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The top 10 metal, punk & hardcore venues in Toronto

Posted by Shazia Khan / July 15, 2014

Toronto punk venuesThe top Toronto venues for metal, punk, and hardcore music make for an eclectic list of local haunts. Heavy music thrives of nooks and crannies, from tiny house parties to sprawling concert halls - in a city of thousands of musicians vying for the masses, the more inaccessible and underground an act sounds the more willing they are to play any space just to secure an audience. That tenaciousness has taken me to some interesting places (not that the odd punk or metal booking won't show up at one of Toronto's larger venues or stadiums, but how punk is that?)

Here are the best, and sweatiest, venues to enjoy a loud and ragey concert in Toronto.

Bovine Sex Club
There's no punk club in Toronto that's withstood the test of time like The Bovine. Opened by three partners (including Chris Sheppard!) in 1991, its scrap-yard façade has endured the rise of big-box Queen West. Part of its staying power lies in the clientele of mega rock stars like Josh Homme, Perry Farrell, and the late Joe Strummer. Live music is on tap almost every night letting fans soak up history and revel in the always-unpretentious vibe. Having a rooftop patio doesn't hurt, either - the tiki-themed space is perfect when you need some fresh air for your eardrums.
See here next: Protocult on July 26, 2014.

Hard Luck Bar
When Hard Luck Bar first opened its doors in 2009, it quickly earned a reputation as a live music spot that shirked the mainstream and welcomed the leather-jacketed, mohawk-donning crowd. It got an upgrade in 2011 when it moved up the street into the Poor Alex Theatre's old digs, where it now enjoys more ample seating and better sight-lines on the top floor. With the steady stream of deafening bands of all stripes, it's a nice touch that they sell earplugs at the bar. Safety first, everyone.
See here next: Ten Foot Pole on July 17, 2014

Izakaya Sushi House
A nondescript Japanese restaurant, Izakaya Sushi House hides a treasure - a large, dark room with a low stage, a smattering of lights, and little else. It's the perfect setup for a DIY show, which attracts a lot of fledgling hardcore and alt-metal artists. Local promotions collectives PPOP and Briefcase Inc have made great use of the space, frequently hosting all-ages shows with exciting and avant-garde bands. Memories are made when you can down cheap sushi and sake between vicious sets, as the IZAKAYA sign glows menacingly.
See here next: Ringleader on August 19, 2014

The Opera House
One of the oldest and most historic venues in of Toronto, The Opera House has undergone a long and fascinating trajectory from working-class vaudeville house to heavy metal mecca. A wide range of music is featured here, but the midsize capacity and unpolished aesthetic make it a popular choice for well-known heavy bands not big enough to play Metallica-grade arenas. The multiple levels and balcony make seeing the stage mercifully easy, while the spacious floor offers generous room for epic circle pits.
See here next: Misery Signals on August 23, 2014

Toronto was hurting for a proper all-ages punk venue after the demise of The Big Bop and Siesta Nouveaux. Thankfully, the people behind Stuck in the City and local hardcore band S.H.I.T booted up their own venue this past spring, wittily titled S.H.I.B.G.B's. Located in the basement of a stark-looking auto shop on Geary, the DIY space features a bare-bones setup with little more than a string of Christmas lights delineating the stage, but it's booming with some of the best hardcore from home and abroad.
See here next: Kurraka and Cult Leader on July 18, 2014

The Shop at Parts + Labour
Yeah, it's weird to think Parts + Labour - a restaurant that symbolizes Parkdale's gentrification by serving "fried royal quail" - can have relevance to alternative culture, but The Shop proves just that. The underground venue is sparse: bands play on a drab rug and bleachers line the wall to amp up the "high-school after curfew" vibe. A steady stream of acclaimed punk and metal acts have passed through, from White Lung to Mares of Thrace to Bat Sabbath (Cancer Bats covering Black Sabbath). Don't worry - tickets are cheaper than the food.
See here next: Dead Tired (George Pettit (Alexisonfire)'s new band) on July 17, 2014.

Silver Dollar / Comfort Zone
While The Silver Dollar might be better known as a blues hub and the Comfort Zone for, uh, other things (sticky floors?), the joint venues have been good to the underground metal and hardcore scenes. The recently Briefcasefest has been held here for the past two years, and many harder-edged touring acts gravitate here for the mellow, informal atmosphere. Fingers crossed that the lack of heritage protection on the adjoining Hotel Waverly doesn't mean fatal consequences for either venue, but days are likely numbered for Comfort Zone.
See here next: Thantifaxath on October 4, 2014.  

Smiling Buddha
This small and kitschy bar has always played eclectic host to a jaw-dropping range of genres, but lately it's become a king pin local guitar-based stuff, due to the influence of promoter Mark Pesci. The city's grunge/noise revival has made a home here, with recent gigs by Metz, Greys and Mexican Slang to name a few, though metal shows up from time to time, too. The colourful backdrop, cheap drinks and reliable stream of promising new bands make the Buddha a worthwhile choice for regular concert-going.
See here next: Mortals on July 28, 2014.

Sneaky Dee's
You can't claim to be part of Toronto's punk community unless you've been to a show a Sneaky Dee's, our beloved greasy, dive-y, borderline unhygienic tex-mex mainstay. Historically, it has been a haven to the punk and noise scene since at least the early 90s and continues to host some very loud bands today; even the menu makes nods to the culture with two dishes named after Fucked Up. Nothing beats grabbing their signature nachos in the graffiti-laden dining room before sauntering upstairs for a dark, dingy and earsplitting good time.
See here next: Cro-Mags on August 1, 2014.

Soybomb HQ
It's not every day you can see a band play on a half pipe. Founder and former skateboarding aficionado Jason Wydra erected the one-of-a-kind Soybomb in 2003, a loft that also serves as his home. The fully functional half pipe is used as a stage when all-ages crowds flock here for some of the most inventive sludge, no wave, noise, post-hardcore, and heavy music going. Shows are only held a handful of times a year, but that seems to ensure that each one is - forgive the Sum 41 reference - all killer, no filler.
See here next: nothing confirmed yet - Wolfs rumours.

Addendum: R.I.P punk rock stronghold The 460, which would've absolutely been on this list if not for its untimely closing in June. Apparently even just being close to the El Mocambo is a curse now. Ugh.

Writing by Shazia Khan. Photo: Amanda Fotes via Weird Canada



Tim / July 15, 2014 at 01:33 pm
Siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh, i miss Reverb/Big Bop/HJ.
Kumar OMalley / July 15, 2014 at 08:10 pm
You forgot Planet Kensington. It's "no longer there", but that's no problem, as there's a time warp in the splash pad in Bellevue Square park that goes back to August, 2001.
Craig / July 15, 2014 at 08:31 pm
The Apocalypse Club
Jake / July 16, 2014 at 12:35 am
Re-editing that photo from its source. So not-punk.
Philip Kremer / July 16, 2014 at 01:11 am
I remember Sneaky Dee's on Bloor Street just west of Bathurst, when I moved to the area in 1988. If my memory is right, it was one room in a basement, was filled with smoke, it was only one small room, and the music -- I don't remember any live music, just records I guess -- was ear-splittingly loud. And this is where we'd go for dinner.
Was There / July 16, 2014 at 08:30 am
The problem with this post is that with one or two debateable exceptions, these are just music venues, with no particular musical allegiance or approach, except an economic one.
A historic slant would have fared better, since TO used to have such venues...
Dan replying to a comment from Was There / July 16, 2014 at 11:11 am
user-pic Who's Emma. I couldn't agree more.
Sean / July 16, 2014 at 01:01 pm
I miss Siesta Nouveux
soybomb replying to a comment from Was There / July 17, 2014 at 10:25 am
if you knew more about these venues, you wouldntbe saying that
Sin / July 17, 2014 at 01:17 pm
This is sick love all these venues, maby a shout out to Duffy's Tavern. But the next show the Smiling Buddha is a Dawn Vally show July 25th :p just thought I would mention that.
Was There / July 21, 2014 at 12:15 am
Yes, @soybomb you're a "debateable exception". I'm well aware of all of these venues - I'm defintely still out there, thanks!
Dax Meneau / July 22, 2014 at 01:53 pm
Thanks for the mentions! I heartily (and obviously) approve of these choices. As this is intended to be a list of currently active spots, I see no issue with not including Who's Emma or Planet K, not to mention Adrift, Siesta Nouveaux, The Q Bar, or The Big Bop for that matter. Regardless, I am super happy to see BlogTO covering the heavier side of the underground as of late.

On another note, I do not really use the Pacebook page linked in the Izakaya blurb. Anyone interested in following the shows Briefcase is doing should join our Facebook group here:
miss / December 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm
i miss the big bop when Tex used to DJ......
Julian / February 17, 2015 at 08:50 am
360 on Queen and Spadina, All Out War...Los Crudos...Day of Mourning...memories of tomorrow.
coalition / October 6, 2015 at 10:47 pm
this venue is the best in Toronto, you need to check out Coalition and it should be up here
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