With all of the endlessly reliable and ever-changing options of watering hole’s in Toronto – lounges, night clubs, rooftop patios, side-walk patios, dive bars, hipster bars, old-man bars, and now the emerging “day-time pool bar“, you would think there’s a place for everyone, wouldn’t ya? Well there isn’t. There’s one particular type of “bar” that’s missing from downtown Toronto’s live and energetic scene: a Country bar. And I’m not talking about the pseudo country bars that sometimes have country/folk/bluegrass bands perform like the Horseshoe, Cameron House, Cadillac Lounge, or The Local. These are all great, don’t get me wrong, but they are not authentically country. They ain’t no rodeo. Yes, I’m talking about the stereotypical “authentic” country complete with line dancing, hay stacks, cowboy boots, two-steppin’, Daisy Duke’s and mechanical bulls. I know you can find places resembling this in Barrie, Georgetown and apparently Niagara falls but not in the heart of T.O. However, there is one place that comes to the utmost closest comparison: The Dakota Tavern.
I had the pleasure of heading down to The Dakota (not for the first time) the other night to see one of Toronto’s best kept secrets, country folk heart-throbs The Treasures. (They were absolutely phenomenal, by the way. If you ever want to hear some sweet harmonies and a killer steel petal guitar, these are the dudes.) But for those of you who haven’t yet been, here’s my experience in a nutshell:
Upon our arrival we exchange pleasantries with the bouncer and then proceed through the big black wood-paneled door, pay our $7 cover (this was for three bands playing BTW), and walked down a wide, dimly lit stairwell. The room was buzzing with a decent size crowd, some standing near the bar, some sitting at tables at the back of the room, while the opener Whitney Rose and her band was performing. Whitney dawned a pink sleeveless button up, tied at the waist, and a white denim mini skirt with matching white cowboy boots. I knew immediately that it was going to be a good night.
Cut to The Treasure’s tuning their instruments and checking their mics’, I look to the back of the room for the first time to find the crowd swelled to double in size since we arrived and everyone was standing up, gravitating to the front of the stage. The stage, probably the most key focal point of this venue, is beautifully (yes, beautifully. I’m very emotional) decorated in my ultimate fave Adirondack style with a homey-cottage-esque rug (so homey that the bass player didn’t feel the need to wear shoes, or socks), various country memorabilia like posters, vintage looking (oil?) lamps, buffalo skeleton head’s with their horns still intact, and my favourite, a few strings of mini bulbs hung naturally and effortlessly – all against a wood paneled wall. It’s pretty magical. The only thing I would say was missing is a tumble-weed. Now that I think about it, a tumble-weed would actually be perfect.
Cut to The Treasure’s into the first few songs of their set, the room get’s tighter and tighter with people, but everyone is in good spirits, and swaying to the sweet tunes blasting from the 5-piece group. There’s one girl standing beside us who I can’t help but notice all of her “Yee-Haw!”-ing and toe-tapping, fully decked out in embellished cowboy boots (to-boot). Soon after, she leans over to me and says (in a strangely familiar accent) “Have you beeeen here before?” I say “Yep! You?” and she replies “No I have not! I just Google’d ‘Country bar’ in Toronto and this was all that came up so here I am. I’m visiting from Texas for work and had the day off, thought I’d have a good time tonight! Yee-haw!” I literally proceeded to die on the spot. In a good way. I welcomed her to the city, cheered our drinks and turned my attention back to the band. Though I immediately had a flashback of Jessica Simpson in the Dukes of Hazard as this girl reminded me of just over the top Country.
Shortly after another song or two she lean’s back in and says “Don’t people dance in Toronto?” (and she pronounces it with a hard “T” sound, like Tor-on-Toe. Not Tarana) I leaned back and said “Umm sometimes! Usually when we’re nice and drunk!” This is true for me, anyway. Then she says “I just can’t believe it! This is such a great two-steppin’ song!” I laugh as she literally starts full on two-stepping in front of me. When the band stops to change instruments real quick, I ask her if The Dakota is like the bars in Texas. She goes “Wellll, in Dallas, where I’m from, this is the type of place that we call ‘Hipster-Country’ – still good! – but if you go just a bit down south you’ll find the real good one’s with lots of dancin’ and cowboy hats and handkerchiefs and yeah!” I told her that I’ve been dying to go to Texas for a while now and she recommended a place near Dallas I should check out. I don’t remember what it’s called.
When the band finished up, to a full room of applause, we parted ways with Ms. Texas as she gravitated to a group of girls who looked more than wasted. I didn’t even get her name. But I did get some great insight from a true Texan about real Country bars. I’m really satisfied with The Dakota Tavern as a substitute for my country fix. Overall, it’s an amazing place to go and listen to amazing music and have a great time. The patrons are casual, nice and friendly, and it’s just a really good relaxed vibe.
But will someone please open a REAL country bar? Or at least turn The Dakota into one every first Thursday or every month. With Line Dancing. Ok? Thank you!!
In a dream world, these would be my ultimate country outfits, fully channeling Taylor Swift circa “Tim McGraw” / Jessica Simpson in the Dukes of Hazard (ask me if I care).