The Black Dog Freehouse
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Par Becky Hagan-Egyir

The hard work of being easygoing

The basement of The Black Dog Freehouse (popularly known as The Black Dog) isn’t very large, but it’s relaxed. It makes it feel like home, in some ways – like the young days of partying at home with friends. And, each of the three floors has its own unique atmosphere: from the basement (known as The Underdog) to the no-fuss main floor, and from the upper rooftop garden to the heated patio that the bar calls “The Wooftop.”

It takes a lot of assistance to give the bar its easy-going feel. “I do rely on the feedback of other people who are maybe more socially related to scenes,” says Tamara Cullen, manager of the bar. “For example, hip-hop is not something that I know a lot about, so I rely on staff and DJs to educate me a little bit, and give me their input. I definitely look for and accept help from other people, because, one person just can’t really know everything.”

Knowledge of different music has allowed performers and DJs to become regular residents at the bar. Each day of the week, DJs, with their music expertise, take over “the wooftop” and the basement at nights like Metal Mondays and Soul Sundays.

There’s things that are more my personal niche, and things that I enjoy. But, this bar isn’t just about me. It’s about lots of different people, and lots of different things, and lots of different scenes. - Tamara Cullen, manager
The Black Dog Freehouse hosts a variety of music nights, ranging from Soul Sundays to Metal Mondays
Photo by Becky Hagan-Egyir

How to become inclusive

The freedom of sounds, in many ways, reflects Tamara’s openness to interacting with things outside her comfort zone – something she learned in Toronto, where she grew up and “lived the nomadic style that most people have in their teens and early twenties,” she says.

In a city like Toronto, Tamara noticed how easy it was to become “lost in the shuffle.” And so, Tamara’s done her best to make The Black Dog feel inclusive. “There’s things that are more my personal niche, and things that I enjoy,” she says. “But, this bar isn’t just about me. It’s about lots of different people, and lots of different things, and lots of different scenes.”

Managing these different scenes began in a move that was part opportunity and part chance. When the previous manager left to open a new bar, Tamara offered to manage in the interim.

The Black Dog Freehouse is a fun, inclusive bar, with three different levels and a variety of live music and DJs
Photo by Becky Hagan-Egyir

A scene of legitimate fun

Nine years later, she remains in the position, learning as much as possible about her new passion: booking live music; an event that the bar has become well-known for on Saturday afternoons, when live folk music takes over the main stage. “[Folk music] wasn’t really my scene,” says Tamara, “but, once I started booking the bands, I just really came to love that scene and the people in it.”

But how does Tamara find bands? “To be honest, it’s pretty easy … I have so many that approach me about playing!” she says. But, it can also be difficult choosing what bands to book. “There are a lot of bands, especially up-and-comers, that are maybe not the most experienced … but, if they’re having a great time, and all their friends come out, and everyone’s drinking beer, then that’s legitimate,” says Tamara. “That’s a great afternoon! So, that’s something that I look for, too.”

The Black Dog Freehouse is located on Whyte Avenue, in historic Old Strathcona, making it a popular pub
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