Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Missing Music Venues

Let’s continue our journey of missing musical venues. We were (and still are) very fortunate in and around Toronto at the amount of great clubs at our disposal. Some of the best (and worst) are long gone. When all of these clubs were at their heights beer was cheap and usually sold in ten ounce glasses by the tray and there was outrage when the price of cigarettes went up to a dollar in the cigarette machines. The air was thick with smoke and the stale scent of smoke and beer soaked carpets hit you like a ton of bricks when you walked thru the door.

Larry’s Hideaway

Once you moved east past Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton things started to get pretty sketchy. As you ventured past Church and headed towards Jarvis the street walkers seemed to multiple by the block and then the drug dealers would pop up. Normally you would feel safe arriving at your destination but Larry’s Hideaway was the exception to that rule. Located at the top of Allen Gardens just east of Jarvis the bar was in the basement of the Prince Carlton Hotel. It was a by-the-hour hotel and as much as a flophouse and drug den as a hotel. The dressing room made the bathroom at CBGB’s look like The Plaza. The only time you would venture up to the dressing room was to protect your band or maybe pop a few stubbies after a show. They were awful. The club was located in the basement. For what it lacked in charm it made up for with a sound system that was second to none. One of my favourite shows was the Canadian debut of Hanoi Rocks. It was one of the loudest, sweatiest shows I ever attended. Larry’s also played host to early shows from Black Flag, Husker Du and a very young REM. For a couple of years it became the second home of Teenage Head and their shows were legendary. After the driving accident that derailed guitarist Gordie Lewis for a couple of years I recall seeing David Bendeth filling his shoes in the basement of Larry’s. At one point the basement was called Head Space due to the amount of shows the band performed at the venue. Local rockers The Battered Wives also spent a lot of time on the Larry’s stage.

Club David’s

The punk scene in Toronto was always on the move in the late seventies. Hard up bars would welcome the business at first and then magically change their booking policies if any incidents arose. If Larry’s was an unofficial home for Teenage Head then Club David’s was the one time home of The Viletones. The club was located in a laneway at Yonge and Wellesley and was an after hours gay club. It was dark and intimate and people often used their beer money on five dollar bottles of “Locker Room” which was a small vial of amyl nitrate. I saw a very young Joey Shithead perform at the club and remember many shows by The Ugly as well. The club was destroyed by fire very early in the morning and under mysterious circumstances. The Viletones and The Ugly were the hardest hit by the fire as their gear was in the club as they were to perform later that night. It didn’t last long but it played a very important part of Toronto’s punk history.

The New Yorker

If there was a concert venue epicenter for the Toronto punk scene it was The New Yorker Theatre on Yonge Street. Gary Topp took over a dilapidated Danforth Avenue movie theatre in the early seventies and turned it into The Original 99 Cent Roxy Theatre. He owned a movie distribution company and started showing eclectic art films. He brought films by John Waters, Hendrix and Pink Floyd concert films and soon to be classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He would show movies all night long and then distribute cereal at the crack of dawn. Concerts were staged by the likes of Nash The Slash and Rough Trade. Nash actually lived in the theatre for a spell. In 1976 he moved operations to a Yonge Street Theatre and with a dash of paint and a King Kong scaling the outside wall The New Yorker was born. On September 24, 1976 the burgeoning underground Toronto punk scene would congregate on Yonge Street for the Canadian debut of The Ramones. I found it odd that local guitar whiz (and non punk) Johnny Lovesin would be opening the show along with his Invisible Band. Lovesin took to the stage alone and his only accompaniment would be two Hendrix posters that appeared atop the PA stack. Lovesin soon gave way to the main attraction as Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy blasted the crowd with their two minute bursts of New York life. The show was over in less than a half hour but those thirty minutes would forever change the Toronto scene. The Ramones would appear a few more times at the venue including a great midnight bill with The Viletones and The Poles and headlining over the Toronto debut of The Dead Boys. I managed to arrive at the washroom at the exact same time as Dead Boy guitarist Cheetah Chrome was throwing up before his set. It was a rock and roll moment I didn’t really need to see. Both Tom Waits and The Talking Heads appeared at The New Yorker and between the great mix of movies and bands for two years it was the place to be in Toronto. It is also the venue where Gary Topp and Gary Cormier (The Two Garys) formed their booking partnership which would lead them to The Horseshoe, The Edge and The Police Picnics amongst others.

The Benlamond Tavern

Unless you live in The Beach you probably have never heard of what was affectionately known as “The Benny”. For years the entire area was “dry” as the only place to get a beer was The Alpine Hotel on Kingston Road, The Orchard Park on Queen East or The Benny at Main and Kingston Road. It was never known as being a live music venue and there is only one show I distinctly remember. It was one of the local high school haunts that underage students could get a tray of draft with their fake ID’s and hopefully not run into the teacher whose class you skipped in ninth period.

Chrysalis Records in New York were showing some serious interest in The Pursuit Of Happiness. They had scored a national hit with their release of “I’m An Adult Now” and its low budget video which became a hit on MuchMusic. The big brass wanted to see the band and the only gig we could manage to arrange was a set at The Benny. It was an odd feeling sitting in my old local surrounded by bigwigs from NYC and a band I really wanted them to sign. In the worst of possible conditions and playing in front of an audience that was more interested in shuffleboard and pool TPOH rose to the occasion and secured their deal.

The Queensbury Arms

I only went to this bar a couple of times as it was about as far west as I had ever traveled in the city. What lured me in 1976 was a show by The New York Dolls. I had seen them at The Victory Burlesque and Massey Hall but the chance to see them in a bar was irresistible. I know we needed a driver and I know we needed ID’s. For some reason I remember one of us not getting in and having to spend the night on the patio drinking ginger ale. I really don’t remember too much about the physical aspects of the bar but I do remember running into Steve Mahon and Gord Lewis from Teenage Head. The band played for at least three nights and I know I saw them more than once that week at the Queensbury. By this time the band was in complete chaos as both Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders had quit and formed The Heartbreakers and the Dolls had fallen under the influence of a pre- Sex Pistols Malcolm McLaren. When I asked Sylvain Sylvain about this many years later he was adamant that Malcolm never managed the band but acted more as a wardrobe assistant. For this show they were in their read leathers and had their infamous communist flag as a backdrop. Around this time they were using Blackie Lawless (later of WASP) as a guitar player but I really couldn’t say if he played any of these shows. Musically the band had shied away from a lot of the material from their first two albums and songs such as “Funky But Chic, “Teenage News” and “Frenchette, which would all later appear on solo albums from Syl or David Johansen, dominated the set. Not some of their best Toronto shows but enough to inspire a lot of local musicians.

Still lots of great old venues to cover in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

I am sure lots of the older crowd from The Shanghai Cowgirl at 538 Queen Street West was once at many of these clubs and historic shows. As it is August already you need to take advantage of their fab back patio while you still can. New menu is being fine tuned   and there are lots of tasty new treats available.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Missing Music Venues”

  1. You left out The Gasworks on Younge Street! How could you leave that out?

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