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Smiling Buddha

Photo: Jesse Milns

Posted by Jesse Ship / February 28, 2014

Smiling Buddha has long been known as an on-and-off hub for emerging Toronto indie rock bands as well as a prototypical dive bar that resisted gentrification. But as of this month, new life has been bestowed to this College and Dovercourt spot.

While the massive porcelain Buddha, colour blocking painted walls and cracked peach and white linoleum tiling remain, a few exciting changes have come, like a return to regular concert scheduling. Thanks to new owners, Neil Hunter and Erin Taylor who formerly ran an underground DIY space on Sterling Road, bands wont be interrupted mid-set or be shocked to have their levels turned down halfway.

They've also enlisted stalwart booker Mark Pesci to take care of programming.

"Every musician has played here at some point in their career. They may not be in their current band, but they have been here in some form or other," said Mark who has booked bands here as far back as 2005.

Last Friday I saw Hooded Fang play a special cover set of New York's Seminal No-Wave ambassadors ESG to a happy crowd that kept the vibe bouncing off the walls. Had they played at a larger venue, it might not have been the same.

The Bruce Lee painting acting as stage backdrop is a welcome new addition to the old 70s lamps, and weird kitschy art like a knitted wall-hanging that reminds me of Tool's ├ćnima album cover.

The bar is well stocked, and on the cheap with cans of Strongbow cider for a mere $5.00, premium pints of Sapporo and Blanche De Chambly are as low as $5.50, and you can even splurge on a 600 ml bottle of Beau's Lugtread for $7.50 if you've just been paid and are feeling like a baller.

Straight shots start at $3.75 and you don't even have to rent out a booth! In fact, there are plans to bring the former restaurant booths back and to resurrect the kitchen (a Chinese menu is unlikely), but these are long-term goals.

"I don't want to pigeon hole the place as people know my background in the punk and hardcore community," said Mark. "But we want this to be a place where you can show up and know that you're going to be able to hear, give or take, a certain kind of music." So if you're a fan of guitar-based and danceable music in the vein of rock, punk, new-wave, you should be able to show up any weekend and not be disappointed."

The Smiling Buddha is currently open every day from 7 pm until close, with standup comedy on Mondays and live bands Friday and Saturday.

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
PBR ($4.25), Sapporo ($5.50), Blanche De Chambly ($5.50)
Signature Drink:
Strongbow Tall Can ($5.00)
Bar Snacks:
None yet
Rock, Hardcore, Punk, New Wave, No Wave, anything indie, anything with a guitar.
Live Music:
Who Goes There:
Fans of bands you haven't heard of yet, local lushes.
7pm to close daily



Ewing'sNostrils / February 28, 2014 at 7:30 AM

Awesome. Live music and fairly priced drinks? A chance to see more of the great music (of all styles) being made in this city? Sign me up!

Mike / February 28, 2014 at 9:41 AM

That was a good place to BYOB, as long as you brought beer they stocked. I bet the new owners are putting a stop to that as well.

4.25 for a glass of PBR is pretty awesome.

Mark Pesci / February 28, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Jesse & BlogTO!

For bookings please email:

@SmilingBuddhaTO on Twitter & Instagram

Mark Pesci In replying to a comment from Mike / February 28, 2014 at 10:05 AM

Mike, sneaking outside liquor into a bar is illegal. ANY bar should stop you from doing that. The beer at Smiling Buddha is priced so you don't have to break the law to have a good time.

Come by any time and see for yourself. The new owners and staff are friendly and welcoming.

Cassandra In replying to a comment from Mark Pesci / February 28, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Mike, not only is it illegal, it's unfair! Bar owners work hard to make a place that you want to go to with your friends, and they incur a lot of expenses to do so. It's lame to sneak beer into a bar, and it's cheating small business owners - they're hardly "the Man".

I'm glad the Buddha is back, I always loved its laid-back vibe.

alanna s / February 28, 2014 at 6:52 PM

super happy to see some good bookings at the buddha again and I wish the new owners the best of luck.
hopefully the beer selection will improve though?! I'd gladly pay an extra $1 or more for something stronger, tastier and local.

Brad / February 28, 2014 at 8:51 PM

I agree with Mike the old Smiling Buddha was known for bringing your own beer BUT they also let you buy beer to go. Many times my friends and I left with 6-8 beers in a shopping bag that the bartender sold to us.

sherry / February 28, 2014 at 8:55 PM

Boozecans, after hours clubs and drinking in Bellwood's park is also illegal ohhh and so is using your cell phone while driving and bringing outside food into a restaurant.

Jakob / February 28, 2014 at 11:07 PM

I lived right next to that place for two years and if you're just walking by, it's basically impossible to figure out what it is, who's going there and what's going on inside.

If soundproofing reasons prevent some kind of view inside then hopefully they'll now put some event listings and/or posters on the outside (even compact ones) so people will have another way to discover it than just listings in music publications.

Mark Pesci In replying to a comment from Jakob / March 1, 2014 at 4:41 PM

Jakob, there is a HUGE poster with our listings in the front window. has all of our events as does Now Magazine. is under construction and that will have a full event calendar as well. We're trying to do this right.

Sherry, my only point is you can't complain when a business follows the law. Sure, it was nice that you could BYOB or buy-to-go before. But that's also why the old owners' business model was unsuccessful. We sell cheap beer (and will be bringing in more moderately priced craft beers for the connoisseurs) and have good music.

KittyK In replying to a comment from Mark Pesci / March 15, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Hi, Mark Pesci -- just as an FYI, took me to the personal facebook profile of a dude living in Belgium. I think you meant -- just leavin' that here for anyone else ISO the Smiling Buddha FB page.

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