The Penny Farthing was a coffee house in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood that operated from late 1963 to late 1968. It was famous for hosting folk, jazz, and blues shows and played a huge part in the music scene of 1960s Yorkville by launching iconic artists like Joni Mitchell (then known as Joan Anderson) and Leonard Cohen. Joni Mitchell got her start here in 1965, and Leonard Cohen a year later as part of the Stormy Clovers. (American folksinger Chuck Mitchell also played here, who Joni Mitchell briefly married and then kept his name.)
The Penny Farthing was managed by John and Marilyn McHugh, a couple from England who had come to Toronto in the 1950s. They had previously operated a smaller coffee house named The Half-Beat but decided to move to a larger space in Yorkville to take advantage of the coffee house trend. When the city’s clubs and bars shut down at night, jazz musicians would gather at the Penny Farthing to play their music until sunrise. This made it a popular choice for artists looking for a place to play after-hours.
They called it the “Penny Farthing” because it was a Victorian house and the penny farthing bicycle was a symbol of that era. However, many people didn’t catch onto this connection, and the coffee shop often received letters addressed to “Ms. Penny Farthing.” Artists played upstairs and downstairs in “The Dungeon” (where Joni debuted) and the house had a patio and a swimming pool in the back.
In 1986, upscale clothing store Kimina moved into this space and operated there for 38 years. It recently announced it’s closing down the shop and moving online. A historical plaque commemorates the site’s significance in Toronto’s music history. 112 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto.