10 Toronto bars that let you be the DJ
These days it seems like everyone's a DJ, and thanks to a handful of Toronto bars, trying your hand at it is easier than ever (at least until the Secret DJ app makes it over here). Think you've got what it takes to get an entire room of people shouting, "I love this song"? Then call up one of these 10 bars that will (with some stipulations, of course) let you do just that.
Disgraceland (965 Bloor St. W.)
Once a month, this Bloorcourt Village bar hosts a free party called...wait for it..."Everyone's A DJ." Each installment, which happens on the second Saturday of the month, features 16 new DJs spinning 20-minute sets. The party gets started at 9 p.m. and the last DJ takes the stage at 2 a.m. If you want to be part of it, you can sign up, and even pick what date and set time you'd prefer. Spots are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, so book early if you have a specific time in mind for you and your buds to boogie down.
Holy Oak Cafe (1241 Bloor St. W.)
This Bloor West café/bar is one of those places where it all depends on who you know. While owner Justin Oliver is happy to have new people come DJ his establishment, he says spots usually go to friends of friends (of friends, of friends). It's the personality of the person and the style of music they like that gets them a slot, he says, because the DJ is essentially directing and controlling the energy of the café. Don't be discouraged, though; start coming around (or even just ask around) and you'll probably be in touch with Oliver before you know it.
The Garrison (1197 Dundas St. W.)
They don't have DJs every night, so email booking [at] garrisontoronto [dotcom] to see when they've got a spot available in their front room (the back space is for concerts). If the staff thinks you'd be a good fit to run the music one night (hint: they're big on rock n' roll), they'll find a day for you. Don't just plan on making a playlist and leaving it alone, though; they want people who will stand up at the front with their laptop and make some magic happen.
Churchill (1212 Dundas St. W.)
Though this popular Dundas and Ossington bar won't promise you a coveted weekend spot, assistant manager and DJ booker Shayne Cox says he's always open to getting new people in to DJ on a weeknight. Laid back and small, this bar is perfect for people who want to bring some pals out and have a relaxed (but good) time. If you're interested, visit Cox in person at the bar--he's always in on Mondays--and tell him what kind of music you plan on playing (note: no house or dubstep). If your musical tastes match those of the bar's, he'll look at the schedule to see when he can fit you in.
Wide Open (139a Spadina Ave.)
Located at Richmond and Spadina, this tiny bar is popular with the after work and backpacker crowds, and is known for its cheap drink specials. They play all of their music off of staff iPods, and owner Mike Yaworski says they'll definitely let you plug in your own device to play that favourite song you just can't get enough of--or even an entire playlist. They've done that kind of thing for private parties, he says, and is very open to having it continue to happen. Keep in mind that while this bar is called Wide Open, it's pretty slim and narrow--so if this is where you choose to make your DJ debut, head down on the early side (you want to make sure your posse has ample space to jam, don't you?).
The Yukon (1592 Queen St. W.)
This new Parkdale hot spot books up DJs fast, but manager Katy McLean says she still has some spaces for new faces. The Yukon is for those with a bit of DJ experience, though, as they only want people who have some familiarity with the mixer and other equipment. If you want to try this bar out, the best thing to do is go there in person and speak with McLean, who will then decide if you're a good fit. It's a pretty laid-back establishment (they're more mellow than they are electronic), so best leave your club bangers at home.
The Emmett Ray (924 College St.)
Known for a great crowd (not to mention a killer staff, including owner Andrew Kaiser), live music, and fun event nights like bingo and "Arts and Drafts," this College and Dovercourt bar will totally let you DJ--all you have to do is ask. While Kaiser won't guarantee you the perfect Saturday night slot--they do have some resident DJs--shoot him an email (email@example.com) and he'll work something out. Heads-up: this place is cash only (though they do have an ATM), so best warn your buds before they show up.
Camp4 (1173 Dundas St. W.)
A good combination of tables for sitting and space for dancing, this small bar rocks the indie sort of vibe: we're talking classic rock and its contemporaries, but not so much hip-hop or rap. Owner Gani Shqueir says there are two advisable ways to get a DJ spot at Camp4: one is to email firstname.lastname@example.org; the second is to head to the bar in person and hang around, "shooting the shit" with Shqueir and his staff. Either way, lay out your idea (the type of music you play, the number of awesome friends you'll bring, etc.) and if Shqueir thinks you fit Camp4's vibe, he'll see when he's got a spare date to work you in.
The Red Light (1185 Dundas St. W.)
Though this Dundas West bar does host a lot of guest DJs, there are two things you should know before inquiring with them: one, most of the people who guest DJ have a connection to the staff, which is how they get the opportunity (a lot of introductions also happen through Grasshopper Records owner Derek Madison); and two, you've got to have a bit of a following to snag a spot, so start rounding up friends now. Still, owner Nic Savage says he's open to newbies, and that the best thing to do is send a message to their Facebook page. Explain a bit about who you are, what kind of audience you have, and where else you've controlled the tunes (hey, lucky for you there are nine other places on this list!).
The Beaconsfield (1154 Queen St. W.)
A popular spot for dinner (stellar chili fries, for starters) and grabbing a drink (or seven), The Beaconsfield has a DJ playing every night of the week. And while spots usually go to friends of the staff, the chic restaurant/bar is open to outside DJs. The best thing to do is pay them a visit and speak with one of the staff members. Let them know if you've DJed at any other bars, what kind of music you like, and, if you're one of the keen folks with a SoundCloud account, tell them about that, too. The Beaconsfield doesn't play a lot of Top 40, so brush up on your '80s, early '90s, funk, and everything else awesome.
Writing by Sara Harowitz. Photo by Smunky in the blogTO Flickr pool.