It began as a jazz rival to nearby Town Tavern before evolving into a popular venue for blues and, briefly, as a home for punk and new wave music.
The Colonial Tavern opened in 1947 as a jazz club and was the first Yonge Street venue to break the colour barrier when it featured Cy McLean and his Rhythm Rompers, Canada’s all-black swing band. Owned and managed by brothers-in-law Mike (Myer) G. Lawrence, Goodwin (Goody) and Harvey Lichtenberg, the Colonial competed with the Town, booking the top names in jazz, including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. But by the late ’60s, the Colonial’s owners began featuring more diverse music, beginning with major blues artists, most notably Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Musicians played on the ground floor beneath a disco ball on a raised stage, which could also be seen from the balcony seating. Before it closed in the late ’70s, the Colonial ventured into punk and new wave with acts like the Viletones, Rough Trade and the Dishes.