Cameron Carpenter: Rock’n’Roll Rewind – The Bars of 1978
I wrote this story for The New Music Magazine back in December of 1978. I was too young and naïve to realise that the once all music magazine was spreading out into the mainstream as they were struggling to find advertisers. I was soon writing about skiing and finding the best hamburger in the city. The magazine folded a few months later and The New Music is best remembered as the ground-breaking John Martin founded City-TV rock’n’roll television show. Of all of the clubs I reviewed some 37 years ago only two remain, and of those two, the El Mocambo has still not been re-opened by its new owners.
“Rock ‘n Roll All Nite – What to expect at the bars this holiday season” – December 1978
I was just getting over my dreaded hamburger assignment when the phone rang. “Got another sorty for ya Scoop!” What would it be this time: Hot Dogs? Pizza? Subs? The voice returned “I want you to go to about a dozen bars and do a report on them.” I grabbed my age of majority card and hit the streets.
For the last couple of months I’ve been in places I never thought I would be seen in. I’ve drunk drinks I never even knew existed, and thrown up in alleys even dogs avoid. It’s been quite an experience and here, in no particular order, is the lowdown on Toronto’s hottest rock’n’roll bars.
El Mocambo – 464 Spadina Avenue
Ever since the Rolling Stones played here the place has become of the world’s premiere rock showcases. Just look at the talent they have presented in the last year: Elvis Costello, Meatloaf, The Runaways, Todd Rundgren, Buddy Rich, The Ramones, Devo, and the list goes on and one. Of course there is a drawback to all this festivity, you have to pay through the nose. The cover charges run you from $2.00 to $7.00, but if you want to see a top act in a club environment you’re going to pay for it. To be sure of admission you can buy advance tickets from any Bass outlet. The drinks upstairs are expensive, so go with a full wallet. Downstairs the drinks are cheaper, there is no cover charge, and the bands are average.
Larry’s Hideaway – 121 Carlton
This joint is a bit of a pit but there is usually a good band so it’s worth the risk. The bands are along the lines of the Battered Wives and Goddo, lots of kick-ass rock. The prices are cheap, but I guess they have to be. What the place lacks in charm, it makes up for in talent.
Grossman’s Tavern – 379 Spadina
Not you flashiest place, but there is always something interesting happening here. Lots of underground rock, (the first real home of Rough Trade), good blues, and interesting jazz. Dirt cheap too. A good place to stop before or after the Horseshoe or El Mocambo.
Cam note. Grossmans Tavern (the correct spelling) is still open, still showcases all sorts of underground rock, jazz and blues, and is still dirt cheap. It is such a Canadian feeling bar that every time I go there I feel compelled to drink rye and coke. I mention the Horseshoe in the Grossmans review but for some reason did not write a review of it. Nowadays the Shoe has replaced the El Mocambo is the showcase bar in the city.
The Picadilly Tube – 316 Yonge Street
I had my first legal brewsky here so I have a soft spot for it. They have a great two for one lunch deal (One cent buys a second lunch) and at night you see hard rock bands along the lines of Hellfield, Madcats, Hunt, Moxy and Harbinger. Cheap draught, cheap covers, and an interesting décor make The Tube a good place for a night with the boys.
The Midwich Cuckoo – 240 Jarvis Street
Downstairs at the Midwich you`ll find interesting rock, reggae, country, and obscure bands like Joe Hall, who defies description. The place is clean and the prices are O.K. It`s a nice place to spend a quiet evening hearing some of Toronto`s lesser known bands, as well as local faves.
Isabella Hotel – 556 Sherbourne Street
Downstairs has gone punk again and business is booming. Bands like the Viletones, Johnny and The G-Rays and Teenage Head entertain, whilst upstairs more approachable rock and blues bands play. Your best bet is downstairs where prices are dirt cheap and the entertainment is always exciting. Decadent, but delightful.
The Colonial Tavern – 201 Yonge Street
What was once one of Canada`s greatest clubs is now a PIT! Once you could see the likes ofMuddy Waters and B.B. King and now all you can see is strippers, circuses, and forgettable rock bands. Avoid at all costs.
The Mad Mechanic – 5487 Dundas Street West
Another one for you west-end folks. The Mad Mechanic is a comfortable bar that caters to a hard rock crowd. Basically you`ll see bands similar to those downtown, Tour de force, Snakeye, Stitches, Chalice, etc. This is another safe bet for those of you who don`t feel like going all the way downtown.
The Gasworks – 585 Yonge Street
The home of Toronto`s best burger. The Gasworks offers a lot to the local rocker; the room is large, the cover charge is low, the drinks are cheap, and the bands are usually both good and loud. Expect to see bands like Wireless, Hott Roxx, Buzzsaw, Stormcrow and Rose. Not a bad place to start an evening, but wear your runners cause things get wild at times!
The Knob Hill Hotel – 2787 Eglinton Avenue East
This is Scarborough`s only real rock`n`roll spot. The bar is on the first floor of the hotel and the room is really big. The cover charges are reasonable as are the drink prices. The entertainment is rock with bands like Goddo, Wireless, Liverpool/Aerial, Moxy, etc. The place is usually full and there’s lots of noise and confusion. If you can’t make it downtown, this is a good alternative.
The Queensbury Arms – 1212 Weston Road
Here’s one for you folks out in the other end of town. The Arms has good rock’n’roll but is more of a “get a bunch of suburban friends and party over a few beers” place. Besides, any place that The New York Dolls played in is O.K. with me! The prices are reasonable and you can save a large taxi bill by not venturing downtown.
Cheeta Club – 1 Isabella Street
Now that the disco-ers have tapped their way out the door the Cheeta is fast becoming one of Toronto’s hottest rock’n’roll clubs. It has Toronto’s biggest stainless steel dance floor, and instead of conventional chairs and tables it offers big comfortable sofas. The cover charges are low but you pay for it in the drinks. The room is a good size and the sound is usually excellent. There is also a dining room around the corner from the main bar. If the place can start to present some big name acts it will be a winner. As it stands, it is a unique place to spend an evening.
The Nickelodeon – 283 Yonge Street
There are all sorts of special deals here. There’s a cut-rate buffet with great chicken and ribs, things like Nurse’s Night, low cover charges, and good drink prices. The bands that play here are rock. The sound is good and never too loud. Bands like Kids, Fingers, Rhinegold, White Frost and Press-Lee have played here in the past and basically the same type of bands play there now. A good place for a night of rock`n`roll, food, and nurses.
The Beverley Tavern – 240 Queen Street West
This place has bands that even The Horseshoe wouldn`t touch! Really seedy, but lots of fun. You can catch O.K. punk bands upstairs, but what`s even more fun is the old men who come in for a beer and find themselves in the middle of a punk-fest. P.S. drink from the bottle, ya never know who had that glass before you.
The King Of Hearts Club – Sherbourne Street (At Dundas)
The new owners here have turned a dingy castle into a good night spot. The room is small but this provides more intimacy for bands such as Rough Trade, The Fabulous Overtones, Steve Byers Band, and other soft rock bands. This is becoming one of Toronto`s “in“ places.
Of course there are literally dozens of other Toronto rock clubs. This list is just a limited personal choice. My wardrobe consists of nothing but jeans and Kiss tee-shirts, so I don`t venture into many discos.
Overall, Toronto is one of the top cities in the world in which to see live entertainment. Every night there are at least a dozen good bands playing in the metropolitan area. If you don`t believe me go to Montreal for a weekend!
Come and request a Goddo or Moxy song some Wednesday night at The Kensington Lodge.
Cam’s column appears every Thursday.
Follow Cam on Twitter @CC59
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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, The Daily XY, and New Canadian Music.