Now, you can’t throw a horseshoe on Broadway without hitting a country music venue, but if you want the best, you gotta go up the street a bit to the corner of Broadway and 5th. Both Tootsies and Roberts have been around forever, and they’re bound to put a honky in your tonk, son! So, let’s break it down:
TOOTSIES ORCHID LOUNGE: For my Toronto bros, if the Bovine was a country bar, it would be Tootsies. This little hole in the wall can fit maybe 200 people, and they sure pack ’em in! The stage is right in the window, and has barely enough space for a five-piece band–who on this evening peppered their George Jones and Merle Haggard covers with modern hits by Eric Church, Zach Brown, Cole Swindell and Chris Stapleton. (Of course, there were country classic singalongs like “Country Road” and “The Gambler” thrown in there too.)
Beer is mostly of the cheap, domestic variety–although it’s not cheap, with a bottle of Blue Moon for seven bucks. You can actually get better beers at the Bovine, bro!!!
ROBERT’S WESTERN WORLD: Now, Robert’s is at least twice, if not three times the size of Tootsies–it even has a second floor! In fact, the place is so big, you can’t really see the stage when you’re sitting at the bar. However, the beer selection is much better, and much cheaper, than Tootsies. For 4.75 I got a locally brewed, Belgian-style wheat beer called Southern Wit:
Speaking of southern wit, the band on stage told us off the top they wouldn’t play anything after 1980–then started their set with a ripping rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues,” complete with stand-up bass solo! They covered a lotta classic country tunes by Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens and Johnny Paycheck, as well as a couple classic rock tunes like “Pretty Woman” and “Take a Load Off Fanny” before busting out a killer instrumental of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Yeah, they sold a few CDs that night…
BOTTOM LINE: Robert’s has got the bigger space, better beers, cheaper prices…and they’re even serving up burgers and chicken fingers with a flattop and a deep-fryer behind the bar. I even liked their band better–but if you’re more into new country, you’d probably be better off at Tootsies.