The Zanzibar Tavern with its flashing neon signs is a famous and infamous part of the downtown scene that enhances the eye-appeal of the Yonge Street strip. With the disappearance of the amazing light-display on the facade of “Sam the Record Man,” and the soaring marquees of the Biltmore, Downtown, and Imperial Theatres, the Zanzibar is one of the few “showcases of neon” that illuminates the night skies on the main drag of the city.
The building at 359 Yonge Street, which houses the Zanzibar, was one of the larger buildings constructed on the street during the nineteenth century. Historically, structures on Yonge had small frontages that extended back from the street, creating long, narrow premises. The larger size of the building at #359, where the Zanzibar is today located, allowed shops within it to be larger than many of the others on the strip. In 1950, the building was home to two enterprises—“Farmer and Hunter Photos” and Nalpac Ltd. Tavern. In 1951, the Zanzibar took over both premises and opened its doors. It soon became a landmark on the strip.
The Zanzibar originally played jazz and blues. Then it became a dance club and featured the “Zanzibar Circus.” Later it added rock and roll and go-go dancers. In the 1970s it became a strip club. The bar has been featured in films such as the “Incredible Hulk” and “Exit Wounds.”
At night, the Zanzibar’s garish display of neon lights dominates the section of Yonge Street north of Dundas Street, adding colour and motion to the scene, especially on a hot summer evening when the sidewalks are crowded with people strolling the avenue.
The enticing neon display on the facade of the Zanzibar
The Zanzibar on a cloudy spring day, when the interior of the bar might bring a little sunshine into a man’s heart.
The neon lights flashing in to the night during the heat wave of July 2013.
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Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Theatres Included in the Book:
Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto
Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)
Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons
Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown
Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s
Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede
Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression
Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro
Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years
University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema
Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres
Savoy (Coronet), Westwood
Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes
Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)