Sort-of Secret: Jean Darlene, a karaoke piano bar hidden down an alley behind a KFC
The sort-of secret: Jean Darlene’s, a karaoke piano bar down an alley behind a KFC
You may have heard of it if: You’re a regular at the Haifa Room, Paris Paris, the Lakeview or Superpoint, all well-established Ossington-area venues collectively owned by long-time collaborators (and newfound piano bar owners) Fadi Hakim and Joseph Eastwood. Or if you’re a hardcore Platinum Blonde fan. For this venture, Hakim and Eastwood brought in Mark Holmes, the ’80s glam rock frontman who founded the Mod Club in the early aughts and is now Jean Darlene’s resident crooner.
But you probably haven’t been there yet because: You couldn’t find the entrance. The address is a Dundas storefront (soon to be a coffee shop and comic book store), but to access the bar, you walk west, then south, then double back down the alley behind the KFC, and it’s the last door on the left.
Years before Fadi Hakim was a staple in the city’s bar-and-restaurant scene, he was starring in his high school’s musical productions of Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma! His love of show tunes and live performance is at least part of the inspiration behind this new, super-under-the-radar piano bar. “We had this idea for a long time of doing piano karaoke—which doesn’t really exist in Toronto,” says Hakim. Note: Hakim uses the word “karaoke,” but really it’s more of an open-mic set-up, meaning there are no lyrics projected on a screen and most of the people who get up to sing are actually really good—including Hakim, who did a version of Coldplay’s “Yellow” on a recent Friday night. That same night, one woman sang a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that Stevie Nicks herself would have approved of, some guy free-styled over Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and the entire audience sang along to the theme song from Greatest American Hero (Believe it or not I’m walkin’ on air…). “This is the best party in the city!” Holmes crowed from his perch behind the mic. He wasn’t wrong.
Hakim and Eastwood (an accountant who works with a lot of high-profile musicians) bought the space in 2018, taking it over from Jean Darlene, a women’s and children’s clothing store that had been around since 1972. The name isn’t the only throwback. “We wanted the space to have an aged quality—sort of like that ’70s Hollywood feel,” says Hakim. Designer Bruno Billio managed to create a space that is equal parts cozy and sexy, with disco ball lighting and wall-to-wall black carpeting (which is great for absorbing sound). By far the pièce de résistance is a fully restored 1920s Heintzman & Co. player piano—in gold, obviously.
In-house ivory tickler Meher Steinberg is a music savant who can play anything from emo to ’80s pop to holiday classics, but his specialty is yacht rock. On a recent Thursday, local musician Trish Robb came dressed as Michael McDonald and performed his hits (What a fool belieeeeeeeves…). The first Saturday of every month is Mod Night; the second is a drag show. Other calendar staples include “versus” nights (Stones vs. Beatles, Queen vs. Bowie, New Order vs. Depeche Mode) and live samba. In the new year, the plan is to introduce musical comedy and maybe even a night for Broadway nerds like Hakim.
The entertainment is the main course here, but there are snacks and drinks to go with it. At the moment, the rotating cocktail menu features four signature creations—one named for each Beatle. (The George is a mix of Jameson, Montenegro, lime and ginger beer.) Nibbles from the Haifa Room are served with drink orders, and charcuterie boards are available on request, but this is really more of an after-dinner drinks spot. Follow on Instagram to keep track of programming, make a reservation to guarantee seating and—if there are kiddos at home—book a babysitter who’s willing to stay past midnight, because it’s bound to be a late one.