Jean Darlene Piano Bar
Jean Darlene Piano Bar on Dundas West near Ossington, is changing the way karaoke and live entertainment is bringing people together.
In recent years, Toronto's nightlife and live music venues have unfortunately dwindled in the city's ever-changing entertainment scene.
But, Toronto's latest venture is a first-of-its-kind experience that is already drawing crowds.
Named after the long-standing Portuguese clothing retailer which occupied the same space for years, its entrance is actually through the laneway, adding a bit of surprise to the experience.
Fronted by veteran Toronto nightlife heads; Joseph Eastwood of Superpoint and Paris Paris, Fadi Hakim of the Lakeview Restaurant and The Great Hall, and Mark Holmes of the Mod Club. Eastwood and Hakim are also co-owners of The Haifa Room.
The trio took over the space in 2018 and had it go through extensive renovations in 2019, which took a somewhat bumpy journey to finish.
Opened just two months ago with a '70s Hollywood lounge-y and mysterious vibe, Jean Darlene Piano Bar is proof that there is still some fun in Toronto's nightlife scene.
The concept here is a live karaoke experience, complete with a pianist ready to back you up as you belt out your best ABBA or Whitney Houston rendition.
The space is decked out with a full DJ set and PA system, allowing the music to flow through the room and to a recording studio in the basement.
Lined with dark carpeting and dramatic curtains, the room has more of an upscale, elegant feeling. The crowd filing in is also a bit more dressy and fashionable.
This is completely different from the typical karaoke night in the city, which pretty much involves staring at a screen in a small room with some benches and a few friends.
Jean Darlene is billed to be more of an organic experience with open-minded guests cheering you on. Having a live backup musical entourage doesn’t hurt either.
"It's just been so much fun. It's hard to describe the experience but it's an intimate and interactive room, and you're standing next to a big gold piano," says Hakim.
"It's such a lively experience, everyone is supportive of everyone else," he adds.
There's also a drum set and guitar with professional musicians readily available for that extra special performance.
Of course, it may seem intimidating, singing (maybe not so well) in a room full of strangers with live accompaniment, but according to Fadi that is exactly where the magic moment lies.
"If you're not good [at singing] it's actually better. You're powering through something and [the crowd] is there with you, it's camaraderie," he said.
It's a radical change from the past two years when bumping shoulders with strangers and sitting close by were vehemently prohibited.
This space feels more like a friend's living room with a sort of warmth radiating from its four walls.
However, it's not only karaoke. A look at Jean Darlene’s schedule shows drag queen shows from famed Canada’s Drag Race alum Jada Shada Hudson and Tynomi Banks, lived band performances, DJ sets and samba nights.
With returning customers and last-minute clients coming in to squeeze a song in before last call, Fadi calls the entire experience "unbelievable."
"I don't want to jinx it, but there have been no complaints so far. This is a sort of experience that is really kind of intimate," he said.