hard rock cafe toronto

What the Hard Rock Cafe looked like when it opened in Toronto

With the recent announcement that Toronto's Hard Rock Cafe will give way to a Shoppers Drug Mart, laments for a lost version of the city's longest roadway have been sounded again. What ever happened to hip Yonge Street?

It's a question that's asked whenever a longstanding business closes along this corridor, but one that's actually a bit more complicated when it comes to the Hard Rock.

Let's be honest, no one who lives in Toronto goes to the Hard Rock Cafe these days. It's the very definition of a tourist trap. And yet, its scheduled closure has a symbolic weight given that it concludes a chapter on Yonge Street's history as a music and entertainment strip.

Friars Tavern TorontoWhat gets lost in much of this nostalgia is that when it opened in 1978, the Hard Rock was already a sign of a changing Yonge Street. It replaced existing live music venue Friar's Tavern, which operated between 1963 and 1976.

Friars Tavern TorontoThis rock bar played host to plenty of legendary performers over the years, but is perhaps best known as the breeding ground for the formation of The Band, which took shape after Ronnie Hawkins' backup group met Bob Dylan there in 1965.

Brown Derby TorontoDuring the 1960s and 70s, Yonge Street was home to all manner of bars, taverns and music venues. Places like the Colonial Tavern, Zanzibar (not originally a strip club), The Brown Derby, The Edison Hotel, The Coq D'Or and Steele's Tavern all played host to live acts.

Hard Rock Cafe Tonto 1970sBy the late 1970s, however, the character of the street changed profoundly. The murder of Emanuel Jacques in 1977 led to efforts to sanitize the seedy Yonge Street strip, a task that was given a big boost with the construction of the brand new Eaton Centre.

Hard Rock Cafe Toronto 1970sOne by one, the bars and venues started to slip away over the next decade. By the time the Colonial was demolished in 1987, Yonge Street's status as a music destination had almost completely eroded.

The Gasworks made it until 1993, but it was located further north at Yonge and Dundonald streets. Massey Hall held strong through these years, but its relationship with the bars and small venues on Yonge Street was tangential.

Hard Rock Cafe Toronto 1970sThe Hard Rock in Toronto was the burgeoning company's second location, and it opened before the chain grew to be known for its music memorabilia. As that became one of the brand's cornerstones, it actually helped tie the place to the history of Yonge Street.

Hard Rock Cafe Toronto 1970sThere's a plaque that commemorates Friar's Tavern at the Hard Rock. Who knows if it'll remain through its eventual transformation into a drug store. But, if anything, that's the history worth preserving here.

Lead photo by

Toronto Archives

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