Colonial Tavern

Colonial Tavern
Empty lot on Yonge Street that once held the Colonial Tavern

The Colonial Tavern was one of the most famous jazz venues in Canada from the 1950s till its closure in the late 1970s. It was located at 199-201 Yonge Street in Toronto (now a laneway next to 197 Yonge Street and 205 Yonge Street) in which a historic plaque remembers this key jazz venue. The Colonial Tavern was owned and managed by brothers-in-law Mike (Myer) G. Lawrence, Goodwin (Goody) and Harvey Lichtenberg.



Jazz artists played on the ground floor, on a raised stage along one wall, beneath a multi-faceted disco ball. The stage could also be watched from the balcony dining area. Musicians had a green room at the back and at times stayed in apartments on the floor above.

It was a venue for soloists and small ensembles. Big bands performed either at the Imperial Room at the Royal York, in Massey Hall, or at various venues on the Toronto waterfront, including the Palais Royale, the CNE Bandshell, and the Palace Pier.

Concerts were often recorded by CJRT's jazz disk jockey, Ted O'Reilly, and were broadcast on Saturday mornings with hundreds of full interviews of jazz artists discussing their performances and memories. Some of these interviews are in the Ryerson University archives.


The first band to open the Colonial Tavern was a band led by Cy McLean,[1] who led the first full-scale black dance band in Canada.[2] Artists who performed at the Colonial Tavern included major jazz artists from around the world. Musicians often stayed in very limited accommodation at the back. A brass plate memorial in the park which now remembers this historic building records the names of over 150 jazz musicians that performed at the tavern. Amongst notable performers were:

History of Jazz in Toronto

Other competing jazz venues in Toronto at the time were George's Spaghetti House, the Town Tavern and George's Bourbon Street. Upscale nightclubs and big band venues included: the Savarin Tavern, the Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel, the Palais Royale and the CNE Bandshell.


  1. ^ Ontario Black History Society, Profile of Cy McLean; "Notes From Black History". Retrieved 2011-04-25.
  2. ^ Mark Miller, "The sound of a truly different drummer". The Globe and Mail, January 6, 2005, as reprinted in Mark McLean. Retrieved 2011-04-25.

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