Toronto– It was around eight on Friday night, the last weekend of November. I had walked past Hugh's Room many times, a few blocks south of Dundas West station, it's one of Toronto's best know folk, blues, and jazz venues. I'd been tempted to attend an event ever since arriving in Toronto, but hadn't got around to it. So when I saw a poster advertising the 10th annual tribute to Tom Waits, I decided the time had come.
Hugh's Room is named after Hugh Carson, a man with a reputation as somewhat of a scholar of 60's folk-music. He and his brother, Richard Carson, had talked of opening a folk room in Toronto for some years. Unfortunately, Hugh was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of '99 and died four weeks later. His brother persevered and in April 2001 opened the club.
A small, unassuming entrance on Dundas Street West, the place opens up into a much bigger 200 odd person dinner-performance venue. We made the mistake of arriving late–the place was already packed to the rafters–so we had to make do with a seat at the bar. I ordered a bottle of wine and a shot of whisky, something to shake off the Toronto chill. The barman, with his long white ponytail, was in no rush. It seemed he'd been there since opening and had simply never been gone home.
It turned out he'd been there for 12 years, as far as he could recall. I told him I had a craving for Salmon. The vegans had been at it again. This time a campaign on the Toronto subway; a poster of a dog and a smiling pig, the caption: "Why love one, but eat the other?" I explained the whole thing had put me off meat for a week, possibly for life.
He agreed with my rationalization that, having never loved a salmon, nor ever intending to love a salmon, put them firmly on the menu. It turned out to be a good choice, however my companion had ordered the pasta, which wasn't to her liking.
Who orders pasta in a folk bar anyway?
The lineup was handpicked by a man called Wrycraft. Unfortunately, Wrycraft couldn't be there himself, recovering from some medical condition, he sent a man looking like a cross between Jeff Ross and Einstein to take control. My first impression had been that this was an error in judgement on his part, perhaps the pain killers had taken control of his wits. Later I regretted not getting the fellows name, he seemed an interesting, witty character worth additional attention.
It had taken Wrycraft about a year to pull this ensemble together. A tricky task, given Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding like "it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car."
The first set, a husband and wife duo–The Oh Chays– did not disappoint, and set the tone for an entertaining evening. However, I have to say that Nudie's version of "Martha"and Kevin Fox on the cello playing "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" made the show for me.
My thoughts on Hugh's Room: Why hadn't I gone sooner!
I've been visiting Toronto for over a year; tasted some of the best food in the world, have my regular coffee spots, frequented the markets, hell, I've even experienced Cottage Life. This was definitely a huge oversight on my part.
As your nomadic voice, I advise you to attend an event at Hugh's Room if you ever find yourself in Toronto.