Late Nights at The Rex: Musings About a Unique Toronto Venue
The live music venue is known for its retro-chic décor, and of course, the infamous and by-now-beloved pillar in the middle of the dining area. It’s this unique modern-yet-historical charm that makes it so distinct – and so popular as a late-night hangout spot. For many years it’s been a central venue for the TD jazz festival. Why wouldn’t it be, given that it’s such a household name? Believe it or not, though, The Rex started out from seriously humble roots. In 1960, Bob Ross bought out the cute but unremarkable United Clothing Store and converted it into an expanded bar, which quickly attracted an audience. Around 20 years later, as Queen Street West became increasingly hip, Ross realized that he had better keep up with the times if he wanted to boast a poppin’ venue for local clientele. Initially he hosted mainly pro-alt-country and rockabilly music, genres that are scarcely recognizable today. But all that was soon to change.
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In the early days of the venue, Bob Ross would shut down early, go to the nearby jazz bar Bourbon Street & Basement Street, and chillax with the musicians till the early hours of the night. Eventually they started showing up at the Rex between sets – mostly for the bargain drinks. So it was a combination of sociability and business savvy (read: cheap beer) that lay down the roots of The Rex as we know it today.
One seemingly ordinary night, Canadian saxophonist DT Thompson was playing down the street. After a set, the jazz musician strutted in casually, playing “When The Saints Go Marching In” while prancing around the bar. Eventually he found his way to the bar, and requested a rye and coke for his impromptu entertainment. Ross was seemingly more amused than anything, because from that day forward the venue has been known predominantly for its jazz and blues shows.
The bar has been renovated many times over the years, but none of the changes have modernized it so much as to take away its characteristic and unmistakable Old Toronto feel. The bar is still owned by Bob Ross, and now he has his grandson Avi around to manage it with him. Tom Tytel took over booking in the 90s, and he’s been the go-to guy ever since. The Rex may be a bar, but it seems to be equal parts a family.