It's no secret that Toronto is in the midst of a venue crisis; a recent uptick in real estate prices has resulted in the closure of nearly a dozen venues since the start of the year. This makes a book like The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History — chronicling the history of one of the city's best-known venues in commemoration of its 70th birthday — more vital than ever.
If there's something The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern lacks, however, it's vitality. Written by music journalist David McPherson (full disclosure: McPherson is a former Exclaim! contributor), the book documents the venue's evolution from a restaurant to country music haven to its present, rock-leaning operation, but serves as little more than a glorified short story collection of the moments that earned the venue its "legendary" moniker.
It's important to remember what made and makes the Horseshoe stand out and endure, and the disclosed anecdotes are certainly fascinating, but McPherson fails to reconcile the facts with context — one that, given the increasing precariousness of venues in the city, seems both obvious and easy. Even if it were the Complete History he promises in the book's title, it all comes off as rather insular.
The book is further dragged down by McPherson's prosaic writing style and questionable pacing, such as glossing over the venue's closure in 1982 in favour of an entire chapter devoted to the exploits of a Hank Williams impersonator. Other small quibbles add up over the course of the book: How many times must Stompin' Tom's qualities be described as "stompin'"? And how many feminized epithets must McPherson use to describe the venue?
The book works as a nostalgia trip for those who were there, and an intriguing primer for those who weren't. But for those who are looking for a greater understanding of the venue's impact, there's a lot left to be desired here. McPherson has assembled a series of vignettes that explain why the venue is legendary, but fails to capture what makes the venue relevant. (Dundurn)