Upcoming: Free Times turns 25
It's still a cozy retreat on the ever-changing College strip, and the french fry wedges are some of the best in town, so you'd never know the Free Times Café is facing its quarter-life crisis. This week the folkie haven celebrates its 25th anniversary, and can proudly declare that it's the city's longest-running club for acoustic music.
That ain't bad when you consider that so many venues are still reeling from Ontario's anti-smoking bylaws -- and that folk isn't the trendiest music these days.
You can hear the bubbe-ish pride in owner Judy Perly 's voice as she matter-of-factly explains why her club has managed to stay alive.
"Good food! At one point, the Free Times had become a smoky bar, and we had to stop the [Sunday Bella Did You Eat?] brunch when I realized we had a restaurant and weren't selling food. When I saw going non-smoking was inevitable, we decided to push the nosh."
When Perly bought the Free Times back in 1980 and changed it from a veggie/seafood joint to a "more healthy mixed menu," she never imagined it'd become a musical hub.
"Then musicians started coming, wanting a place to play, so we started having live acts on weekends. By 1983, we were going seven days a week, and now we've hosted over 7,500 events.
"We've got everything: a Yiddish group meets once a month, a high school group comes during lunch for poetry readings.... It's total madness. It makes Cheers look like nothing!"
To help celebrate, Perly and her pals are presenting three evenings of fab food 'n' folk. Tonight (Thursday, December 15) you can check out the club's 80s-era regulars, like David Woodhead , Joe Hall and Brent Titcomb -- joined by son Liam, who played his first show as a six-year-old at the Free Times. Friday features acts from the 90s, including Andrea Florian , Bob Snider and Jory Nash , and Saturday winds up with rising stars of the new millenium like Kat Goldman , Aengus Finnan and Dawn Langstroth .
It's $25 for the tunes and anniversary buffet, or $10 for just the 10 pm performance. Reserve your spot at 416-967-1078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.