At the very beginning, the building that became the Horseshoe Tavern was opened as a blacksmith shop in 1861. Fast forward to 1947, when Jack Starr wanted to serve a nice prime rib roast beef with some music. Jack Starr bought the property and officially opened for business as the Horseshoe Tavern on December 9th, 1947. Did he know that he was about to change Toronto’s music scene forever?

Jack Starr & Loretta Lynn, courtesy Horseshoe Tavern
Jack Starr & Loretta Lynn, courtesy Horseshoe Tavern

In the ’50s, Jack switched up the space from an 87 seat eatery to a music venue with 500 seats. Over the next few years, the venue had hundreds of shows, mostly in the country roots and rockabilly genres.

Throughout the ’60s, the venue brought in up-and-coming acts from around Canada and beyond. Often the artists would perform for multiple night residencies, with Stompin’ Tom Connors once playing for 25 nights in a row.

Jack’s retirement in 1976 brought in two new promoters and changed everything. Gary Cormier and Gary Topp introduced the space to an all new musical focus. Edgier music was the flavor of the week and the Horseshoe had everyone from The Police, to The Talking Headsm to The Cramps, to The Ramones.

Then, the venue went through some financial struggles.

It wasn’t until Mr. Starr came out of retirement in 1982 and brought on Michael Macrae, Dan Akroyd (not to be confused with another famous Canadian, Dan Aykroyd), and Richard Crook to run the business that they were able to turn things around. With the help of Ken Sprackman, they not only saved the business, but redefined it.

In the ’80s, the venue saw new and up-and-coming original Canadian alternative rock talent like The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen, Pursuit Of Happiness, Amanda Marshall, The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, The Phantoms, and The Skydiggers all come through their doors.

Front bar at the Horseshoe Tavern
Front bar at the Horseshoe Tavern

In the ’90s Canadian artists like The Trews, Matt Mays, The Sadies, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, The Deadly Snakes, and The Constantines were ripping it up. Those bands were also joined by many soon-to-be big hitters like Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand, Bright Eyes, Death Cab For Cutie, The National, The Shins, and The Decemberists.

One of the venue’s biggest nights also happened in the ’90s. In 1997, The Rolling Stones played at The Shoe and had some heavy-hitting security: Dan Aykroyd (not to be confused with Dan Akroyd who earlier ran the venue).

By the turn of the millennium, the Horseshoe Tavern had secured its place in legend, but the venue itself was starting to show its age. In 2008, they installed about $25,000 worth of checkered tile floors as well as sanding down and re-staining all the bars. The modern touches even expanded to the music selection. In 2010, the bar invited their first electronica acts, as well as artists making other new forms of music.

While the incredible founder, Jack Starr has left us, his family still owns the building and the venue today. They now bring in a mix of every genre you can imagine. That mix could be the reason for the decades-long resilience of the venue. At the Horseshoe Tavern, you can see an up-and-coming band tonight, and a massive act the next.

Happy 70th anniversary Horseshoe Tavern!

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