Music Memories of Yonge

Explore Downtown Yonge’s music history with us!
Content researched and written by Nicholas Jennings.

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Brown Derby

311 Yonge Street

From the late 1940s to the mid-’70s, the Derby offered music-comedy acts and an eye-catching exterior that helped to make the Yonge & Dundas intersection a famous city landmark.

History

Located on the north-east corner of Yonge and Dundas, the Brown Derby was one of Toronto’s earliest and best-known nightclubs. Opened in 1949 by owners Louis Arnold and Reuben Gross, the Derby featured the city’s first Gay ’90s room and boasted being “the Gayest Spot in Town.” The melody and banter of the Rhythm Rascals set the early tone for the Derby, which evolved into a Las Vegas-style room where cocktails, food and music was served with a big side of comedy. The house band of Joe King & the Zaniacs were regulars almost as long as bartender Chris Kirtos, who kept customers well lubricated over the course of 18 years. Canadian boxing champion Sammy Luftspring also had a long history as the club’s colourful manager. When the Derby closed in 1974, Toronto lost one of its most distinctive landmarks: the club’s exterior featured large reproductions of Laurel & Hardy, Toulouse-Lautrec and Charlie Chaplin, all wearing derbies, had made Yonge and Dundas impossible to miss.