Toronto’s Legendary Venue: The Heart Behind The Music

By: Paula Reid

The Horsehoe Tavern is a legendary venue in Toronto who’s history speaks for itself. As you walk through the front doors the energy is an unavoidable feeling that’s continued to grow for the past nearly 70 years. The whole front area walls are lined up with giant frames filled with pieces of newspaper clippings, photos, tickets, magazine covers that tell the story of what the Horseshoe has become.

If you spend enough time at the Horeseshoe Tavern that voice will become all too familiar. One of the longest running bartenders at the Toronto bar Teddy Fury has nothing but good things to say about the place.

On a Monday evening, the front bar was lined up with regulars and Teddy was able to engage with all of them while stopping to talk to me. Since February of 1987 Fury hasn’t looked back, “it really was like the greatest thing that could ever happen to me. I was gonna work here two years and almost thirty years later I’m still here” says Fury

“Everybody, like our heart and soul is in the place. My joke is that after 25 years of working here they wanted to give me like a watch or jacket or something, no I just want a tattoo — I’m not gonna lose that.”
– Fury

we kind of wanted to kick it upside down a bit and like get some youthful acts and some younger bands and maybe some genres that didn't play here like punk rock or indie rock.
- Craig Laskey

A large part of the reason the new era show has become what it is today is because of the booker Craig Laskey. In 1995 “how I originally got here, one of the owners Jeff Cohen I was his assistant at the time and we got hired through talent buyers and then over the years Jeff became an owner and then over the years I got to be an owner as well” says Laskey.

Together they were able to move forward with a whole new mentality when it came to the types of bands that were booked at the shoe. “When we kinda came here in 95 this place was sort of stuck in the past a little bit it was sort of, I dunno it was just booking, bands that had names and they weren’t drawing people and it was sorta and it was relating to an older demographic” says Laskey.

The owners and bookers became serious about changing the vibe in the horseshoe and it brought about a whole new crowd. “Was about 20 years there was sort of all those barenaked lady kinda lame ass kinda crappy bands and roots music was kinda dying so no offence to the previous booker they just kinda came in and went okay what works here what do we like they kinda did a real quick right turn” says Fury.

Monday and Tuesday nights are for giving anybody a chance to come and play on the stage. “I always try to go out of my way, if I can find them a slot at 9 o’clock or 11 30 I know theyre not gonna draw very many people but ya know I try to help” says Laskey. 

“All the bookers here there always great to the bands even if you have some horrible night where no body comes out it’s not like some of the other bars it’s more like yeah next time will be better, they’re really supportive” says Fury.

I think its a big deal that you get to play at this legendary club, its got great sound, its in a good location its got a great reputation yea know its the same stage that the rolling stones played on, I think thats exciting to young bands and I know it is” - Craig Laskey

Working at the shoe for ten years is a drop in the ocean compared to many of the bartenders at the venue but Max is a bartender that grew up at the horseshoe. “I spent practically all my twenties working here you know so it was very formative you know what I mean cause I’ve grown up in this place pretty much I mean when you’re in your early 20’s you’re essentially a kid” says max.

The people who work at the shoe are made up of a range of ages and Max has been surrounded by a span of generations. “We got guys like in their early 20’s guys in their 30s 40s 50s 60s so you have that family feel” says Max. Something you don’t see in a lot of places, where most the people working the bar are entirely in their twenties.

When you're that young you sort of have this idea that once you hit like 40 or 50 you stop sort of having fun, you're responsible, you have kids a wife a house and things slow down but working with these guys I realize that uh getting old will be a lot of fun you can still have just as good a time and be just as relevant and cool when you're in your 60’s as you thought you were in your 20s - Max

Similar story to Fury, Max didn’t exactly plan to stay working at the shoe for as long as he did. “I was doing a much more normal career oriented choice and at one point I was like you know what, I love this bar more I’m just gonna devote myself to the bar and I haven’t looked back” says Max.

Unless you are family or a friend of somebody who works here or management or owner - you’re not getting a job here - Max

The horseshoe is a family. That means it comes with the good and the bad. “Sometimes you hate being with your family but you always love them, no matter what happens that’s the horseshoe for sure” says Max.

 There aren’t a ton of venues in downtown Toronto that pull in a serious crowd on any given night of the week and have constantly done that for years. The Horseshoe has worked to be put in that category. They stand out by staying true to their style and refusing to mold and fit what everyone else is doing. Bands and show goers recognize authenticity before anything else and the shoe effortlessly exudes that. 

 It’s a bar where regulars know what to expect, not only in terms of beer and entertainment but service as well. People like Willy have been coming to the bar for years. Someone Fury calls his soul brother. After working here, he’s been spending his time at the shoe for 30 years. “Willy is so famous here and he’s like the he’s the heart and soul — he’s like our good luck charm” says Fury.

Josh Finlayson is member of the Canadian roots band Skydiggers and he says that “it had a sort of a cache and a history that was you know was a big deal to be able to play there. To do your own show at the horseshoe was a big deal I think for me personally as well.”

The Skydiggers are one of the bands that helped solidify The Horseshoe as a venue to bring exposure to up and coming Canadian bands. Others bands like The Tragically Hip, and The Phantoms were playing the shoe around this time as well.

Although The Skydiggers don’t play there much anymore, they still put on their annual show Christmas show which brings everyone together for the holidays. It’s a venue they will always have a love and respect for.

After almost 30 years with the band and seeing venues and how theyre run and who runs them, The Horseshoe has people that have worked there since we started playing there, and I think that really reflects from the top right down. - Josh Finlayson

The Horseshoe Tavern is one of those spots, I can honestly say I feel proud to know is a part of my city. The music scene in Toronto has elvolved naturally and the shoe has been a cohesive part of that transition while never letting go of it’s hard yet welcoming charm. “We don’t have stuff that red or purple it’s real meat and potatoes here and I think in the long run that’s kind of what wins the race” says Fury.

From the top all the way down to the regulars, the Horseshoe is filled with a heart Toronto just wouldn’t be the same without.