Exit Music On Cue

Rich from On Cue Billiards For us, it was an era that had barely begun. For friends, musicians, pool sharks and wannabees, neighbours, employees and owner Rich (pictured) it was the end of a decade as a hidden gem for live music and one of the best places to play pool in Toronto.

At the end of April, Sarah and I moved to an apartment near the corner of Jane and Annette Streets on Toronto's western edge - the Baby Point area on the east bank of the Humber River. The strip has some fine amenities, including a great bike shop and butcher, Mexican, Neopolitan, Colombian, Jamaican and Slovak restaurants and the best croissant in town (at Patisserie 27). But our former neighbour, painter Chris Temple, and his son Mackenzie were most excited for us that we'd be just steps from their favourite father-son haunt, On Cue Billiards. It was everything you really want in a neighbourhood bar: not to glossy or showy, a bit of a hideaway, great tap and bourbon selections, live music, friendly staff, a signature snack (Ukrainian Varenyky - like perogies) and an owner/bartender just quiet enough, just witty enough and just crusty enough to pique your curiosity about his story. Tuesdays were dedicated to the music of Tom Waits - on both the CD player and the stage; Wednesdays were Humpday Blues: but the stage had welcomed everything from funk to flamenco to feminist poetry over the years. All that and ten full-sized pool tables playable at an unbeatable rate; and - if you wanted to get serious about things - regular lessons available from Erik Hjorleifson, the part-time bartender, pool pro and national billiards champion!

It didn't take more than a few visits before we were feeling very much at home there and glad to have a kind of touchstone in our new neighbourhood. It was just a couple of weeks later when we were informed that the building's owner had terminated the lease in the hopes of scoring a much higher rent for some other kind of use of the space (frankly, it's a bit grotty so I'm wondering what kind of tenant he's hoping to attract) and that yet another Toronto music venue would bite the dust on the last day of May. Chris was scheduled to be in town from Prague and he and Mackenzie and Sarah and I met there on the second last night for a few rounds of pitchers and pool and some heartfelt toasts with Rich.

The whole thing was especially resonant for Sarah and me since we'd been forced from the place where I'd lived on Sorauren Avenue for 23 years as the result of the same kind of real estate frenzy that has made greed and massive rent increases the norm in many parts of Toronto. These so-called "market forces" are presented as natural, inevitable, cyclical - and one doesn't want to cry victim only for oneself - but it seems that there is a kind of blindness required to simply acquiesce to the power of greed. To survive and thrive, cities need a mix of incomes and influences in all areas. When the most desirable parts of a town are turned over only to those who can pay the highest price they suffer a kind of death from within. There is no dynamic without diversity. In our old neighbourhood we've watched the population change as expensive new condos were built and house prices soared well beyond the reach of most people. Without meaning to paint them all with the same brush, the well-groomed young condo-istas with their well-groomed French Bulldogs arrive with no sense of what others of us put into making sure the rubble would be turned into a park and that the park would build a communal pizza oven and host a weekly farmer's market and push for the conversion of a linseed oil factory into a community centre. And yet they assume that these amenities are there for them whether they contribute to their maintenance or not. It's a sense of entitlement built into the fantastic prices they are paying for their tiny "loft-style" condos - the condos that displaced the actual loft apartments, studios and rehearsal spaces occupied by the artists who generated the creative energy on which a thriving neighbourhood was built. And it's that sense of entitlement (and existential fear) that drives these new denizens to prefer glossier, tidier, corporate-run bars, restaurants and coffee shops over the independent businesses that gave the neighbourhood its distinct character in the first place.

On May the 30th I took Voyageur to On Cue for regular musician (and neighbour) Kevin Roach to play during his set. On May 31st, Sarah and I were at Massey Hall (another place that almost fell to developers' greed decades ago) to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds while On Cue regulars sent Rich and his staff off with a huge bang. On June 1st I went by during the day where a tearful Rich expressed his regret that our friendship was being cut short before it really got started - but vowing to return in some other iteration at the first opportunity. At my request, he took a utility knife and cut a patch of felt from one of the pool tables. It has no particular historical relevance to convey - we're not aware of any particular luminary who played that table or any particular score settled across its fibres - but I will put a small piece in the case as a tribute to all of the music venues in this country that support local artists in all styles and genres and serve as important cultural incubators until someone else decides they don't matter enough to keep. At least I can say that, in some way, they have a permanent place in the Six String Nation.

Share this article:

© Copyright Six String Nation -