Black Bull Tavern – A Part of Toronto’s History Since 1833

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Circa 1888 – An illustration of the first Black Bull Hotel at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in Toronto. The first building 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. The structure was rebuilt in 1886 and transformed into the present-day red-brick building
Circa 1888 – An illustration of the first Black Bull Hotel at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in Toronto. The first building was a simple two-storey wooden structure with a tavern on the ground floor and an inn on the upper floor (Toronto Public Library B1-70B)

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.

Early History

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

Circa 1914 – From 1911 until the mid-1960s, the Black Bull was known as Hotel Clifton or Clifton Hotel. Notice the ornamental roof cresting, and all of the building's windows are covered by awnings
Circa 1914 – From 1911 until the mid-1960s, the Black Bull was known as Hotel Clifton or Clifton Hotel. Notice the ornamental roof cresting, and all of the building’s windows are covered by awnings (Toronto Public Library PC322)

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

2021 - The Black Bull Tavern is located at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood. It's among the oldest taverns still in operation in Toronto
2021 – The Black Bull Tavern is located at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood. It’s among the oldest taverns still in operation in Toronto

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.

Black Bull Tavern Photos

Circa 1888 – An illustration of the first Black Bull Hotel at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in Toronto. The first building 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. The structure was rebuilt in 1886 and transformed into the present-day red-brick building
Circa 1888 – An illustration of the first Black Bull Hotel at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in Toronto. The first building 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. The structure was rebuilt in 1886 and transformed into the present-day red-brick building (Toronto Public Library B1-70B)
Circa 1895 – Black Bull Hotel stationery showing R. H. Alcock was the proprietor, rates were $1.00 and $1.50, there were 50 rooms, and the telephone number was 2161
Circa 1895 – Black Bull Hotel stationery showing R. H. Alcock was the proprietor, rates were $1.00 and $1.50, there were 50 rooms, and the telephone number was 2161 (Toronto Public Library CA1895-BLACK-BULL-VS)
Circa 1912 – A watercolour painting of the previous Black Bull Hotel at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St, by Canadian artist Owen Staples. There was a swinging sign out front, along with a pump and a wooden water trough. The tavern served beer and meals, while those who were tired could spend the night in a room upstairs
Circa 1912 – A watercolour painting of the previous Black Bull Hotel at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St, by Canadian artist Owen Staples. There was a swinging sign out front, along with a pump and a wooden water trough. The tavern served beer and meals, while those who were tired could spend the night in a room upstairs (Toronto Public Library R-238)
Circa 1914 – From 1911 until the mid-1960s, the Black Bull was known as Hotel Clifton or Clifton Hotel. Notice the ornamental roof cresting, and all of the building's windows were covered by awnings
Circa 1914 – From 1911 until the mid-1960s, the Black Bull was known as Hotel Clifton or Clifton Hotel. Notice the ornamental roof cresting, and all of the building’s windows were covered by awnings (Toronto Public Library PC322)
1972 – The Clifton House at 298 Queen St W in Toronto's Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District. It was originally the Black Bull and became known as the Clifton House in the mid-1960s. To attract sports fans, TVs were installed in the main room, and affordable beer was served. The tavern reverted to the Black Bull in 1976
1972 – The Clifton House at 298 Queen St W in Toronto’s Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District. It was originally the Black Bull and became known as the Clifton House in the mid-1960s. To attract sports fans, TVs were installed in the main room, and affordable beer was served. The tavern reverted to the Black Bull in 1976 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 48, Item 26)
September 27, 1981 – Looking northeast from Queen St W and Soho St towards the Black Bull Tavern. On the building's west side, notice the entrance, the small patio and the parking spots
September 27, 1981 – Looking northeast from Queen St W and Soho St towards the Black Bull Tavern. On the building’s west side, notice the entrance, the small patio and the parking spots (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 70, Item 41)
Between 1982 and 1992 – Looking west along Queen St W towards Soho St in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District of Toronto. Notice the wooden Black Bull Tavern sign hanging on the right
Between 1982 and 1992 – Looking west along Queen St W towards Soho St in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District of Toronto. Notice the wooden Black Bull Tavern sign hanging on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 534, Item 8)
October 9, 2008 – Looking northeast along Soho St from Queen St W towards a busy patio at the Black Bull Tavern
October 9, 2008 – Looking northeast along Soho St from Queen St W towards a busy patio at the Black Bull Tavern (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 219, Series 2311, File 2623, Item 134)
2021 - The Black Bull Tavern is located at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District. It's among the oldest taverns still in operation in Toronto
2021 – The Black Bull Tavern is located at the northeast corner of Queen St W and Soho St in the Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood and Entertainment District. It’s among the oldest taverns still in operation in Toronto
2019 – The Black Bull's swinging sign features a depiction of a black bull with a scroll noting "Est. 1833"
2019 – The Black Bull’s swinging sign features a depiction of a black bull with a scroll noting “Est. 1833”
2019 – Inscripted above a window at the Black Bull are the words "ERECTED 1833 - REERECTED 1886 - ALTERED 1910"
2019 – Inscripted above a window at the Black Bull are the words “ERECTED 1833 – REERECTED 1886 – ALTERED 1910”
2020 - Looking east from Soho St towards the Black Bull Tavern and other businesses along Queen St W
2020 – Looking east from Soho St towards the Black Bull Tavern and other businesses along Queen St W
2020 - The Black Bull Tavern at 298 Queen St W was constructed in 1886. Throughout the years, it has also been known as the Hewitt House, the Saranac Hotel, the Hotel Clifton and the Clifton House before reverting to its initial name
2020 – The Black Bull Tavern at 298 Queen St W was constructed in 1886. Throughout the years, it has also been known as the Hewitt House, the Saranac Hotel, the Hotel Clifton and the Clifton House before reverting to its initial name
2021 - Looking northeast from Queen St W and Peter St towards the Black Bull Tavern. Notice the attached three-storey building (3 Soho St) at the rear of the Black Bull
2021 – Looking northeast from Queen St W and Peter St towards the Black Bull Tavern. Notice the attached three-storey building (3 Soho St) at the rear of the Black Bull
2022 - The city recognized the Black Bull Tavern building’s historical significance, giving it heritage status in 1980. The business was established in 1833 and remains a beloved spot for locals and visitors alike, offering a cozy pub atmosphere
2022 – The city recognized the Black Bull Tavern building’s historical significance, giving it heritage status in 1980. The business was established in 1833 and remains a beloved spot for locals and visitors alike, offering a cozy pub atmosphere
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 in 2023
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 in 2023
2023 - Looking southeast towards 3 Soho St and the Black Bull Tavern at 298 Queen St W. The Black Bull was constructed in 1886, and the extension at 3 Soho St was added in 1889/90
2023 – Looking southeast towards 3 Soho St and the Black Bull Tavern at 298 Queen St W. The Black Bull was constructed in 1886, and the extension at 3 Soho St was added in 1889/90
2023 - Looking southeast towards 3 Soho St in Toronto's Entertainment District. The three-storey extension was added on the north side of the Black Bull in 1889/90
2023 – Looking southeast towards 3 Soho St in Toronto’s Entertainment District. The three-storey extension was added on the north side of the Black Bull in 1889/90
1858 - Atlas of the City of Toronto showing the location of the Black Bull Hotel
1858 – Atlas of the City of Toronto showing the location of the Black Bull Hotel (Toronto Public Library)
1833/34 – York Commercial Directory, Street Guide and Register showing the Black Bull Inn, and Drover's House, by J. Baker on Lot St, today known as Queen St W
1833/34 – York Commercial Directory, Street Guide and Register showing the Black Bull Inn, and Drover’s House, by J. Baker on Lot St, today known as Queen St W (Toronto Public Library)
1906 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Hewitt House, today's Black Bull Tavern
1906 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Hewitt House, today’s Black Bull Tavern (Toronto Public Library)
1908 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Saranac Hotel, today's Black Bull Tavern
1908 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Saranac Hotel, today’s Black Bull Tavern (Toronto Public Library)
1923 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Hotel Clifton, today's Black Bull Tavern
1923 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Hotel Clifton, today’s Black Bull Tavern (Toronto Public Library)
1967 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Clifton House, today's Black Bull Tavern
1967 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Clifton House, today’s Black Bull Tavern (Toronto Public Library)
SOURCE

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