5 underrated neighbourhoods for live music in Toronto
Toronto has a host of underrated neighbourhoods for live music, known mostly for their respective locals and to the musicians who call them home. For many people Yonge & Dundas Square or Queen St. West (The Rivoli, The Horseshoe, The Cameron House, Tattoo, Czehoski) or College-Bathurst-Spadina (El Mo, Silver Dollar, Rancho, Sneaky Dee's, Free Times Cafe) are their reliable go-tos for live music in the city. Yet the rest of Toronto is no stranger to music and arts on any night of the week, and many neighbourhoods host hidden gems for music lovers.
Here are 5 Toronto neighbourhoods sometimes overlooked for live music, and where and when you can catch it.
Linsmore Tavern (1298 Danforth Ave.)
The Linsmore Tavern will be 80 years old as of December. Its history dates back to when it was the Linsmore Hotel with no windows for certain reasons. Today it's less of a dive with the long bar, pool table, dart boards, TVs, cheap draft and music four nights a week - Thursday to Sunday. Expect high energy indie bands, blues, jazz, soul, and tribute nights (Think: U2, Neil Young, Tom Waits).
The Olde Eton House (710 Danforth Ave.)
14 drafts on tap, a pool table, dart board, and 10 TVs are at the Olde Eton House in Greektown (also part of the "Dirty Danforth Pub Crawl"). Entertainment is varied with DJs, comedy on Tuesdays, and live music Fridays and Saturdays (country, classic rock, and the odd indie band). Venue capacity lists at 200.
Dora Keogh (141 Danforth Ave.)
Considered one of the best "real" Irish Pubs in Toronto, Dora Keogh has a wide list of imported beers. They have live music Thursday nights, and all ages are welcome Saturday afternoons, which draws some of the best Irish musicians around. On Monday they have the Monday Night Jam & Undiscovered Artist Series with Julian Taylor (8pm).
Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Ave.)
Not quite 100 years old, the Danforth Music Hall has a long history starting with its first film screening of "Through the Wrong Door" starring Madge Kennedy. After going through changes in ownership, hard times, disrepair, it is now more in line with a top concert hall. Seating capacity is now removable and at about 1,100.
Relish Bar & Grill (2152 Danforth Ave.)
Relish is one of the busiest venues for live music on the Danforth with entertainment seven nights a week. The staff will learn your name. Tapas make up the menu. The floor stage which features monitors, house drum kit and keyboard is near the front window, and the rest of the venue has seating around for around 40. Sundays feature a jazz brunch and evening open jam. The rest of the week has quality indie artist features of various genres.
The Old Nick Pub (123 Danforth Ave.)
The Old Nick is known for a laid back atmosphere, back patio, and standard pub fare including a new menu as of July 2014. Monday nights are "M-Factor" Mondays with host Elana Hart. Tuesdays are open stage night 8pm start. Thursdays have Stiletto Flats with retro and classic rock. Jennifer Brewer hosts an indie songwriter night Saturdays. The floor stage in the front window accommodates the musicians.
Black Swan Tavern (154 Danforth Ave.)
Operated by John and Bill Pachis since 1999, the Black Swan Tavern was originally the Hotel Commerce (est. 1903). An English style pub, they currently feature mostly acoustic bands during the week on the main floor. There's also an open mic with Sebastian Agnello on Mondays, open jam with Nicola Vaughn on Wednesdays. The upstairs has mainly live comedy with the odd music feature.
The Groove Bar & Grill (1952 Danforth Ave.)
If you're looking for beer and wings, the Groove Bar & Grill sports bar has plenty every night. Their entertainment has gone the way of the open mic with events on Tuesdays 8pm, Karaoke Wednesdays, and open mic comedy Thursdays 10pm.
The Only Cafe (972 Danforth Ave.)
The Only Cafe's website advertises that the bar has "events, fun facts, and pictures of kittens." Inside the actual Cafe you'll find 25 local craft brews and 230 bottles. The venue is narrow and thus intimate as can be. Music features are several nights a week with small bands that are folk-rock, blues, and some slightly more psychedelic.
DUNDAS WEST & LITTLE PORTUGALThe Emmet Ray (924 College St.)
College St. locals can be seen the Emmet Ray's front windows enjoying their very long list of whisky and Scotch (not to mention beer). In the smaller back room, most nights have rotating live music features. Music is a mix of folk, blues, jazz, gypsy, funk, soul, and on weekends, DJs. The food menu is relatively small. Cash only with an ATM on site.
Habits Gastropub (928 College St.)
In the three years that they've been open, Habits Gastropub has gone through a few renovations, always maintaining the open kitchen, wide selection of Ontario craft beers, whiskey selection, and VQA wine. The music room in the back with a full upright piano, makes up about a third of the 100+ capacity. They feature popular Jazz bands on most weekends, and local indie artists on other days.
Smiling Buddha (961 College St.)
Smiling Buddha retains much of its old dive bar charm, but its stepped up considerably this year not only as a neighbourhood music venue but as a must-hit spot for punk, hardcore, indie, and more thanks in a large part to the new owners' securing the booking prowess of local promoter Mark Pesci. The addition of occasional dance parties in the basement venue is also an exciting turn of events.
The Caledonian (856 College St.)
The Caledonian advertises its award-winning Haggis. Though its unclear what committee determines this award, the gastropub is about as traditional Scottish pubs gets. They have an impressive list of Scotch whiskys. On some occasions they have traditional Scottish live music as well.
Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Ave.)
"We are a little bar tucked into the heart of Little Portugal in Toronto. Bad music doesn't happen here." Lots of good things happen at the Dakota Tavern including their bluegrass Sunday Brunch. Evenings are filled with great sound and great bands in the country, Americana, roots, folk-rock genres.
Painted Lady (218 Ossington Ave.)
A small-ish venue, The Painted lady squeezes a lot in the inside. Various paintings of women all the wall, red-lights, vintage decor, pin-ups, and a bar-top burlesque dancer. They have an open mic Monday, late night dance DJs. Music five to seven nights a week includes rock, soul, funk, ska, reggae, trance, garage, surf-rock...
Opera Bob's Public House (1112 Dundas St. West)
Unique to Opera Bob's is Mill Street's Bob's Bearded Red beer. Joel Manning of Mill Street creates the beer for oper singer Opera Bob. Located at the very east end of Little Portugal on Dundas St. West, the venue has live Americana-Bluegrass-Country-Tinged music from The Ole Fashion every Sunday night.
Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas St. West)
Lula Lounge has established itself as a top venue for Latin music in Toronto, and likely Canada. Capacity lists at 250 with most events programmed for seating 150-190 and high quality sound. Friday and Saturday feature are dinner and show packages, and the rest of the week varies. Other featured genres are Jazz, Latin Jazz, soul, world, funk, Reggae. Some independent other genre artists play special event shows at Lula.
Full of Beans (1348 Dundas St. West)
Owner Lori Nytko puts a lot of work into selecting and roasting the coffee found at Full of Beans. Blends include South American, African, and a number of more exotic and fair trades. Light snack foods are also available. Music on afternoon weekends include a mostly acoustic open mic Saturday 1pm, and features from the open mic Sunday 2pm.
The Garrison (1197 Dundas St. West)
One of the largest venues in Little Portugal with a capacity of 270. The Garrison is known in the indie music scene due to former Sneaky Dee's booker Shaun Bowring. Also known for shell tacos served up front. In the back room, you get excellent site lines, sound, and everything fans want in a cantina style-dive bar. In addition to indie rock, the Garrison features a rotating list of DJs.
Not My Dog (1510 Queen St. West)
Not My Dog may be the smallest live music venue in Parkdale with a capacity around 40 (not including patio) and most of it standing room only. It may also be the busiest live music venue in Parkdale with live music every night of the week. Features include excellent emerging and established singer-songwriters. Not My Dog also has a "house cat" who often makes the rounds.
Wrongbar (1279 Queen St. West.)
With a large dance floor and quality acoustics, Wrongbar is perfect for the scenesters, hip-hop and DJs most nights. NXNE typically also hosts larger special access events at Wrongbar.
Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen St. West)
Not too much has changed at the Cadillac Lounge since it opened in 2000. The rusted old 60's Cadillac still sits above the front doors and the neon sign in the window advertises live bands, amback yard patio and uh, beer (and some dispute over food quality). Music, not always nightly, focuses on roots, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, and related genres.
The Sister (1554 Queen St. West)
Renamed The Sister in 2012 from Mitzi's Sister, the venue is locally known for their huge portions at weekend brunch. At night it has a darker atmosphere, and music nights still continue, though not every night as they once did. Mostly indie rock bands take the mid-size stage there with relatively low cover charges.
Motel (1235 Queen St. West.)
If you don't live in Parkdale, Motel Bar is one spot you might not know about. Open for almost five years, the name implies non-hotel size-decor as found further east on Queen St. It's narrow, there's limited seating, old art lines the walls, and like the rest of the place the stage is small. Thursday, Friday, Saturday DJs and the odd jazz or indie band on some other nights.
Amico's Pizza (1648 Queen St. West)
Amico's is a staple in Parkdale for their late night hours and large portions of just about everything. They currently feature a Thursday night open mic and solo singer-songwriters on Friday nights.
Parts & Labour (1566 Queen St. West)
Parts & Labour is a little bit of an anomaly for Parkdale with its main floor that serves a full menu and cocktails galore. Downstairs, the Shop is a 170 person capacity room featuring local DJs, live bands (Britpop, Hip Hop, R&B, Funk, New Wave), and other special events with a full party atmosphere.
3030 Dundas (3030 Dundas St. West.)
Owner Jameson Kelly has put together an eclectic mix of full menu, tapas, black and white television, pinball machines, and a concert-event venue. The music room is a long bar, wide stage, full sound system (though boomy sounding and extensive backline) and capacity for over 100. Events seven nights a week include live bands (mix of genres), comedy, trivia, DJs.
Humble Beginnings (3109 Dundas St. West)
Humble Beginnings is coming up on one year in operation. It is a smaller eat-in and take-out spot in the Junction with a focus on fresh ingredients and celebration of 160 different cuisines. In the small back room (capacity 15-20) they host live acoustic music on Saturdays 12:30. Genres include folk, jazz, blues, and Flamenco in primarily solo or duo format.
Junction City Music Hall (2907 Dundas St. West)
JCMH as they are calling themselves on Facebook, are a new concert venue in the Junction. A first person account of their Junction Punk Rock Throwdown describes the place as, "part of a secret club that only the cool kids know about." It's a basement level place and accessed by a steep staircase. Loud sound in the easy to engage in dancing in kind of way. Music and events vary depending on the night of the week.
Hole In The Wall (2867 Dundas St. West.)
The Hole In The Wall is another one of the aptly named venues in the Junction. It has a bar that is narrow, that is very narrow, 20 or so seats, and size-wise, the stage could fit in a guitar case or two. The venue has gone through a few changes after opening about 14 years ago. The clients lean more towards hipsters, locals, and music lovers. The music format now includes an open mic every Monday, Derek Downham every Wednesday, and a rotating list of regulars every Friday, Saturday evening.
La Revolucion (2848 Dundas St. West)
La Revolucion is starting to make a name for itself on the popularity of its guacamole alone. The Mexican restaurant has a number of authentic dishes on the menu as well. Music is starting to expand their with Tinderbox Thursday acoustic open mic for musicians and comedians. Saturday music includes Spanish (and English) performing artists. They have also have a nice piano on site.
Axis Bar and Grill (3048 Dundas St. West)
The Axis Bar and Grill has a reputation for friendly staff, pub fare including the notable sweet potato fries, and live music. Total capacity lists at 135 which is split between the main floor and downstairs lounge. The side patio is extra. Tuesday is their popular open jam night, Friday DJs, Saturday live music, and Saturday and Sunday brunch with live music.
Castro's Lounge (2116 Queen St. East)
Castro's Lounge might be in the running for smallest live music venue with a capacity under 40 people. Under new ownership for just over a year, they have switched over to a vegetarian menu. They still maintain a selection of microbrews and imports. Music start times vary depending on the day with some early and late showcases. Formats include rockabilly, jazz, folk-rock, and blues.
The Feathers Pub (962 Kingston Road, Upper Beach)
Feathers Pub is an English style pub that has been around for over 30 years. Just about every photo related to them showcases their impressive malt selection. Live songwriter style nights happen every Saturday.
The Madhus Cafe (982 Kingston Road., Upper Beach)
The Madhus Cafe occupies the old Dip'n Sip location in the Upper Beach. "Madhus" could be a play on any number of name origins: in Danish it means Food-House, and in Indo-Aryan languages it means honey-sweet. Open only since February 2014, they are a mixed arts venue with coffee, and music and arts events. Soul, funk, DJs, and acoustic are currently being featured on various nights.
My Place In the Beach (2066 Queen St. East)
The 42 different fonts they use on their website might distract you a little from the fact My Place In The Beach serves food. And has music. The venue serves mostly traditional pub fare with a focus on wings. Hard to tell again with those 42 fonts. Tuesdays are Karaoke, Thursday all request DJs, Friday and Saturday DJ party nights, and Sunday there's an open jam with Eddy Culjak.
Melange (172 Main Street)
The Melange restaurant has the same ownership as Cool Running nearby in the Beach. The decor is often commented on as pretty drab and the music while advertised as the best in the city, can be marginal depending on your taste. Open Mic Thursdays 9pm. Singer-songwriters most other nights and some Karaoke.
Writing by Ryan Ayukawa