand out and went: "I know you've probably heard this a million times before but thanks for, whatever, however long it was at that point, for 40 years of great music, whatever blah blah blah."
And so he takes my hand to shake it — and it felt like a paper bag full of string — and he just starts talking and I can't understand a single thing he's saying and I'm all in the moment thinking how great this is and I excuse myself and close the door and walk upstairs and think, man I just met Keith Richards. How great is that? I just had a conversation with him, wow... what did he say? I have no idea.
What's your drink?
I've been a teetotaller for years. When I became a parent I curtailed my activities because I thought, for the first couple years — sometimes I'd be out and I'd see really hungover parents at a food court or something who just couldn't cope and I just though I never want to be that guy. Plus all the years I was in bands, I was literally addicted to everything. I never really intended to stop, but after a while I just thought well jeez, I haven't done it in this long. I mean every now and I again I'll have a sip, if we get a new beer in I'll taste it, but I haven't actually like, had a beverage in about 25 years.
So just bottled water?
Oh, fennel tea I love. Fennel tea is really good, it won't make you drowsy, but if you have fennel tea right before you go to sleep, you'll have a really good sleep.
How do you deal with a rowdy drunk?
With kid gloves, but as much as bartending is making beverages, bartending is also policing and even as I'm talking to you I keep looking at the door because you get into this frame of mind where you have to sum people up. I always try to keep people's dignity in tact, even if I'm throwing someone out I'll say to them: "Come back tomorrow, I'll buy you your first one." You know? You may hate me tonight, but tomorrow you'll be thankful.
But you know, you try to keep an arms length away in case they try and start kicking or punching. In the time I've been here though, I've only seen two really bad fights.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Straight Up or On the Rocks? Either
Gin of Vodka? Vodka
Light or Dark? Light
Sweet of Dry? Dry
Twist or Olives? Twist
Lemon or Lime? Lime
Tonic or Soda? Tonic
Molson or Labatt? Molatt
Photos by Christian Bobak