Saddling up in the city: Toronto’s newest country venue by Stephanie Brooks

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Saddling up in the city: Toronto’s newest country venue by Stephanie Brooks

Item 3 Photo A Menu RocknHorse2For a long while, it would have seemed strange to see people wearing cowboy boots trotting around Toronto’s entertainment district – or anywhere in the downtown core, really.

Until now.

Be it a result of the economy, the time or other circumstances, many wonder why it took so long for a country bar to show up in the city – let alone two in the span of one week. But folks are sure happy they’re here.

“Maybe it was overlooked… there’s always been a strong country following in Toronto and across the country,” says Matt Gibbons, the owner of Rock ‘n’ Horse.

One of two new country venues that’s popped up in the city recently, Rock ‘n’ Horse is a restaurant/bar offering southern food, line dancing lessons, bull riding and live music from both industry newcomers and seasoned pros.

Item 3 Photo B Bull RocknHorse3

Ride the mechanical bull at Rock ’n’ Horse.

Having opened late last year, the hotspot came to be after country fan and hospitality professional Gibbons decided the time seemed right.

“I’ve always been a country fan. I grew up playing junior hockey and it’s a prevalent genre in our change rooms,” he says. “It’s what I grew up around.” Located on Adelaide Street West, Rock ‘n’ Horse is recognized as the more party-oriented spot than fellow newcomer Boots & Bourbon. Music lovers, party-goers, students and young professionals crowd the relatively small one-floor space by 8 p.m. for the start of bull riding, and the steady stream of people flooding through its doors doesn’t cease throughout the night.

Even at 11 p.m. in a snowstorm, eager visitors are lined up outside and down the street, ready to pay the $14 cover for a chance to sip a signature margarita out of a beach pail while listening to the likes of Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean.

“We get a mix of people from outside the city coming in to have the city experience, a lot of downtown professionals – we do a lot of corporate events for banks and those you wouldn’t necessarily assume are into country,” adds Gibbons. It’s also another venue for Ontario artists to get exposure in a fun-loving, country atmosphere.

“With Rock ‘n’ Horse being a smaller venue, it’s sort of a mix – we enjoy developing local talent from Toronto and surrounding areas and then, because of our location, it’s neat to have acts like Dierks Bentley for private shows, win-to-get-in, or fan experience shows,” he explains. “Hopefully we can continue to have a mix between the two.”

Any quick survey of the site will tell you its patrons are having a good time stomping their feet to the music, whether they’re clad in cowboy boots or stilettos. It’s this fun atmosphere and great music that help make it an authentic country experience. With bathrooms designed like barn stalls and lassos and saddles adorning the wood and brick walls, the space certainly makes you feel like you’re somewhere other than in the heart of Ontario’s capital city. Aside from the décor, Gibbons adds it’s the principles behind the place and the people in it that truly make it special. “Country values and Canadian values are very aligned, I find. It’s a culture of courtesy and having a good time of unpretentious fun.”

And those who love Ontario country music can sure saddle up to that.