5 underrated live music venues in Toronto
For the Toronto music fan looking for some live action, there's no shortage of trusted stand-bys. The Horseshoe, Lee's Palace, and the Garrison (to name just a few) get their fair share of attention. But there are other options — and good ones — that tend to fly a bit under the radar. In an effort to further muddle your concert-going choices, here are five live music options that, for one reason or another, haven't received the love they so dearly deserve.
I've always thought of the Junction as Roncesvalles older (and cooler) cousin, where you can get both a manicure for your dog and a hot hamburger sandwich with mashed potatoes for like $6. And the Junction's 3030 is one of the best bars in the city for people who neither need their bar experience to include ingesting Jagermeister without a glass nor require a $17 Manhattan with homemade bitters.
What's a show here like? Terrific. Similar to your high school gymnasium, 3030 simply employs a large curtain to separate the expansive bar in half. But since the bar is 3030, the two spaces are still bigger than one normal space — not to mention that each side has its own bar. Despite the cavernous cement surroundings, the acoustics are excellent. The raised stage is enormous, which calls for larger acts but a solo artist with presence is able to make it work. Still fairly new to the scene, 3030 already offers some excellent programing including live music and DJs.
IZAKAYA SUSHI HOUSE
Lying within a fifteen minute walk of dozens of bars and other venues, Izakaya Sushi House is by all accounts just another unassuming sushi restaurant in the College and Spadina area. But immediately behind the main dining area lies a large private room: space being the only inert criteria for hosting shows. No stage, no in house P.A., no lights, nothing. In other words, it's perfect for a punk/hardcore show. Like the bands themselves, the one constant thing in hardcore/punk venues is their historically short lifespans.
Izakaya Sushi House is just the latest in a long line of soon to be former punk/hardcore venues in odd places — a legacy that includes Adrift at the old Kensington location, Siesta Nouveaux and many more. When all the bands sound kind of the same, the experience of seeing a show in the back of an operating sushi restaurant as opposed to somewhere like 460 or Parts & Labour is a decidedly more novel experience. Earnest teens. That's the Izakaya, or places like it, difference. Even if they don't make up the entirety of the audience, they're the heart, and that's what makes the difference.
Billed as a venue for creative music, Somewhere There is a premium destination for highbrow and oddball musicians — you know, the curious and unapologetic fedora-wearing jazz dude. Appearing ostentatiously square, the space and its denizens are easily dismissed as such. And yet, for the patient, Somewhere There offers an almost nightly experience of far-out music that outshines most other attempts at creativity or experimentation.
Personally, I like to think of practitioners of the Avant Garde as Amazonian explorers. I'll be damned if I'm going anywhere where there's a chance a tiny fish will swim up my urine and into my dong, but I'm glad that someone out there is willing to do it on behalf of the pursuit of human knowledge. Totally sensical analogy aside, it's a place that deserves your attention if only for its community element. Not just a venue, it also features three musician residencies at a time, a model that should be applauded and emulated elsewhere. Warning: Follow the website's directions carefully.
DOUBLE DOUBLE LAND
Double Double Land offers many cultural things that people like — if you can find the damn place. Formerly known as "the hardest place to find in Kensington Market" — a title which have now been taken by Cold Tea — Double Double Land serves as a space for performance art, dinner parties, DJs, yoga and for present purposes, live music!
The best part about Double Double Land is that it's dark. Like dark, dark. Given that it's a small space, this darkness lends it the atmosphere of a timeless hole in the wall. Its programming is heavy on post-punkish and electronic, which also suits the space very well. Most of all, this venue is just fun. Fun in the sweaty, slightly claustrophobic and loud way.
Although you may have heard of the Tranzac, have you truly experienced the Tranzac? The Toronto Australian New Zealand Club (The Tranzac) is suspiciously devoid of Australians or New Zealanders (perhaps unfortunately), but offers three different spaces for live music, jams or whatever. At its heart lies the main bar, the Southern Cross Lounge, which is the busiest room on most given nights and offers free concerts from Monday to Thursday.
Sit down, have a drink and enjoy some bluegrass, jazz, folk or whatever else the excellent programming has in store. Across the hall is the Tiki Room, mostly available for private rentals. And finally there's the Main Hall, a huge rental room with a dedicated stage, bar and plenty of seating. While not exactly a place where you're guaranteed to catch a good show (unlike, say, at the main bar), if you see someone you like playing the Main Hall its strange mix of intimacy and big venue feel can make for a good show.
Writing by Eric Boshart / Photo of 3030 by Jesse Milns