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Roncesvalles says Hugh's Room needs to evolve with the times

By now, most of Toronto knows that folk music spot Hugh's Room suddenly closed last weekend. After the abrupt closure, the venue announced that it's trying to re-open with the help of its community.

Roncesvalles is a tight neighbourhood and its music community is even more close knit. After speaking to several businesses along the street, many seem shocked at the news, but remain hopeful about the Hugh's Room revival.

"They need to be more open so everyone can play there regardless of style," says Dragan Stojanovic, owner of Mother of All guitar shop on Roncesvalles. He was sad to hear it closed, but thinks its only hope of successfully reopening is by diversifying. "They have to be more aggressive and try new things."

LP's LPs, a record shop a few doors north of Hugh's Room, constantly had pre-show concert-goers stop in.

"They’re usually there to see artists you can’t see anywhere else. It’s a music-first venue, not a bar and I'm basically like a lobby, which is fine," explains owner Lorenz Peter.

There's a common theme amongst the businesses I approached; everyone loved the spot and believes it's important to the community.

hughs roomMark Leingdon at She Said Boom says Hugh's Room owner Richard Carson would bring in his favourite musicians, folks like Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Leon Redbone and Judy Collins to look around the shop before show time.

Lauren Boesveld, a head bartender at The Local, says they'd often get musical crossover and the after-show crowd along the street. She jokes that many have dubbed Roncy the "Ossington for people over 40."

But the more important sentiment on the street is that Hugh's Room needs to change its tune if it wants to survive. Everyone seems interested in the idea of it turning into a more community-run venue, which is what is being proposed by a board created to save the space.

"When the community is running it, [they're] more vested in making sure it does well, thrives and is a great safe space for artists to come and get stage time," says Daniella Bonamico, a main bartender at Loons down the street. "The community would fully get behind it."

Bartender Tianna Henry at the Inter Steer feels the same way and has heard similar sentiments from regulars at the bar. "It’s always unfortunate when a rare hub in the city closes," she says "but I’ve been talking to a lot musicians here and they said that [Hugh's Room] didn’t really evolve to the changing times.

"What I’ve been hearing is that it sort of ran its course," says Henry, he sometimes sings with in-house band Fraser/Daley. He thinks a completely different approach would be optimal.

Community involvement could be the best idea Hugh's Room has had in years. The folk music bubble is a comfortable one, but often strangers have a hard time popping into.

"Don't worry about Hugh's Room," yells Steve, a local at the Inter Steer, from the front of the room. "I cut a deal with the owner, and I'm opening up a strip club for seniors called wrinkles."

Lead photo by

Matt Forsythe

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