The Black Bull Tavern is located at 298 Queen St W and Soho Ave (on the northeast corner) in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District of Toronto.
The Black Bull Tavern dates back to 1833, when Toronto was known as the Town of York. Initially, it was a simple two-storey wooden structure with a tavern on the ground floor and an inn on the upper floor. It was called Drovers’ Arms/House and the Black Bull Inn, operated by J Baker, who was a butcher by trade (as noted in the 1833/34 York Commercial Directory). In front of the inn was a swinging sign, a pump and a wooden trough. At that time, Queen St W was known as Lot St and the tavern/inn was near the western city limits.
The Black Bull was a preferred stop for travellers as well as farmers coming into town from the west and northwest, bringing their livestock to the city’s markets. The tavern served beer and meals, while those who were tired could spend the night in a room upstairs.
The Present-Day Building
In 1886, the Black Bull was rebuilt into the present-day, three-storey red brick building with a mansard roof. Just a few years later, an extension was added to the rear of the building at 3 Soho St. Hotel stationery dated circa 1895 (see picture below), showing the hotel had 50 guestrooms, and rates were $1.00 to $1.50.
In the early 20th century, the hotel became known as the Hewitt House, then the Saranac Hotel. In 1911, it was renamed the Hotel Clifton until the mid-1960s when it became the Clifton House. TVs were installed in the main room to attract sports fans.
In 1975, the property was purchased by Bobby “Monk” Taylor, who had been a wide receiver in the CFL and a professional hockey player. The following year, the tavern reverted to its original name, the Black Bull. The bar’s friendly atmosphere attracted people from all walks of life. To help artists and those in need, Mr Taylor operated a rooming house above the bar, charging tenants a small fee of $50 a month.
In 2011, a three-alarm fire swept through the apartments above the Black Bull. While the tavern was mostly undamaged, the building’s 20 or so tenants were displaced.
The Black Bull Tavern Today
Nearing two centuries in operation, the Black Bull remains a beloved spot for locals and visitors, offering a cozy pub atmosphere, a wide selection of beer on tap, and hearty pub fare. Whether you’re looking for a place to grab a drink after work or a spot to watch the game with friends, the Black Bull Tavern is worth a visit.
Mr Taylor passed away in 2023, and as of writing this article (in Nov 2023), the Black Bull Tavern, municipally known as 298 Queen St W and includes 3 Soho St, was listed for sale for nearly $12 million.
Did You Know?
As mentioned previously, the tavern portion of the business was initially known as Drovers’ Arms or Drovers’ House. A “drover” is a person who drives cattle or sheep to market.
According to the 1836 Toronto City Directory, the Black Bull Inn was used as a reference point to indicate the location of nearby businesses. For example, “Mossopp, John, farmer, near Black Bull, Lot street west.”
Soho St was previously Maria St, after Maria Willcocks, who had owned 100 acres of the property from 1823 to 1832.
The city recognized the building’s historical significance, granting it heritage status in 1980.
The Black Bull is one of Toronto’s oldest taverns.