The Friar’s Tavern was a famous nightclub on the corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets that hosted some of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, especially in jazz and rock and roll. Built in 1918 as a three-story building for Child’s Restaurants, the Friar’s Tavern opened in 1963 as a jazz club alongside other clubs on the Yonge strip like the Brown Derby featuring big names like Oscar Peterson, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, and Miles Davis.
The club’s unique feature was a rotating stage in the center of the main floor, ensuring everyone had a great view. In 1965, the focus shifted to rock and roll, drawing acts like Bill Haley and the Comets, Robbie Lane and the Disciples, and the Silhouettes. The club also introduced go-go dancers, who danced in hanging cages – something quite innovative at the time.
One of its most significant moments happened in September 1965 when Bob Dylan came to Toronto to audition Levon and the Hawks, a band he wanted as his backup. Dylan heard them play at the Friar’s Tavern, and after-hours rehearsals over two nights followed. This meeting marked a turning point in rock history, Dylan’s renowned electric tour alongside Levon and the Hawks. This legendary ensemble featured drummer and singer Levon Helm, guitarist Robbie Robertson, bass player and singer Rick Danko, keyboardist and singer Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, who played both keyboard and saxophone. This lineup would eventually evolve into The Band.
The Friar’s Tavern closed in 1976 and was replaced by a Hard Rock Café in 1978, which operated until 2017.
In June of 2018, a Shoppers Drug Mart opened. The drugstore now hosts a small museum dedicated to Yonge Street’s music history, commemorating the notable legacy of the Friar’s Tavern. You can visit the Friar’s Music Museum for free on the second floor of the Shoppers Drug Mart (it’s accessible) at 279 Yonge Street, Toronto.