Toronto Then & Now: Le Coq d’Or Tavern to Tokyo Smoke

The Le Coq d’Or (which means Golden Rooster) located at 333 Yonge Street in Toronto, was a popular rock ‘n roll venue during the 1950s and 1960s. It was opened by businessman George Bulucon in the late 1940s. The tavern hosted renowned musicians like Bo Diddley, Solomon Burke, Sam & Dave, and the Cougars, featuring Jay Douglas. Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the first all-female rock band on a major American record label, also performed there, as did the Montreal band the Beau-Marks who recorded a live album at the venue.

Bo Diddley at Le Coq d’Or in 1965. Photo: York University Archives Collection: Toronto Telegram fonds (F0433)

Ronnie Hawkins and his band, the Hawks, first played there in 1958 and became regular performers. After parting ways with Hawkins, the Hawks went on to tour and record with Bob Dylan, ultimately evolving into the Band in the late 1960s.

In 1965, Ronnie Hawkins partnered with Le Coq d’Or manager Bill Bulucon to open the Hawk’s Nest, a teenage dance club located above the tavern. The Hawk’s Nest featured local acts like Mandala, the Ugly Ducklings, and the Sparrows (later known as Steppenwolf). Pioneering soul singer Jackie Shane and influential English rock band the Kinks also performed at the Hawk’s Nest.

Ronnie Hawkins at the Le Coq D’Or Tavern, 1963. Photo: York University Archives Collection: Toronto Telegram fonds (F0433)

The Le Coq d’Or closed its doors in 1976 due to declining attendance at the clubs on Yonge Street. In 1991, the Toronto flagship of HMV opened its doors in this location and operated here until 2017. As a student of what is now Toronto Metropolitan University, I visited this HMV almost daily and used the listening stations to preview music before committing to buying CDs. Now the space at 333 Yonge Street is a Tokyo Smoke, a recreational cannabis and weed dispensary.

Memorabilia from Le Coq d’Or Tavern, which received its Heritage Toronto plaque in 2017, can be found down the street at the little music museum on the second floor of the Shoppers Drug Mart at the corner of Yonge and Dundas. This was the former location of another legendary Yonge street club, the Friar’s Tavern.

Heritage plaque for Le Coq d’Or Tavern in front of Tokyo Smoke, August 2023.

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