Horseshoe Tavern

HISTORY

The Horseshoe Tavern, located in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood has been a musical institution since it opened its doors in 1947.  The front bar is open 7 days a week, with live music in the back bar.

 

1947: Jack Starr purchased the Building at 368-370 Queen Street West

The Horseshoe Tavern property dates back to 1861 when it first opened as a blacksmith shop. Over the years it has been home to a shoe shop and a store before becoming the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

Local entrepreneur Jack Starr purchased 368-370 Queen Street West in 1947. The Horseshoe Tavern officially opened on December 9th, 1947. Under provincial liquor license laws in the 40’s the city permitted him to convert the commercial property to a tavern. With the Horseshoe’s first liquor licence in place, Starr started serving alcohol in the venue with a legal capacity of 87.

1947-1960: Jack Starr’s Country Roots and Rockabilly Music Tavern: The Country Era

In the early days the media paid little attention to the live music side of the business. The venue had a reputation as a rough place due to legendary bank robber Edwin Alonzo Boyd being a regular patron.

By the mid 50’s, The Horseshoe Tavern became a musical institution when Jack Starr converted the bar to a live music venue and began booking country and rockabilly artists. Jack Starr’s first booking was American country artist Marvin Rainwater.  Over the next 20 years, The Horseshoe would host soon-to-be country superstars like Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, and Ian and Sylvia Tyson.

 

1960-1976: Promoting Canadian Talent: The Stompin’ Tom Connors Era

Starr became known as the friendliest and most dedicated small club owner in Canada, often letting artists stay in his own home. While Nashville’s country music artists made the venue famous, it was Starr’s dedication to the development of Canadian acts that fueled its day-to-day success.

One of the venue’s most popular Canadian performers was Stompin’ Tom Connors. Many artists played the venue for consecutive nights, but Stompin’ Tom Connors held the record by playing sold out shows at The Horseshoe for 9 straight weeks. It was this long residency that contributed to his success. He enjoyed playing the venue so much that in 1970 he recorded his first live album Stompin’ Tom Connors – Live at The Horseshoe.

Local artists like The Band, Bruce Cockburn, and the Good Brothers played the venue regularly.



1976-1982: The Gary’s Last Pogo, and Bankruptcy

Jack Starr retired in 1976 and local promoters Gary Cormier and Gary Topp (“The Garys”) came on board. They introduced punk and new wave to Toronto, bringing in artists like the Police, Talking Heads, The Cramps, The Ramones, MC-5, and The Stranglers.

The Garys’ punk programming was ahead of its time and the owners insisted on more performances by country music artists.  In 1978, the Garys hosted a going-away party that ended an era. “The last punk rock concert in Toronto”  featured The Mods, Viletones, Scenics, The Ugly, Cardboard Brains, and Teenage Head.  Within a few hours the concert was shut down by the police and a riot ensued and almost destroyed the building. The night was captured on film by Colin Brunton, who later turned his film into a documentary called “And Now Live from Toronto – The Last Pogo”.


While the Garys went on to become Toronto’s leading indie promoters, the venue and the building remained empty. Prospective owners came and went all attempting to revive its country music legacy. Eventually the building was divided into 3 retail spaces and The Horseshoe changed its name to Stagger Lee’s.

Jack Starr came out of retirement in 1982 and brought on Michael (X-Ray) Macrae, Dan Aykroyd, and Richard Crook to run the venue for him. The collaboration of these 3, and eventually Kenny Sprackman, saved the business and historically defined what we now call The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

1983-1986: The Ken Sprackman and X-Ray Era –  Blue Rodeo, Handsome Ned, and Prairie Oyster

The venue’s floor plan was changed during these years. The stage was moved from the centre of the room to the back of the building splitting the space in two. The Horseshoe Tavern was now a local neighbourhood bar in the front with a concert venue in the back.

Talent buyers X-Ray and Derek Andrews booked up-and-coming bands like Blue Rodeo, Prairie Oyster, The Bopcats, Handsome Ned, and Leslie Spit Trio. The Queen Street sound was born, a blend of Toronto roots music, country, blues, and punk. The success of the Sprackman-X-Ray era saved the business from bankruptcy and re-established The Horseshoe as a legendary venue to hear live music and see rising talent. Blue Rodeo even ran their independent label Risque Disque out of the basement of The Horseshoe Tavern.

1987-1995: Queen Street Rocks – The Tragically Hip, Amanda Marshall, The Phantoms and The Skydiggers

In the late 1980’s X-Ray took over the booking and brought in new Canadian alternative rock artists like The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen, Pursuit Of Happiness, Amanda Marshall, The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, The Phantoms, and The Skydiggers.

Under Kenny and X-Ray’s direction the Horseshoe Tavern continued to be a hit with its patrons. They hired new staff, often musicians like Teddy Fury (Bopcats), Joe Toole (Phantoms), and Sean Dean (Sadies).

With continuous changes in the music industry, business was flat and more change was in the works. Kenny and X-Ray brought on Ultrasound booker Yvonne Matsell.  Yvonne introduced the venue to the new emerging rock and folk sounds of The Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, Lowest of the Low, Furnace Face, One, Great Big Sea, and 13 Engines.

1996-2005: Tuesday Nu Music Nites and Indie Rock

In June 1995 when Wilco played the Horseshoe Tavern, Jeff Cohen and Craig Laskey were hired to book The Horseshoe Tavern.

They introduced an artist development night to showcase emerging North American talent at The Horseshoe with their good friends Dave Bookman from Edge 102.1 (formerly CFNY) and promoter Elliott Lefko. Jeff and Craig convinced agents to book bands to play a free show on Tuesday nights. With their partnership with radio DJ Dave Bookman at Edge 102, bands would receive extra exposure. Shows on Tuesdays nights would have no cover and were called “Dave Bookman’s Nu Music Night”.

Nu Music Night was a hit with performances from bands like Matchbox 20, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Sneaker Pimps, Bloodhound Gang, Eels, Therapy, Ash, Nada Surf, Imani Coppola, Spoon, Son Volt, Kathleen Edwards, Thrush Hermit, Matt Mays, The Strokes, Big Wreck, Nickelback, and Billy Talent. 

In 1998 Craig Laskey took over the booking of the Horseshoe Tavern, booking Canadian artists like Matt Mays, The Sadies, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, The Deadly Snakes, and The Constantines. With touring bands like Jeff Tweedy, Son Volt, Jayhawks, and Neko Case playing the venue the Horseshoe had re-emerged as a popular music venue in the city with big artists like Blue Rodeo coming back to play.

Over the years many larger than life bands have came back to play the famous venue to reconnect with their fans including Melissa Ethridge (November 7, 1995), Bryan Adams (September 19, 1996), The Rolling Stones (September 4, 1997), The Pixies (June 8, 2015), Billie Joe Armstrong (May 28, 2018).



2006 – present 

Over the last 15 years, bands that defined the early 2000’s graced the stage during their early Toronto shows – Franz Ferdinand, Bright Eyes, Death Cab For Cutie, The National, St. Vincent, Joel Plaskett, The Shins, Calexico, The Decemberists, Tame Impala, Mitski, & Kate Nash.  For music fans it remained a small club to see your next favourite touring or local Canadian band – Arcade Fire, Pup, Alvvays, Broken Social Scene, Arkells, July Talk. 




Bands of all genres and sizes play shows almost every night of the week, making the Horseshoe Tavern is as musically relevant as it has been in any era since its inception in 1947.  
Check out our listings and come see your next favourite band.


All above live photos by Stephen McGill, except The National, which was taken by Frank Yang.


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The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in the 1970's
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The front bar of the Horseshoe Tavern
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Bartender Teddy Fury
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Bad Religion - January 27, 2013
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Lowest of the Low
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Frank Turner 2013 - Photo by Stephen McGill
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Bob Mould at the Horseshoe on March 1, 2013 - Photo by Stephen McGill
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Hollerado - Photo by Stephen McGill
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Franz Ferdinand - February 23, 2004. Photo by Frank Yang
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Jack White in The Dead Weather - June 13, 2009. Photo by Stephen McGill
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Billy Talent
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Juno Concert Series December 7, 2013
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The Black Lips - March 28, 2010
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Titus Andronicus - April 1, 2010. Photo by Stephen McGill
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Dead Weather - June 13, 2009. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Fucked Up - June 15, 2013. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Jon Langford & Jeff Cohen
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Calpurnia - October 20, 2017. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Kate Nash - March 15, 2013. Photo by Stephen McGill
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St Paul and The Broken Bones - November 4, 2014. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Sturgill Simpson - June 23, 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Japandroids - October 15, 2016. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Rheostatics - December 9, 2016. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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JD McPherson - September 2, 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Billy Bragg - September 26, 2017. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Young Fathers - March 20, 2016. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Tyler Childers - March 4, 2018. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Tommy Stinson - May 5, 2016. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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Constantines - December 15, 2017. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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The Wedding Present - April 19, 2017. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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KT Tunstall - May 13, 2019. Photo by Stephen McGill.
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As per the directions of the Ontario government, Horseshoe Tavern will be closed until further notice. Please take all appropriate measures to ensure your well being. We hope to be able to serve you in the near future. Many upcoming shows have been cancelled or postponed. Please see our listings for any updates. Purchasers will be informed of any postponements or cancellations via email. We encourage you to hold onto your tickets for any postponed shows as all tickets will be honoured, and we appreciate your patience as we work to schedule new dates. Refunds will be issued for any cancelled shows. If you purchased tickets online, they will be refunded automatically, but please be patient as it will take time to process each refund. Physical tickets can be refunded in store when they re-open. We will continue to update you as more information comes in. We appreciate your patience and understanding during this time and wish everyone the best. Please email shows@collectiveconcerts.com with any questions or concerns.
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