Friar’s Tavern – Playing Its Part in Creating the Yonge Street Sound

1970's - Friar's Tavern at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast
1970’s – Friar’s Tavern at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 548, Item 24)

The famed Friar’s Tavern was located at 279 to 283 Yonge St (at Dundas Square on the southeast corner) in downtown Toronto.

Before Friar’s Tavern

The 3-storey building was constructed in 1918 for the American restaurant chain, Child’s Restaurants. Designed by the restaurant’s New York City architect, JC Westervelt, the Beaux-Arts Classicism style building was home to the restaurant on the main floor with Karry’s Billiards and Bowling on the upper floors. The brick and steel structure is clad with white-glazed terra cotta. Other architectural elements include several large windows, fluted piers, festoons, a band of rosettes and a cornice.

After Karry’s left the building in the early 1950’s, the upper floors were then used as office space for a number of years.

Child’s Restaurant had three locations in Toronto. It was a popular restaurant that appealed to those looking for a nice, reasonably-priced meal plus it also hosted many parties for Toronto’s who’s who. After more than four decades at this location, the restaurant closed in the early 1960s. For a few years, the main floor was home to The Stage Restaurant before Friar’s Tavern took over the building.

New on the Jazz Scene

Opening in 1963, Friar’s featured jazz music during its first year. In that short time as a jazz venue, some notable performers at the tavern included Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk as well as Canada’s own Oscar Peterson.

Rock ‘n Roll and the Go-Go Craze

1965 - David Clayton-Thomas and The Shays performing on stage at Friars 'a Go Go, flanked on each side by a go go dancer, July 19, 1965
1965 – David Clayton-Thomas and The Shays performing at Friar’s ‘a Go Go, July 19, 1965 (York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC00604. Used with permission)

A year later, the music club shifted gears to rock ’n roll where acts included Bill Haley and the Comets, Robbie Lane and the Disciples as well as the Silhouettes.

In the summer of 1965, the historic Friar’s Tavern was the first to feature go-go dancers to accompany the bands on stage. On raised platforms or in gilded cages, dancers in short skirts with rows of fringes dazzled spectators. The stage show and fad caught like wildfire at the local clubs and bands didn’t look complete performing without them. David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays were one of the first groups in Toronto to share the stage with go-go dancers.

Bob Dylan and The Band

In 1965, Bob Dylan was in Toronto. He came to see Levon and the Hawks who were performers at the tavern. In what TIME magazine called “the most decisive moment in rock history”, Dylan asked the local stars to rehearse with him. They later went on to back Dylan on his first tour with an electric band. Levon and the Hawks later gained international fame as The Band.

Friar’s Tavern closed in 1976 and even though it was short-lived, the venue played a legendary part in Toronto’s music history.

Hard Rock Cafe

From 1978 until 2017, the building was home to the Hard Rock Cafe – a new Yonge Street landmark. Those famous walls were once again filled with music but this time with an extensive collection of rock’n roll memorabilia including musical instruments, autographed photos of famous musicians and even some of the clothing they wore.

Friar’s Music Museum

2021 - Friar's Tavern once at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner - now Shoppers Drug Mart and formerly Hard Rock Cafe and Child's Restaurant
2021 – Friar’s Tavern once at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner – now Shoppers Drug Mart and formerly Hard Rock Cafe and Child’s Restaurant

Since 2018, the century-old building has been a Shoppers Drug Mart. In the summer of that year, Friar’s Music Museum opened on the second floor.

The micro-museum is packed with incredible artifacts mainly from 1950’s and 1960’s Yonge Street music scene. Along with an interactive display, visitors to the museum will find a wall of drum kits featuring the names of the musicians that made what’s known today as the “Toronto Sound”. The music time capsule has a Domenic Troiano’s (from the band Mandala) 1963 Fender Telecaster and his rainbow-striped jacket along with reproduced album covers, Sam the Record Man items and much more on display. There are also many once-ubiquitous keepsakes like matchbooks, swizzle sticks and coasters from the one-time clubs, taverns and hotels that dotted Yonge St many years ago.

The music lives on at Friar’s Music Museum and admission is free.

Did You Know?

  • David Clayton-Thomas later became the lead singer of jazz-rock band, Blood, Sweat & Tears.
  • Before becoming Levon and the Hawks, they backed Ronnie Hawkins at Le Coq d’Or Tavern, which was located just north of Friar’s.
  • A few of the other taverns along the neon-lit Yonge Street Strip included The Colonial, Steele’s, Club Bluenote, Bermuda, Zanzibar, Brown Derby and the Town. The street had it all – rock’n roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, country, folk, island music and more.
  • In 1970, the second floor of Friar’s became the roaring 1920’s-themed, all-ages dance pub called the Nickelodeon. It remained open into the 1980’s.
  • The building received heritage status from the City in 1990.

Friar’s Tavern Photos

1970's - Friar's Tavern and the Nickelodeon at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast
1970’s – Friar’s Tavern and the Nickelodeon at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 548, Item 24)
2021 - Friar's Tavern once at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner - now Shoppers Drug Mart and formerly Hard Rock Cafe and Child's Restaurant
2021 – Friar’s Tavern once at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner – now Shoppers Drug Mart and formerly Hard Rock Cafe and Child’s Restaurant
1965 - David Clayton-Thomas and The Shays performing on stage at Friars 'a Go Go, flanked on each side by a go go dancer, July 19, 1965
1965 – David Clayton-Thomas and The Shays performing on stage at Friar’s ‘a Go Go, flanked on each side by a go-go dancer, July 19, 1965 (York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC00604. Used with permission)
Dancer at Friar's 'a Go Go
Dancer at Friar’s ‘a Go Go (photo taken at Friar’s Music Museum)
Friar's Tavern and Nickelodeon matchbook cover
Friar’s Tavern and Nickelodeon matchbook cover (photo taken at Friar’s Music Museum)
1970's - Friar's Tavern at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast
1970’s – Friar’s Tavern at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 519, Item 26)
Levon and the Hawks advertising
Levon and the Hawks advertising (photo taken at Friar’s Music Museum)
1966 - An unidentified band, performing on stage flanked by go-go dancers in cages on each side, at Friar's Tavern on Yonge Street, August 8, 1966
1966 – An unidentified band, performing on stage flanked by go-go dancers in cages on each side, at Friar’s Tavern on Yonge Street, August 8, 1966 (York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC08132. Used with permission)
Friar's Tavern coaster
Friar’s Tavern coaster (photo taken at Friar’s Music Museum)
1970's - Looking east along Dundas Square from Yonge St, Friar's Tavern on right
1970’s – Looking east along Dundas Square from Yonge St, Friar’s Tavern on right (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 519, Item 24)
2021 - Friar's Music Museum inside Shoppers Drug Mart at 279 Yonge St
2021 – Friar’s Music Museum inside Shoppers Drug Mart at 279 Yonge St
1975/76 - Looking west to Friar's Tavern and construction of Eaton Centre, from Victoria St and Dundas Square
1975/76 – Looking west to Friar’s Tavern and construction of Eaton Centre, from Victoria St and Dundas Square (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 462, Item 14)
Menus and memorabilia from Child's Restaurant, Friar's Tavern and Zanzibar
Menus and memorabilia from Child’s Restaurant, Friar’s Tavern and Zanzibar (photo taken at Friar’s Music Museum)
Jon and Lee and the Checkmates advertising
Jon and Lee and the Checkmates advertising (photo taken at Friar’s Music Museum)
1974 - View of demolition for Eaton Centre, on the west side of Yonge St, just south of Dundas St W - Friar's Tavern in the background
1974 – View of demolition for Eaton Centre, on the west side of Yonge St, just south of Dundas St W – Friar’s Tavern in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 83, Item 28)
2021 - Friar’s Tavern heritage plaque located at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner
2021 – Friar’s Tavern heritage plaque located at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner
1964 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address and phone number of Friar's Tavern
1964 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address and phone number of Friar’s Tavern (Toronto Public Library)
1978/80 - Hard Rock Cafe, formerly Friar's Tavern, at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner
1978/80 – Hard Rock Cafe, formerly Friar’s Tavern, at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 308, Item 3)
1930's - Child's Restaurant, later Friar's Tavern, at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast
1930’s – Child’s Restaurant, later Friar’s Tavern, at Yonge St and Dundas Square, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 49)
1922 - Child's Restaurant and a crowd at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner - later home to Friar's Tavern
1922 – Child’s Restaurant and a crowd at Yonge St and Dundas Square, southeast corner – later home to Friar’s Tavern (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 58, Item 35)
1930 - Looking south along Yonge St, just south of Dundas St
1930 – Looking south along Yonge St, just south of Dundas St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 8158)
2021 - Looking south along Yonge St from Dundas Square - Shoppers Drug Mart on left, once home to Friar's Tavern
2021 – Looking south along Yonge St from Dundas Square – Shoppers Drug Mart on left, once home to Friar’s Tavern
2021/1970's - Friar's Tavern once at 279 Yonge St
2021/1970’s – Friar’s Tavern once at 279 Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 548, Item 24)
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