A 60-year-old rock icon lives near Queen and Spadina. Not on a grate or in a box, although the casual passerby may think ?not far off.? Humbly ignoring the gloss of its increasingly posh neighbours is the Horseshoe Tavern: a simple venue that lacks the twinkling facades of surrounding shops but offsets superficial bling with legendary tales.
The best thing about the 'Shoe is that it's not a museum of wacky stuff your parents liked when they were your age. The Horseshoe is alive and relevant today, kind of like a cool uncle - you know, the one who doesn't babble about how rock lost its way while steering his SUV to the local HomeSense.
We have to rewind to 1995 to cover the current Horseshoe era. That's when Jeff Cohen arrived. Craig Laskey was his assistant, and together they created Against the Grain (ATG). ATG acted as a booker and a promoter, so instead of having the artist playing to people who came for cheap suds, strong promo work and solid acts were drawing crowds to the show itself.
At the same time, Dave Bookman, Bookie to his friends and Edge listeners, was consolidating his trips to various venues by having green acts play his Nu Music Night (NMN) on Tuesdays.
"What you had to do was make it a tasting," says Bookman. "Once something got good, the labels got on it as a good place to showcase."
The egalitarian unpaid showcase saw the likes of the Foo Fighters take the stage. "The surprise NMN performance was announced just that morning [September 15, 1999] when the band, who were in town for promo, saw their friends Snakefarm were playing that night and decided to jump on the bill," recalls Bookman.
Sometimes you remember a landmark show because you skipped it, as Bookman did with the Strokes in 2001. "The band bailed on their 6 pm interview with me at The Edge, so I bailed on them and spent the night drinking at the Beverley Tavern."
Considering that the 'Shoe has to keep itself in the black, the fact that people like Cohen, Laskey and Bookman are trying to cultivate talent rubs plenty of people the right way.
Photo By Paul Till
The Saddle Tramps with Sarah Harmer (left) performed May 24, 1990.
"The Horseshoe was the first venue in all of Canada to give the Smugglers a headlining show," explains Smugglers singer and Radio 3 man Grant Lawrence. "Those guys developed us as a band, and once they did it, the rest of the venues in Canada followed suit."
In 1997 the 'Shoe added "Legendary" to its name, deservedly so given the decades of great and near-great stories surrounding the venue.
Whether it's a near-death experience with a cross-eyed crazy mohawked guy from Oromocto, New Brunswick, who tried to stick a metal spike through his eye, or the theft of Danko Jones's magical groupie sex pants, the Horseshoe is a story factory for Grant Lawrence.
"I call it the rock 'n' roll crossroads of Canada," says Lawrence.
The Jayhawks' Gary Louris looks at the Horseshoe in a biblical way: "It is like finally reaching the Promised Land. Once you get there, you're like, 'Mommy, I'm home. '"
Ex-Mekons and Waco Brothers frontman Jon Langford tells the tale of Cohen and Laskey's offers of "vast wealth and first-born offspring" and journeys filled with "floods, immigration problems and the plague."
So some hyperbole might be present - like the millions of times Neko Case and Joel Plaskett have played there - but everyone has seen the best show of their lives at the Horseshoe.
Maybe you consider Stompin' Tom's or the Rheostatics' two-week-long stints as the defining moments in the Shoe's history.
Maybe that one and only Neutral Milk Hotel Toronto gig, when the band got lost near Cobourg and only hit the stage around midnight, still blows your mind.
Fans of the Old 97's will never forget the night they wouldn't play until after the Dallas Stars' double overtime game of the Stanley Cup final.
Before the Pixies were whole again, Frank Black was performing three- hour epics that go down as Jeff Cohen's lifetime highlights.
Someone will always remember the time they saw Ryan Adams, Camera Obscura, Bright Eyes or Linkin Park.
Someone else can't play their Death from Above records without thinking of the raw nights they had there.
Without the Sadies, New Year's Eve is certainly meaningless to many.
And who can forget the amazing night when Nickelback got signed at the 'Shoe? Sometimes legends can defy reason.
The 'Shoe manages to be a spot of fond recollection because it remains a friend to its patrons. Whether that warm fuzzy feeling comes from the world's nicest bouncer, Tyrone, or your amigos on the Legendary Horseshoe's stage, understand it's good, and with a lease until 2011 you can continue living it.