How did a bowling alley become the best place to see live music in Toronto?

Under the ownership of the Bulucon family, Le Coq d’Or Tavern was a must-visit venue in downtown Toronto for over two decades. Spread across multiple floors, you could find go-go dancers, a dance hall for teenagers, and even a resident celebrity musician, Ronnie Hawkins, all under one roof at Le Coq d’Or. 

You never knew who you were going to meet at the Tavern: whether it was heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis, Academy-Award-winning composer Henry Mancini, or maybe even Bob Dylan.

Greek Go Getter

A Greek Go-Getter

Le Coq d’Or was the brainchild of Greek-born George Bulucon. Arriving in Canada as a young child in the early 1900s, Bulucon started out by shining the shoes of Toronto businessmen. With his savings and a little gumption, Bulucon and his business partner George Ivals opened and managed several bowling alleys in Toronto in the 1930s. When Bulucon purchased an empty three-story building at 333 Yonge Street, his eyes were on lanes and pins, not music. 

Bulucon debuted his new Yonge Street location in 1948 at 333 Yonge Street as a one-stop shop for entertainment. Bowling and billiards were available on the second and third floors. On the ground floor, a fine-dining restaurant, Le Coq d’Or, welcomed families. A cocktail-slinging tavern, known as the Olympia, was located on the lower level. 

An exterior photo of 333 Yonge Street. A three-story building advertises Olympia Bowling on the top two floors. On the ground floor a sign reads “Fine Cuisine”. An exterior horizontal sign reads “Le Coq d’Or”.

Le Coq d’Or in the early 1950s when it offered four floors of entertainment, from fine cuisine to bowling. The Bulucon family owned a chain of Toronto bowling alleys during this time known as Olympia Bowl.

Courtesy of Bulucon/Brendle Family Collection

A black and white photograph of the interior of a restaurant. Numerous tables set up for restaurant service can be seen, with wide booth seats towards the back. In the middle of the frame stand three men, all wearing suits.

An interior glimpse at the Le Coq d’Or restaurant in the late 1940s as a fine-dining restaurant. Pictured are the then-owners of the restaurant and its upstairs bowling alley. From left to right: George Ivals, William “Bill” Bulucon, and George Bulucon.

Courtesy of the Bulucon/Brendle Family Collection

Dance Music

Dance Music

A newspaper advertisement for live music, with the wording: “They’re terrific! The 3 Suns, The Ink Spots, The Mills Bros., But We Think The 3 Scamps are better. Come and see for yourself Monday Night.”
An 1949 advertisement for live dance music at George Bulucon's main-floor restaurant Le Coq d’Or.
Courtesy of the Toronto Star Archives

Owner George Bulucon added a dance floor to his fine-dining restaurant, Le Coq d’Or, in the early 1950s. He invited touring musicians to play lively dance music for his growing restaurant crowds. 

A newspaper advertisement for the Olympia Tavern with the words “Howdy pardner! Drop in and say hello! We’re riding the range at the Olympia Tavern. Lucky Steel and His Trail Riders, Stars of Radio, TV, and Records, Featured on the Smiley Burnette Show. Starred 22 weeks at Village Barn, New York, Western and Modern Music”
An 1953 advertisement for cowboy-style music and entertainment at the downstairs Olympia Tavern.
​​​​​​Courtesy of the Toronto Star Archives

Meanwhile, the downstairs Olympia Tavern featured a western-style theme with live music to match. Offering western saddle-style chairs as bar stools, bar patrons enjoyed live entertainment often brought in from the United States.

Listen: It's Only Make Believe

Listen: It's Only Make Believe

In October 1958, American country singer Conway Twitty performed his new hit single, “It’s Only Make Believe” to a large crowd at 333 Yonge Street. 

Twitty had written the song only months before while performing nearby in Hamilton, Ontario. The song made the relatively unknown Twitty a star and marked one of the first big names to perform at Bulucon’s venue.  

Perhaps because he had written his first (and only) hit single in Canada, Twitty loved America’s northern neighbour and often encouraged musicians from the United States to perform in Canada.


This online exhibition uses third-party applications including Spotify and YouTube. Check with your organization’s web administrator if you are unable to access content from these channels in the exhibition.

The Hawk Lands

The Hawk Lands

Maybe it was the restaurant’s western decor that first drew Arkansas rock and roll singer Ronnie Hawkins to Le Coq d’Or in the late 1950s. 

Encouraged by his friend, Conway Twitty, to play in Canada, in late 1958, Ronnie Hawkins played Le Coq d'Or for the first time with his backing band, The Hawks.

The high-energy rockabilly group drew large crowds to the dance floor. Owner George Bulucon knew a hit when he saw one. Soon, Hawkins and the Hawks played the tavern almost every night of the week at Le Coq d'Or.

A black and white image of a man sitting on a stool on a small stage in the right hand corner, playing an acoustic guitar and singing into a microphone. He is wearing a vest, dress pants, and dress shoes. The audience of men and women in various dress clothes are to the left of the singer. The ceiling is low and dark and the room is smoky.

Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks became regular performers at Le Coq d’Or beginning in the late 1950s. A gregarious and charismatic performer, Hawkins was the frontman for the rock and roll group. But his backing band, the Hawks, proved to have significant hidden potential. From left to right: Robbie Robertson (guitar), Jerry Penfound (saxophone), Ronnie Hawkins (vocals), Rick Danko (bass) and Levon Helm (drums).

Courtesy of York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC00077

Bo Diddley

Listen: Bo Diddley

Arkansas-born Ronnie Hawkins epitomized the rockabilly style when performing. Considered to be one of the earliest forms of rock and roll, the style originated in the southern United States, blending regional elements of country music with rhythm and blues: a combination considered to be the foundations of “classic” rock and roll. The term originated in how music critics described the sound “rock and roll played by hillbillies.” 

Listen to "Bo Diddley", one of Ronnie Hawkins earliest and most popular songs, to hear elements of rockabilly. 


This online exhibition uses third-party applications including Spotify and YouTube. Check with your organization’s web administrator if you are unable to access content from these channels in the exhibition.

Watch: Ronnie Hawkins

Watch: Ronnie Hawkins

In this CBC interview from 1967, Ronnie Hawkins tells the story of why he decided to come up to Canada to play rock and roll. Listen closely to see what he thinks of some other music genres, like jazz. 


This online exhibition uses third-party applications including Spotify and YouTube. Check with your organization’s web administrator if you are unable to access content from these channels in the exhibition.

Courtesy of CBC Retrobites. Please note: This third party video does not provide closed captions.

View Transcript

Ronnie Hawkins: I started out in a little town called Fedville, Arkansas playing when I was about 16 and I moved from Fedville to the Memphis circuit, playing, when I was about 21.

And we were playing what I called the skid row circuit down there. And starvation row. Who were doing exceptionally well, but still we were making no money, but we were just about as high as we could go without a being an international star, or a big hit record or some kind

And so I was getting a little desperate, and so I called this friend of mine who was playing in Canada at the time. His name was Harold Jenkins, and he was doing pretty good up here. They're doing a little better than us anyway. And so he said that things were going pretty good. He was just getting ready to change his name to Conway Twitty.

When I first started playing rock and roll, I don't guess there was anything more lower life in the music field than a rock and roll singer. Everybody frowned on and all the musicians frowned on it. And all parents frowned on it.

And they said it was just a fad, it’d last two months and that was it. You know, and all of the clubs definitely wouldn't have any of that loud noise ringing, crazy bunch of cats coming in there, with their big amplifiers, breaking chandeliers and stuff in their clubs. Those club owners are eating their words today. This is what, 10 years later, 15 years later, I forget what it is.

The big clubs are opening up and they're starting to play rock and roll. Where they used to, we used to say they wouldn't have a rock and roll band within a hundred miles of their clubs.

They're eating those words today. Rock and roll is the music. Jazz in most cities are gone. And Toronto, jazz couldn't, can't draw enough people to have a game of tag.

Yonge Street Rocks

Yonge Street Rocks

By the mid-1960s, Yonge Street was the place to be for live music in Toronto. Venues like Le Coq d’Or and its neighbours, Steele’s Tavern, Friar’s Tavern, and the Town Tavern were featuring rock or jazz music almost every night. 

Ronnie Hawkins’ residency at Le Coq d’Or continued, playing almost every night of the week. His backing band, The Hawks, moved on. 

Made up of mostly Canadian musicians, including Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko, the group performed at other Yonge Street venues under various band names such as Levon and the Hawks or the Canadian Squires. A chance encounter with Bob Dylan earned the Hawks a spot as his backing band on his 1965 world tour.

By the late 1960s, the group began to release records of their own under their new name: The Band

A colour photograph showing the exterior of a building on which “Le Coq d’Or Tavern” is lit in bright red and white lights outside the first floor. A smaller neon sign on the opposite side of the road advertises “Times Square of Toronto”. Above it, a large neon sign reads “Olympia Bowling” with arrows pointing in either direction.

The bright lights of Le Coq d’Or on Yonge Street in the 1960s. It was located just across the road from its sister property, Olympia Bowling, both owned and managed by the Bulucon family.

Courtesy of Rueckwart/Jalonen Family Collection

The Hawk's Nest

The Hawk's Nest

In 1965, Bill Bulucon and Ronnie Hawkins opened the teen venue The Hawk’s Nest upstairs, a conversion from its previous life as the Olympia bowling alley. The club was aimed at teenagers between 15 and 19 and featured live music.

Intent on keeping a polished image and preventing parental worry, Bulucon and Hawkins enforced strict rules for the club: no alcohol was served and a dress code was enforced. No jeans were allowed. The venue initially played largely blues and soul music, changing to a heavier focus on rock by 1969. 

A black and white advertisement with the text "Boozless, Jeanless night club big hit)
An early review of the Hawk's Nest. 
The Toronto Star, January 11, 1965

Performing nightly at the Le Coq d’Or and helping to run the Hawk’s Nest, Ronnie Hawkins moved into the third floor at 333 Yonge Street. Rumours swirled about the extravagant apartment he created for himself, featuring a boxing ring, a sauna, a $6,000 king-sized bed, and a well-stocked bar. Business was good: Hawkins even treated himself to a Rolls-Royce (or two).

[Hawkins] bought a big mansion in the country outside Toronto, a few Cadillacs, a couple of Rolls-Royces and Lincolns, a nightclub in Toronto, one in London, Ontario, a couple of farms, some vacant lots back home.

He hired a chauffeur for his cars, lit his cigars with dollar bills. His name was synonymous with wild parties, booze and broads.

—Earl McRae, "Last Boogie in Sturgeon Falls", The Canadian, March 27, 1976 

SilverCloud Blues

This online exhibition uses third-party applications including Spotify and YouTube. Check with your organization’s web administrator if you are unable to access content from these channels in the exhibition.

Listen: Talkin' Silvercloud Blues

Living in Toronto, Ronnie Hawkins developed friendships with many of the other musicians who appeared regularly on Yonge Street venues. Gordon Lightfoot, who performed at nearby Steele’s Tavern in the early 1960s, became a close friend of Hawkins. 

The increasingly opulent lifestyle of Hawkins inspired Lightfoot to write the song “Talkin' Silver Cloud Blues” about Hawkins’ first attempt to buy a Rolls-Royce in Toronto. Although Lightfoot never recorded the song, American singer John D. Loudermilk recorded and released a version in 1966. 

A colour photograph of three individuals, two men and a woman, performing on a stage. The men stand on either side of the woman and are dressed in black suits. The woman in the middle has a short haircut and wears a light green dress. She sings into a microphone.

Both Le Coq d’Or and the upstairs Hawk’s Nest featured numerous soul and R&B performers throughout the late 1960s. In this 1967 photo, Ronnie Hawkins (left) appears on stage with Canadian soul singers Jackie Gabriel (center) and Eugene “Jay” Smith (right).

Courtesy of William “Bill” Bulucon

Changing Tides

Changing Tides

The 1970s saw many changes to Yonge Street. Many of the original music venues closed, while others shifted their businesses away from live music.

Ronnie Hawkins departed from Le Coq d’Or as well at this time, staging a comeback tour throughout the United States in 1969–1970. He continued touring and performing, notably joining his former Hawks, now known as the Band, on stage for their farewell “Last Waltz” concert in 1976.

The Bulucon family closed the Le Coq d'Or in 1976. But it was not the last time music would be heard in the building. In 1991, the Toronto flagship of HMV, the music and entertainment store, opened its doors at 333 Yonge Street.

Changing little of the layout to the building, HMV customers of the store could still see the echoes of where Ronnie Hawkins, Bo Diddley, and Conway Twitty had performed decades earlier. The HMV store lasted for over twenty years, shutting its doors in 2017. 

A colour photograph of a bustling street scene. The image looks directly down a busy roadway filled with cars. On either side of the street pedestrians walk in both directions.

A view of Yonge Street in the late 1970s. On the left, the sign of Le Coq d’Or can still be seen.

City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 610, Item 30

Dive Deeper

Dive Deeper

Nicholas Jennings. Before the Gold Rush: Flashbacks to the Dawn of the Canadian Sound. New York: Viking Press, 1997. 

Yonge Street: Toronto Rock and Roll Stories. Directed by Bruce McDonald. Sandhurst: David Brady Productions, 2012. (film)