Clinton’s Tavern is back under new management

After abruptly closing shortly before the pandemic, the 83-year-old bar has been bought and reopened by Echo Karaoke

Clinton’s Tavern has reopened after closing abruptly back in February.

The owner of the eight-decade old Bloor West bar and music venue disappeared without warning, leaving many of the dedicated staff and management unable to recoup weeks and months of lost wages. But they were optimistic that a new owner could come in and bring the bar and its community back to life.

Then, a few weeks later, all bars were forced to close due to COVID-19.

Now, Clinton’s is back. Upstairs neighbour, Echo Karaoke, bought the bar and the new ownership is running both businesses and has launched a new menu. They’ve even found a way to put on live music in front of the bar.

Former Clinton’s event manager Lindsay Darling says she and former general manager Christina Spencer found out about the reopening the same way as everyone else: on social media. She says the new owners have their contact information, but never reached out except to ask for access to the Clinton’s social media accounts. (Instead, the new owners have created a new Clinton’s Instagram account.)

“It’s unfortunate that given the circumstances surrounding the closure and the outpouring of support from Torontonians that there wasn’t an acknowledgement, or rather any compassion for what was a very delicate situation.”

No one expected to be handed their old jobs back, Darling adds.

The new owners did not return NOW’s request for comment, but they did respond to an Instagram comment that said, “Sad that you did not rehire any of the old staff that made that place great.”

“With all due respect, we weren’t approached by any of the new staff, except one, whom we rehired promptly,” they wrote. “I sympathize greatly with all the old staff as I heard they were left without pay but please don’t buy into rumours without addressing both sides. To all the old staff, please feel free to reach out to us as we haven’t heard anyone was interested in reprising their role here under our management. :)”

Shortly after Clinton’s closure in February, Choir! Choir! Choir!, which ran weekly sing-along events out of the bar’s back room for five years, threw a fundraiser for the former staff to help them recoup lost wages. The entire staff appeared onstage that night and spoke emotionally about the community that existed at Clinton’s, likening it to a family business.

It’s unclear whether Clinton’s will resurrect any of the parties or live music events. At the February fundraiser, Choir! Choir! Choir! spoke about the key role nightlife and service industry jobs play in the city’s culture and the precarity inherent in those jobs. The pandemic has only exacerbated the tenuousness of that employment.

The band’s co-founder Nobu Adilman says they don’t know the status of their weekly events or whether they’d return to Clinton’s. They don’t know the bar owner’s plan or, given the pandemic, his own.

“It’s sad but while Clinton’s will reopen, it will be without the team who made it home for us for so many years,” Adilman tells NOW. “Lindsay and Christina worked above and beyond to find a suitable new business owner but, ultimately, the owner of the building went with someone else. The energy this team put into these negotiations really should be applauded. They care about their staff and preserving local treasures that give us locals beloved spots to unpack our lives and create new memories.”

In the meantime, Clinton’s, which has survived for 83 years, lives to see another day.

@ trapunski

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