Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Listing The Bars

Shanghai Aug 2012

There nothing better than seeing a great band in a bar. The combination of close proximity, alcohol, loudness and being able to work your way within feet of the band can make for a magical night. Catching that opening act on the way up or the once arena status group on their way down can be equally rewarding. In most cases bar shows let you interact directly with the artist as they are usually somewhere near the merchandise table trying to meet new friends or hold on to fans who have always been there.

I have been fortunate enough to make a living hanging out in bars checking out bands and I am also fortunate that I have been able to travel to do so. Now a great rock bar doesn`t necessarily need to feature live entertainment.  After years of experience you know you`re in a great bar the second you walk in. It can be the artwork, the music they are playing, what the staff is wearing, what types of liquor they serve or a combination of all of the above.

Here are ten great rock’n’roll bars both past and present.

1. CBGB’s – New York

cbgbAlmost every trip I took to New York included a visit to this legendary rock bar. It was in a once bad ass neighbourhood and yes, the washrooms were as bad as you could ever imagine. To get to them you needed to walk right in front of the stage and then head to the basement. Most nights in the eighties you could pretty well be assured that owner Hilly Kristal would be at the front door, often with his dog, selling tickets and generally keeping an eye on things. Regardless of who was playing once you were in your first order of business was to go to the raised bar on the right and settle in with either a cbgbs_bathroomJack`n`Coke or, at that time and for a Canadian, a bottle of the relatively glamorous and unique Rolling Rock. CB`s was one of those places you never sat. For all intents and purposes this was ground zero for the New York punk scene and spawned The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television and Suicide. Toronto punks such as The Diodes, Viletones and Teenage Head knew they had made it when they performed at the Bowery`s most famous dive.

Status – Gone but not forgotten. Should be interesting to see the movie later this year with Alan Rickman portraying Kristal.

2. The Bovine – Toronto

bovine2I was there on opening week and 22 years later can still be found at the bar. At first I was more comfortable when there wasn`t band performing and preferred to hang out and listen to the New York Dolls and Mott The Hoople. Now, with the main bar moved to the other side of the room, the sightlines are better for bands and the back room has become the sanctuary where bovineyou can sit and listen to the likes of Ian Blurton or DJ Vania spinning the soundtracks of our lives. With the rooftop patio now complete (The Tiki Bar) this should be a great year for Canada`s coolest club.

Status – Still active

3. The Rainbow Bar & Grill – Los Angeles

RainbowNot a live venue but a way cool bar and grill. The place is legendary. On the Sunset Strip it is a must visit in L.A. and often is your first celebrity spotting as Lemmy is more often than not holding court upstairs. Back in the day The Who`s John Entwistle was an upstairs regular and I vaguely remember a night of rainbow-roomcocktails with him and Lemmy. One night I was totally dissed by Wilt Chamberlain in the grill when I very politely asked for an autograph for my kids. He was a total dick. Would much rather drink with Lemmy and John.

Status – Still Active

4. El Mocambo – Toronto

-El-MocamboThe El Mocambo has changed over the years. What I consider they heyday were the years between 1976 -1982 when every up and coming rock band as well as established blues acts played the second floor. The second floor was where all the action was. The downstairs bar was a decrepit beer and rye dive. The afternoon crowd there was hard-core to say the least. The record labels ruled the roost upstairs and usually reserved the all the entire back wall  tables and ran massive bar tabs for journalists, record store buyers, radio folks and other assorted hangers-on. If you were on the guest list you usually could bypass the line-up and knowing doorman Reggie was your ticket to upstairs. During these days you might catch The Rolling Stones, U2, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, The The Rolling Stones at El Mocambo, c 1977 (photo by Ken Regan).Runaways, Cheap Trick, and Devo rocking the upstairs stage. I have not seen the recent renovations but rumour has it they are returning the second floor to its past glory and lighting up the old neon palms. Of all the bands I ever saw by far the loudest was Dirty Dan Buck and The Boyzz (from Illinois) touring in 1978 to support their new album “Too Wild To Tame“.

Status – Still alive and well

The Rolling Stones played here.

5. Manitoba’s – New York

manitobasWith CB`s but a distant memory my mandatory NYC Lower East side bar stop has become Manitoba`s. Located in Alphabet City this is more of a drinking bar, and although I have seen performers (I walked in one night to happen upon Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens rocking the place), it`s more manitoba bar new yorkabout hanging at the bar and chatting to owner Handsome Dick Manitoba, a New York legend and singer for The Dictators and Manitoba`s Wild Kingdom. There is no one more New York that Handsome Dick. Always great tunes, interesting people and way cheap drinks.

Status – Still active

6. Les Foufounes Electriques- Montreal


Montreal Red Light District Graffiti 2Not a mandatory stop in Montreal like the Bifteck but I always check who is playing at this venue. As close to the Bovine as any club in Montreal. The Jager is ice cold, the bands are interesting and the crowd is street smart. I have seen everyone from The Doughboys to The Vibrators over the course of the last 25 years.

Status – Still active

7. The Horseshoe – Toronto

Horseshoe Tavern in the 70sI have been a regular at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern for 35 of its 65 years. I have witnessed many physical changes to the bar and stage, different booking policies and hundreds of staff members, as well as a couple of different owners. With two almost separate rooms this is the kind of place you can have a pint of 50 mid-afternoon and run into the daytime regulars and then return at night to see a myriad of great live bands. One of the best staffs in the business from the front door to the soundboard.

Status – Still active

The Rolling Stones played here.

8. Zaphod Beeblebrox – Ottawa

ZaphodWhile other Ottawa clubs have come and gone Eugene Haslam has keep Zaphod`s going for 21 years. It is the place to play in the Capital and you are booked here you have passed on great test as Eugene knows his rock`n`roll. It is a funky club in the ByWard Market but there is nothing better than leaning on the railing at the bar and watching a great band give it. With all of the changes on the Canadian venue landscape it is reassuring to have Eugene and Zaphod`s as 107953.17.JPGa constant.

Status – Still Active

The Rolling Stones played here.

9. The Zoo – Winnipeg

The ZooIf there is a rite of passage for a Canadian rock band it is playing at The Zoo in the Osborne Village Inn in Winnipeg. Downstairs, sweaty, tough, not a huge stage but a place that literally reeks of rock`n`roll. Much like the old Knob Hill in Toronto this is a motor inn and the rental units often double as dressing rooms. A classic rock club.

ZppStatus – Still Active

10. Rock City – Nottingham, England

rock_city_nottinghamI was only at Rock City once but it left an impression. Bikers, slot machines, pints of lager, lots of Jack and great rock and roll. I was there with the band Slaughter and it was far and away the best night of the tour. Great stage and sound and a crowd that loves rock`n`roll. It`s about a two hour train trip from London. Would love to visit again.

Status – Still active

So many more that I didn`t get to this time around. Honourable mentions go out to The Commodore in Vancouver, The Seahorse, DoubleDeuce and Carleton in Halifax, Coconut Teaszer and The Vipor Room in Los Angeles, The Marquee in London, The Gasworks, Knob Hill, Rock and Roll Heaven in Toronto and far too many more to mention . Next time around.


Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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DBAWIS_ButtonCameron 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, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Listing The Bars”

  1. Happy to say that my band, The Sin City Boys, have played many of these joints. And, yep, we are still active, too!

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