When the 'singles bar' was a new idea

In 1971, two Toronto "dating bars" offered a place for young women and men to mix in a friendly atmosphere.

Women could go to Coal Bin pub unescorted in 1971

In 1971, a Toronto "dating bar" offers a place for young women and men to mix in a friendly atmosphere. 2:21

The lineup started at 5 p.m. and the guests stayed right until closing at 1 a.m. — and not just on weekends.

In January 1971, the Boiler Room dining room and its neighbour, the Coal Bin pub, saw a steady flow from the after-work crowd in downtown Toronto.

The 300 seats were filled every night as people turned out for live music, draft beer and a nightclub atmosphere where they could meet others.

"It's a good place for girls to come ... and not feel ill at ease because they're not with a fella," said Insurance company employee Lorna McCaw. (Weekend/CBC Archives)

"Why so popular?" asked reporter Walt LaCosta, at the Coal Bin for CBC's Weekend. "Because single girls not only can come in here without escorts, but do."  

"The females come here to meet the males," he added. "And the males come because lots of females come in to meet them."

'Girls' not welcome before

Though the practice was familiar in Quebec, this "dating bar" concept was new to Toronto. Drinking establishments had only recently started welcoming unescorted women through their doors — and they were making the most of it.

One such woman, 21-year-old municipal worker Linda Moore, admitted that going to a bar alone was a little intimidating.

"I feel a little uncomfortable when I'm walking in," she told LaCosta. "It's a lot of fellas here ... and everybody's watching the door as people are filing in."

Moore was still getting used to the idea.

"A lot of people don't approve of girls going out without dates to a place where you can drink," she added.

'Ill at ease' no longer

Another patron was Lorna McCaw, also 21. She said it was a good place to come with a girlfriend or group of friends and not feel "ill at ease." 

LaCosta seemed surprised that a single woman was open about wanting to meet men.

"It's romance, 20th century style," said reporter Walt Lacosta at the Boiler Room singles bar. (Weekend/CBC Archives)

"You come here to meet men ... isn't this against what you've been brought up to believe, that girls don't go into bars alone?" he asked.

"Well, I think things are changing now. I think this is one of the first places I've come into in Toronto that a girl can do this and not feel ill at ease. It's made for this purpose," replied McCaw.  

'Fun package'

The "dating bar" concept was brought to life in Toronto by 30-year-old impresario Roel Bramer.

He said people thronged to his bar for several reasons.

"They get a fun package of entertainment, fairly inexpensive food, dancing, draft beer, and an opportunity to meet people," he explained.

A Dutch entrepreneur opens a new kind of establishment where people can meet, drink and dance. 1:07