Before it became a famous adult entertainment nightclub, this club was a home to some of the hottest jazz and blues on the Yonge Street Strip.
During the 1950s, the Zanzibar Tavern advertised itself as Toronto’s “Exotic Nite Spot.” But the offerings had nothing to do with the kind of entertainment for which the club later became infamous. Instead, the Zanzibar featured tribal masks for décor and “continental” song stylists backed by “flying fingers” pianist Kenny King. Soon, the rockabilly of Tommy Danton & the Echoes and Terry Roberts & the Deans filled the club. Owner Dave Cooper promised “continuous entertainment” and would rotate bands, recalled Russ Strathdee, whose group the Ramblers performed there. By the late ’60s, the Zanzibar had introduced topless go-go dancers. But that didn’t distract from organist Bobby Dean’s funky house band, which included guitarist Terry Logan and drummer William Blackburn. Dean’s band was so good that visiting stars like Jimmy McGriff and Groove Holmes would sit in and jam. Before nude entertainment took over entirely, great live music was the Zanzibar’s biggest attraction.