The Post’s Ben Kaplan shares a drink with Toronto musician Jason Collett at the Dakota Tavern, a gem of a bar in Toronto’s west side:

By Ben Kaplan

Toronto — “You don’t go out to the Dakota, you go in,” says Jason Collett, one of Broken Social Scene’s guitarists, as he saddles up to the wooden bar of his downtown local at Dundas and Ossington on Toronto’s Portuguese west side.

Mr. Collett, a 41-year-old father of three with a fourth tuning up for the stage this fall, is a troubadour, playing hundreds of shows a year and sharing Toronto’s experimental jam rock everywhere from Japan to Moscow to the American deep south.

“Typically, the last place you want to go when you come off tour is a bar,” says Mr. Collett, who has long, greying sideburns and a wallet mark permanently etched on his torn denim jeans, “but this is my neighbourhood and after the kids are in bed, it’s a great place to wander in for a drink.”

For Mr. Collett, who’s played guitar for crowds as large as 60,000 at festivals around the world, the shambolic rock ‘n’ roll experience gets no better than a hot summer night without security or barricades at his favourite neighbourhood juke joint.

“The Dakota has achieved an alchemy that few bars ever do,” says Mr. Collett, a lager devotee and top-shelf tequila fan. “It attracts bar bands, and I mean that in the best sense of the words.”

The place looks like a dusty setting from a Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood film.

Exposed brick and barn doors, mounted ram’s horns and a barely raised platform where a boogie-woogie piano sits off to one side of a stage lit by a smattering of pot lights floating in rusted tin cans.

“It’s rough around the edges and the sound system isn’t great, but everyone in the room shares a moment,” says Mr. Collett. “Artists are out of their comfort zone, not well-rehearsed and polished, and that’s what I’m interested in — those little magical moments where accidents can occur.”

Less than two summers old, the Dakota has a cash bar, Ontario beer on draught and a limited menu — fish tacos, fried chicken and a bluegrass breakfast on Sunday mornings where Bazil Donovan from Blue Rodeo lets his children play while dad shares scrambled eggs and pancakes with Toronto rock royalty such as Hayden, Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and Metric’s Jimmy Shaw and Emily Haines.

“People want to take part in it for no other reason than it’s intimate and has got a really great vibe,” says Mr. Collett, who hosts a Tuesday night here in December where artists, poets and musicians can experiment new material and ideas. “Toronto usually works hard at looking bored, but not in this bar. People come here to dance.”

In the wee small hours of a hot summer night, this place is definitely more Keith than Mick. Owned by a musician and two ex-bartendresses, its line-up this week features bands like the Rattlesnake Choir and Flash Lightning.

“I remember when I was 14, going down to Toronto and seeing shows at the El Mocambo; your eyes would sting from the cigarette smoke, there’d be pot smoke everywhere — and no more exhilarating experience in the world,” says Mr. Collett, who recalls one special night when, unable to afford a ticket to see U2 at Maple Leaf Gardens, he ended up catching Lloyd Cole and the Commotions at the legendary ElMo.

“Who ended up sitting right next to me? Bono and the Edge,” he says.

“It’s grounding to know that no matter what kind of outside success any of us may ever achieve, it still doesn’t get any better than 150 locals packed into a sweaty basement. It just doesn’t.”

— Jason Collett’s fourth album, Here’s to Being Here, was released in February on Toronto-based Arts & Crafts. His fall tour begins on September 24 at the Ale House in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

National Post

< Poster adds – Couple of notable LC fans. Inference is that that the more expensive U2 concert was on a different night than Lloyd’s.>

< LC adds – I think our concert was earlier and theirs was nearby. I believe they were the same night. They sent us a lovely note.>

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Publication: National Post

Publication date: 19/08/08