Nightspot holding special concerts to honour anniversary



The Horseshoe co-owners Jeff Cohen, right, and Craig Laskey.


The annals of Canadian history might not reflect it, but on Dec. 9, 1947, a local legend was born. That was the day Jack Starr opened the doors to the Horseshoe Tavern for the first time as a restaurant specializing in prime rib roast beef, coleslaw and maybe a little music on the side.

The popular nightspot is still standing near the corner of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, but nowadays it’s better known for serving up a healthy dose of new music on an almost nightly basis. This month the Horseshoe Tavern — or simply the Shoe to most regulars — celebrates its 60th anniversary with a slate of special concerts by musicians who owe at least part of their success to the venerable club’s musical traditions.

“In the past 10 years ... I think there have been more big nights that people have talked about here probably more than during any other era,” co-owner Jeff Cohen told Metro. Cohen and partner Craig Laskey are credited with helping build the club’s reputation for helping to nurture up-and-coming artists since they took over in 1996.

Reflecting back on a decade at the epicentre of the Queen West music scene, Cohen says his personal highlights include hosting an enthusiastic free showcase by the Foo Fighters and lending a little help to the Rolling Stones, who showed up unannounced to play a rehearsal concert in 1997.

These events, and countless others, have helped establish the Horseshoe as Toronto’s most revered rock club. The Police, The Band and The Ramones are just a few of the acts that have graced the stage over the years.

However, Cohen says he is equally proud of the support he has been able to offer Canadian artists though events such as CFNY personality Dave Bookman’s Nu Music Nites, which provide a venue for new artists to perform each Tuesday evening.

“Eighty-five percent of the bookings at the Horseshoe are still Canadian, and from a national point of view, we are one of those few clubs I think in Canada that have a mandate artistically to put on as many bands from the East Coast, the Prairies and the West Coast and Montreal as we possibly can,” Cohen says.

That support has helped build momentum for a broad spectrum of Canadian artists, such as Arcade Fire, who played their first local gig on the slightly raised stage, and Nickelback, whose members reportedly inked their first record deal in the back bar. Even the Tragically Hip sealed a deal after performing there in the late 1980s.

While it has hosted some of the biggest buzz-bands in the world, the club has worked hard to stay true to its dual role as a neighbourhood tavern and live music venue. Be they regulars, live music aficionados or celebrities, for the past two decades, bartender Teddy Fury says the variety of patrons has helped maintain the credibility of the place.

“I think the front bar is the heart of the Horseshoe and I think the back bar is the soul,” Fury says.

•The Joel Plaskett Emergency kicks off a six-night stand Monday as the centrepiece of the club’s anniversary celebrations.