Folk music and Yorkville Coffeehouses

Yorkville and the Coffee Houses

Beginning in the early 1960s, old Victorian rooming houses in Yorkville were converted into "coffee houses" where patrons chatted, sipped on cappuccinos and espressos, ate snacks like apple strudel and bowls of chili or soup, inhaled both legal and illegal kinds of smoke and enjoyed the most popular offerings of Canadian folk singer-songwriters such as Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Ian and Sylvia and the early offerings of Neil Young.
The coffee houses did not have a liquor license. They were permitted to stay open well into the night and served a mixed clientele from locals to late night arrivals of people stumbling out of bars to the "weekenders" who came from the suburbs to be a part of the scene and see for themselves what the hippies were all about.

Coffee houses began in England in the 17th century. They were places where people gathered for debates over the namesake drink that had recently arrived on the continent. In the early sixties, coffee houses became pillars of the bohemian and hippie community began for the first time in New York City. This grew out of a desire to have a social space to present art, poetry, and music in contrast to the loud and rowdy downtown bars, fueled by alcohol.

In Toronto, these venues differed from the rowdy rock n' roll clubs of Yonge Street. They were cozy places where people gathered to discuss current events and politics or to just hang out and hear the artist or band on stage. The twenty or so coffee houses that existed throughout the sixties were an essential part of Toronto's music culture and allowed many bands and artists who performed at these venues to gain exposure and reach stardom. The coffee houses began to close in the late 1960 and were mostly closed by the early seventies.

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