The Paddock tavern is Toronto’s 3rd oldest bar, first opening up our doors in 1946. The original owners were the Fishman Family, a family steeped in the horse racing industry. The Fishman’s owned, bred, trained and raced horses with great success, with Morris Fishman’s, an inductee of The Horse Racing Hall of Fame, greatest of achievements being training one of Canada’s most popular horses at the time, Canada’s Teddy. He took an unsound horse and made it into a champion. It is from this horseracing background that The Paddock Tavern was given its name. The Paddock refers to the parade grounds in horseracing and, more importantly, the winners circle.
The Paddock’s ties to the horseracing invariably brought two levels of clientele to the tavern. There were the high rollers on one side, which would include many mob members, high stakes betters from the race track and also general people from the upper class. Of the more notable guests to our establishment was the owner of The Toronto Maple Leafs at the time, Conn Smythe, who even once wrote a reference letter to The Liquor Board of Ontario on behalf of a person at The Paddock Tavern, as seen on our Old Photos page. Another regular who frequented The Paddock, when they were in from New York, was Frank Sinatra. When in town he could be found either hanging out at the bar or in The Paddock’s Saratoga room, where people came to eat, drink, and enjoy outstanding live entertainment, including Canada’s own Oscar Peterson.
On the opposite side of the spectrum of clientele would be all the seedier people of society. It did not help either that when there were dry zones in the city, areas where you cannot sell alcohol, you could not get a drink east of Bathurst or North of Queen. This led to The Paddock being an automatic stop for many an alcoholic as it was either the first, last, or first and last place for them to down a beer. The Paddock brought in people involved with betting and crime, some of the crazier local people in the area, hookers, escorts, drug users, and given time bikers as well. These would be the people that would balance out The Paddock’s early reputation as a high end place with that of which was one of the roughest spots in the city. It is also rumoured by torontoghosts.org and coldspot.org that the building is haunted by one of these individuals that were murdered on premises.
As for the physical bar itself, The Paddock has grown smaller over the years. When first opened, The Paddock used to be the whole building with a front that wrapped around from Bathurst St to the Queen St side. The Paddock was divided into a bunch of rooms.
The first part of The Paddock to go was the Queen Bathurst corner room, which turned into a San Francesco Pizza first before eventually turning into the current Pizza Pizza. Downstairs was the next to go. The downstairs used to be the Little and Big Saratoga rooms of The Paddock, where you had live entertainment and the dining room. It first turned into a goth club called The Slither Room, followed by rave clubs The Basement and Crosstown, then the famous Jeff Healey’s of Toronto, and finally back into a rave club retaking the old name of The Basement.
The last part of The Paddock to be taken over was the queen street side at 657 Queen St. Indeed, it is this part of The Paddock that most people would remember. The bar wrapped around through what is now our current kitchen and led to the area which the general rowdy public would frequent to drink, listen to bands and play pool. At first this room changed into The Queen’s Head bar and finally into a Tim Horton’s location.
The current bar has always been considered the best part of the old Paddock. It was this part of the bar that was labeled as “the old man’s bar” allowing “gentlemen and escorts only”. The current bar used to be used for the high rollers, private parties, and film shoots. The less attractive clientele were generally kept to the queen street side. It is because of this that the bar was able to maintain most of its original décor without the drunks tearing up the bar. When new ownership came in in the 90’s, when the bar was cut to its current size, the work done on the bar was dubbed a “restoration”, not a renovation, of the old bar. While other bars strive hard to achieve an art deco look, The Paddock comes by it naturally. Such is the natural beauty of the bar unmarked by the horrific beer branding characterized by far too many bars in our city, that The Paddock has routinely been used in numerous photo and film shoots over the years. You can see some of these shoots on our Film and TV Footage page.
We thank you for taking this brief trip through time with us and invite you to come by and make some new history with us. We also ask you to please contact us if you have anything about our history you can share, whatever stories or photos you may have of The Paddock, old or new.