Words & Photos by Heather Goldsworthy
By day the main street of Collingwood is bustling with folks visiting the shops, cafes and businesses. As daylight begins to fade so does the activity downtown but that is beginning to change. The Collingwood Downtown after-dark scene is experiencing a resurgence with restaurants staying open later, great theatre and live music venues, and cocktail spots—all within walking distance of each other.
In the 70’s, Collingwood had a bumping nightlife with four hotels showcasing live entertainment six nights per week – all of them packed each night. Talented musicians were drawn to the area because of the scene here including the legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors who did a one year residency at the Dorchester Hotel. Over the following couple of decades, local industries shut down and the arrival of internet and cable gave people reason to stay home. Surrounding areas developed and drew patrons away from downtown and the late-night scene began to decline and remained relatively dormant—until now.
Live entertainment has always been a cornerstone of a dynamic nightlife. The Georgian Bay area has an incredible pool of talented musicians and we are fortunate to have a handful of restaurants, like the Huron Club, where you can see intimate acoustic performances on a regular basis. Featuring live music Thursday through Saturday the Huron Club has established itself as a strong supporter of local artists and is a go-to for locals and visitors alike.
Music-lovers also looking for a full band experience are excited about the addition of a late-night, downtown venue where the music takes center stage and great food and drinks are the accompaniment. Opened by the same folks as Thornbury’s Bruce Wine Bar, CROW Bar & Variety has an excellent menu and a solid music program filling the stage four nights/week (Wed-Sat) with rotating residencies of local artists, open mic night, and fantastic acts from across Canada and the US. It is a perfect spot to go with a few friends and what I really love is that they’ve created a welcoming place to go on your own to have a drink at the bar and enjoy a show. Keeping in the know of who is playing and where has gotten easier since local singer/songwriter Laura Conning launched Route26.ca—an online calendar of music events happening in Collingwood and surrounding area.
The Simcoe Street Theatre is another live entertainment gem. This intimate 100-seat, black box theatre showcases an incredibly diverse program of live music, theatre, events and films. They’ve paired up with Barrie promoter Violet’s Venue to bring Canadian and internationally renowned Blues acts to Collingwood, four time Canada Comedy Awards Nominee Christel Bartelse performs her comedy The Surprise on January 27th, and the Be The Change documentary film series continues into its 10th season—and that’s only a taste of what’s on their roster. The theatre’s Press Gallery is open prior to shows so you can mingle with drink in-hand and check out a rotating show of works from local artists.
Alternatively, walk across the street to the Tremont Cafe for a pre- or post-show bite or bevie. For some Simcoe Street Theatre events the Tremont offers special deals for ticket holders so make sure to check that out when you’re buying your tickets. New owners Billy and Imad have added bar seating, extended the bar hours to midnight, and are crafting some mighty tasty classic cocktails including, my personal favourite, the ‘Charlie Bronson’.
Having spots to pop in for a cocktail or glass of wine has been a perfect addition to the neighbourhood. Now you can start your evening with a post-work beverage before dinner at one of the many great restaurants, then on to take in a show and late-night drinks. If you’re like me, you also appreciate having beautiful places to sit solo at a bar, read a book and sip a glass of fine wine.
Follow the twinkly lights down the alley between Metra Fashion House and the arena to find Gibson&Co., a coffee-shop-by-day / bar-by-night. With well-crafted cocktails and an impressive selection of bourbon and liquors this place draws a multi-generational crowd that ebbs and flows as folks come through after work or dinner but late night is when it really picks up. The room has a mixture of bar seating, bistro or harvest tables, and comfy couches which naturally promote mingling and it’s pretty common to move around and end up in various groupings and conversations throughout the night. The Potato Factory Bar and Grill is another option for when you’re in the mood for socializing. New to the Hurontario strip this warm and inviting room is quickly becoming a popular hangout for locals. Open late, they hold a variety of open mic, comedy and music events with Wednesday night Trivia being a popular one—no doubt in part because it’s hosted by the always entertaining John Eaton from the PeakFM.
Another reason to explore downtown this winter is Collingwood Whisklylicious—our annual festival where local chefs and bartenders share their Collingwood Whisky inspired creations. Running February 1-10, one of the highlights is the bartending competition held at Bent Taco and while last year’s competition was a closed event this year they are opening it to the public so jump on those tickets as soon as they come available.