The lost taverns and bars of Toronto
Toronto used to be a tavern town. Scattered around the city, these mostly humble and gritty spots were where we used to unwind over Labatt 50, long before it become semi-ironically cool to do so.
In the 1970s and '80s, bars didn't need to have a hook or a playful concept to attract a crowd. Beer and live music would do the trick.
The history of the Toronto bar is far shorter than you might think. The Silver Rail was the first cocktail bar in Toronto, and it didn't open until 1947. Located at Yonge and Shuter, it brought upscale booze to the city. At the time an Old Fashioned cost 65 cents. Advertisements touted the "scientific" preparation of drinks.
Following closely behind the Silver Rail was the Horseshoe Tavern. Since the legendary Queen West bar opened its doors, hundreds of live music venues have come and gone in Toronto, most of which have been long forgotten even as a few are thought of with fierce nostalgia.
Places like Larry's Hideway, the Gasworks, Ports of Call, the Big Bop, the Brunswick House still animate our collective memory in a way that's hard to explain. Perhaps these places remain so distinct because they exists as bastions of youth.
Your first pint, your first live show... a vague feeling of what it was like to have no real responsibility.
Other bars like the St. Charles Tavern were profoundly important as safe places for Toronto's queer scene. A city needs places like these, unofficially sanctioned hubs of culture where people can congregate and feel a sense of community under dim lights and semi-flat beer.
So let's toast our lost bars and taverns, and the time when places didn't have to be cool to be cool.
Behold, Toronto's lost taverns and bars.
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