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Inside Ontario’s New Grateful Dead-Themed Cannabis Dispensary

Inside Ontario's New Grateful Dead-Themed Cannabis Dispensary

From the name to the fixtures to a gallery of memorabilia, Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co. is a Dead lover’s dream come true.

In some ways, a dispensary designed in honor of the Grateful Dead seemed like a forgone conclusion.

Beloved to this day as a jam band without parallel, the Dead’s music has been synonymous with cannabis, psychedelia, and the counterculture since shortly after the band first got together back in 1965. Since then, jackets emblazoned with dancing bears and a fandom devoted to the trade and curation of countless recordings of Grateful Dead live shows have served to permanently cement the band’s place in the history of rock music while also proving the devotion of so-called Deadheads is a fandom never fully relegated to the past.

Sure, it helps that the living members of the Dead continue to tour in various forms — most recently with the addition of contemporary songsmith John Mayer — but it stands to reason that even after Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and the rest have called it a career, the allure and power of the group will continue to hold a significant role in the cultural zeitgeist.

One recent example of this belief comes in the form of a new Ontario cannabis dispensary, Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co. Designed in collaboration with the cannabis-focused, Toronto-based retail design and manufacturing company SevenPoint Interiors, the space’s interior reflects a retail concept based on founder David Ellison’s personal passion for the Grateful Dead.

Yes, even the name of the establishment is in fact a reference to a beloved pairing of Dead songs that is most commonly listed on setlists as “Scarlet -> Fire.”

As amateur music historian Ed Watts explained on his blog:

“On March 18, 1977, the Grateful Dead played two particular songs together for the first time in concert, creating a magical pairing that would go on to fuel thousands of baked road trips, launch the dreams of innumerable jam bands, and become forever known as ‘Scarlet->Fire’.

‘Scarlet Begonias’, the older sibling of the two, had a long life before it’s coupling with ‘Fire on the Mountain’. It was recorded in the studio in March 1974 and officially released a couple months later on the ‘From the Mars Hotel’ album (for the conspiracy-minded out there: the official cut happens to be exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds long). It was first performed live in early 1974 and went on to be played 48 times on [its] own before being joined to ‘Fire’.

‘Fire on the Mountain’, on the other hand, never knew life without its kinsman. Its live debut was during the March 18, 1977 show as part of the first ‘Scarlet-Fire’ combination. It was one of the few Dead songs composed by drummer Mickey Hart, and wasn’t released until a year after [its] debut, on the semi-controversial ‘Shakedown Street’ album (which in a Dylan-goes-electric-type moment, caused long-time Deadheads to accuse the band of what was back then the worst crime imaginable: “going disco”).

After March 18, 1977, the two songs were almost always (but not without exception) played side-by-side. They appeared together in a total of 254 Dead shows. At its best, the song combo became an occasion for some of Jerry’s finest uninterrupted soloing, floating atop some of the Rhythm Devil’s most playful drumming, accompanied by Donna’s best wailing.”

Clearly, anyone naming their cannabis dispensary for such a thing is not messing around when it comes to their love of the Grateful Dead. And that’s exactly the case with Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co. Factoring in every conceivable element from logo design to custom fixtures, the finished product is a retail cannabis store that resembles a pot wonderland for those who revere both the Dead and smoking the good stuff.

Title: Inside Ontario's New Grateful Dead-Themed Cannabis Dispensary (dispensary exterior)

(Photography by Erin Leydon)

According to a press release announcing the news, Scarlet Fire’s color palette was inspired by one of the shop founder’s favorite archive release albums from the band: Dave’s Picks — Volume 35.

“Hues include a deep scarlet red, earthy lavender, faded aqua, and a mossy emerald green,” it notes. In addition, “the team strategically placed portholes cut through scarlet-stained floor-to-ceiling wooden panels — dubbed The Rabbit Hole — to provide a somewhat hallucinatory view from the front through the back of the shop. From the exterior of the store, the striking design element looks like an optical illusion, but it actually serves the practical purpose of screening cannabis displays from the street in accordance with Canadian law.”

Another feature is what the release dubs “The Wall of Sound,” referring to a replica of the Dead’s “monolithic touring sound system” which is located behind the POS cash desk.

Complimenting these aesthetic flourishes is a gallery component which serves to house Ellison’s personal collection of Grateful Dead memorabilia that he’s amassed over the course of thirty years. Featured items on display include Jerry Garcia replica guitars, album covers, tour posters, and shirts.

“Perhaps the most beloved piece in the collection,” the release details, “is Ellison’s first Grateful Dead shirt, purchased at a Florida flea market when he was 16-years-old.”

Not surprisingly, the store’s “About Me” section describes the shop as ” a counterculture, jam band and Grateful Dead themed retail cannabis shop, where psychedelia, cannabis music and magic merge.” Beyond the major Dead vibes, customers are also promised ” the best curated craft cannabis menu in Ontario.”

Those interested in visiting the store themselves can find Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co. at 3852 Bathurst Street, North York, Ontario M3H 3N3. For more information, visit their website at scarletfirecannabis.ca.

As an added bonus, interested parties can also listen to the first time “Scarlet -> Fire” was first performed by the Grateful Dead in 1977 courtesy of an audio recording of the concert preserved via the Internet Archive.

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