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Music

The top 15 lost music venues in Toronto

Posted by Shazia Khan / August 22, 2014

lost music venues torontoLost music venues in Toronto serve as a reminder that when it comes nightlife in this city, the only constant is change. Just as a cool new concert venue opens up somewhere in the city, there's another venerable music institution shuttering its doors across town.

With the Guvernment Entertainment Complex - the longest-running club currently in Toronto - announcing its impending end for early next year, it's clearer than ever that no amount of seniority or success in the scene can keep any of our beloved establishments safe. [Insert snide comment about condos here.]

After seeing the lively discussion generated from our post on the top heavy music venues in Toronto, we got to thinking about some of our favourite spots of yesteryear - the ones that defined a cultural movement, hosted iconic musicians or could've just been great if they were given a fair chance to build a clientele.

Here are 15 of our favourite defunct Toronto venues. R.I.P.

The Big Bop
Ah, who could forget that giant purple box at the corner of Queen and Bathurst. The Big Bop's three music rooms became the central hub for Toronto's resurgent 90s punk scene, drawing a mostly younger crowd of outcast thanks to all-ages shows and a distinct lack of pretension. But as Queen West's gentrification continued unabated, it was inevitable that this symbol of counterculture would eventually get the axe.

A friend of mine actually got to play The Kathedral on one of those last fateful days; half into her set, a staff member yelled to "just get off the stage, there's no one here." I always thought that was a depressing, oddly hilarious, perfect end to The Bop - it's how I'll always remember it.

What's there now: Furniture store CB2. Check out the Rockpile, Rockpile East, and Nocturne for former Bip Bop owners and bookers.

The Gasworks
Forever immortalized in Wayne's World ("always a babe-fest"), The Gasworks was a headbanger's dream at the height of 80's metal. The long-haired and leather-clad enjoyed overflowing quarts of beer and loud bands in what could really only be described with the three d's (dank, dark, dive), and though the occasional scuffle happened every so often, it was worth it to see acts like Rush, Platinum Blonde and Triumph get their big break.

What's there now: A surplus and sporting goods store.

Palace PierPalace Pier
Back in the day when people were super into the Lindy Hop, Palace Pier was the lakeside party destination Torontonians had long been waiting for. Despite hindrances of The Great Depression, lack of funding, and other developmental hiccups, the expansive hall finally opened in 1941 and enjoyed years of performances from big-name jazz and country performers including Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash. Trouble never seemed far behind, however, and the Pier suffered the ultimate fate of burning to the ground in 1963.

What's there now: The Palace Pier condo towers (and a small memorial to the original venue near the waterfront).

Ted's Wrecking Yard
Indie rock is so ubiquitous at this point, it's hard to remember that there was a time when it didn't get enough attention. Ted's Wrecking Yard came along at a time when a lot of our most famous indie acts would've had trouble getting booked elsewhere. Jason Collett, Broken Social Scene, Metric, Peaches, Kathleen Edwards, and many more got the chance to play to small yet steadily growing audiences here, occasionally as part of Wavelength, which also started as a weekly showcase on the club's small stage.

What's there now: An LCBO store.

Colonial TavernColonial Tavern
Around the Palace Pier's prime, Colonial Tavern was also making jazz-lovers jitterbug much closer to the city's centre. The building's two floors were relatively small to be hosting such big bands and lively gigs, but somehow they made it work. Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, B.B. King, and Big Mama Thornton were just a few of the greats to grace the Colonial's humble stage, and the owners constantly struggled to accommodate the influx of eager patrons. Later, the club kind of lost some of its gravitas as it transformed into a more lowbrow rock spot, but its jazz legacy is unforgettable.

What's there now: An empty lot set to be part of the future Massey Tower condo.

The Edge
At the end of the seventies, the changing face of punk music was having trouble getting a foothold in the city. Enter The Edge: headed by infamous duo The Garys, the unassuming space gave way to some of the most avant-garde post-punk, new-wave and art rock bands of the era. The progressive booking encouraged a mix of unknowns alongside well-known names like XTC, and local fans could often see their favourites play multiple nights in a row. With the impact made by The Edge after three short years in existence, just imagine what it could've done with more longevity.

What's there now: An emergency shelter for women.

Masonic TempleMasonic Temple
It's funny to think that his historic corner of Yonge and Davenport was once a sacred meeting point for the Freemasons - its usage since has been anything but low-profile. In the 60s it was the (former) Rockpile, a large concert space which notably hosted Led Zepplin on their first North American foray, then "The Concert Hall," where many more big names played including David Bowie, Frank Sinatra and Black Sabbath. The rock-solid structure and cavernous interior always made each show a grand experience.

What's there now: Bell Media most recently used the Temple for MTV Canada's studios, but sold it to Info-Tech Research Group last year.

Maple Leaf Ballroom
An unassuming old building on St. Clair West that was originally a movie theatre, the Maple Leaf Ballroom reopened in the 60's as a dance club. In an elegant room with a classic mirrorball, live music was usually performed by Irish showbands invited to town by owner Jimmy McVeigh. It's greatest claim to fame, however, is when McVeigh booked an up-and-coming Irish rock band named U2 for a gig in 1980. Strangely, it seems many more people claim to have been there than could have been accommodated in the 300-seat room.

What's there now: A Salvation Army thrift store.

Matador TorontoThe Matador Club
This former bowling alley may not have had a ton of "official" concerts after being opened in the 60s, but true country fans knew that most big performers would wind up here after their headlining Toronto gigs and could be counted on to wile away the late hours with an impromptu live set. Stompin' Tom Conners and Loretta Lynn were just a couple of the famed regulars here, and rumour has it that Leonard Cohen loved the place enough to write "Closing Time" about it. Not many after-hours clubs in the city have reached this kind of legendary status.

What's there now: The land was purchased in 2010 to become a "living arts centre," but as of now is still vacant and under construction.

The BamBoo
At the height of Queen West's 80's cultural renaissance, The BamBoo carved out an essential niche for world music on the strip. A colourful venue rife with African artwork and tropical touches, the club featured a very communal mix of reggae, jazz, ska, hip hop and soul, which was refreshing in a neighbourhood dominated by rock shows. Crowds were attracted just as much by the delicious Caribbean food on the menu as they were the diverse music, and a social consciousness brought in a lot of meaningful events, from community fundraisers to Afrofest.

What's there now: Cube Nightclub.

Larrys HideawayLarry's Hideaway
Holed away in the Prince Carlton Hotel's basement, Larry' Hideaway was often lovingly described, at best, as a disgusting cesspool by all who frequented it. But despite its vile reputation, Larry's made history by hosting some of the best punk and metal shows Toronto has ever seen. Burgeoning local pioneers like Anvil and Razor played memorable sets on it's low stage, which was aided by having a surprisingly good sound system and The Garys on board for bookings.

What's there now: Allan Gardens.

Industry
Towards the end of the 20th century, there still wasn't much happening in what's now known as Liberty Village. Then along came Industry, an ambitious nightclub at the corner of King and Stratchan that sought to bring house and techno music mainstream recognition. One of the coolest things about Industry was how diverse the clientele was - regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation fans happily grooved together to tunes spun by the likes of Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, and Basement Jaxx. Top Toronto DJ's were always given equal attention as internationally recognized performers, propelling our city's own talent to the fore.

What's there now: A Shoppers Drug Mart.

Circa NightclubCirca
People always say to "dream big" - what they don't tell you it to make sure your bank account's bigger first. Infamous NYC nightclub impresario Peter Gatien returned to his homeland in 2003 and immediately attempted the lofty goal of opening Canada's largest club in Toronto's entertainment district. The initial results were impressive: a massive, artistically driven, multi-room playhouse that hosted major DJs and pop stars like Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Rihanna and Lupe Fiasco. Too bad it had to become "The Titanic of night clubs."

What's there now: A Marshall's department store.

Who's Emma
Radical politics and hardcore punk collided in a big way at Who's Emma, a Kensington Market collective and meeting space. Named after famed anarchist Emma Goldman, it was a multi-purpose venue which served as a store, zine distributor, activist meeting hub and DIY concert venue. It's probably not surprising that an anarchist-run organization struggled with a lot of infighting and interpersonal turmoil which likely contributed to its demise, but while it was around, it served as a vital platform for the more subversive, often ignored underbelly of politically motivated nineties punk.

What's there now: The Grilled Cheese sandwich shop.

siesta nouveauxSiesta Nouveaux
The DIY punk spirit has been shuffled around the city many times over, but it seemed like it'd found its best home yet at Siesta Nouveaux. Basically held in an apartment, shows here always felt like the best house party ever - tons of all-agers crammed into a sweaty, graffiti-covered room with loud bands and the ever-present threat of cops shutting the whole thing down. Despite the chaos, a tolerant atmosphere prevailed, and the welcoming vibes always gave punk lovers a safe place to find the like-minded and let off steam.

What's there now: It's been levelled to a parking lot, but will be developed into a condo in the future.

What other once-great Toronto venues do you miss? Let us know in the comments.

Discussion

74 Comments

Memmmmories / August 22, 2014 at 08:51 am
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X-rays/Ultrasound

The original Ontario Place revolving stage

Cabana Room

and of course

ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN
Tikiliberationfront / August 22, 2014 at 09:05 am
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Crash 'n' Burn
Beverley Tavern
The back room at Tiger's Coconut. Grove
Rondun Tavern

The list is a long one...
p / August 22, 2014 at 09:10 am
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Wasn't expecting to see Siesta Nouveaux, well done.
Also, I actually really miss Circa. I remember the first time I went there I thought "this is what I thought a club would be like when I was a kid".
The Vok / August 22, 2014 at 10:03 am
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Not just Ted's Wrecking Yard, but also Barcode directly beneath it.
Allan Janssen / August 22, 2014 at 10:54 am
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how about the Abbey Road Club?
Davy / August 22, 2014 at 11:35 am
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You include CIRCA (really!?), Who's Emma and Siesta Nouveaux...? but
No Victory Burlesque...?
No Quốc tế...?
No Siboney...?
No Apocalypse...?
No Ildikos/the Bridge....?

Wow... just wow!
jeff / August 22, 2014 at 12:21 pm
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What about Jeff Healy's on Bathurst??
Jax / August 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm
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What about CLUB 404 at Pickering Town Center?
Skye replying to a comment from Rick / August 22, 2014 at 01:26 pm
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I'm of the 30+ crowd, but I'd never say my clubbing heyday was "when Toronto was Toronto". The music scene changes and it always will. I'd never want to close my mind off and harrumph that things were so much better in MY day.
PutOnaHat / August 22, 2014 at 01:54 pm
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The brown derby isn't on this list LOL. Someone doesn't know their Toronto music history.

Also the Big Bop had a long history back to the 60s at least, only most recently remembered as being a punk spot in the 90s.
CJ9639 / August 22, 2014 at 02:26 pm
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How about the Blue Note and Network? They were both on Pears avenue and hosted great acts. Remember Liberty Silver!
Steve replying to a comment from Davy / August 22, 2014 at 02:32 pm
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Yeah. This guy knows.
Nosey Ned / August 22, 2014 at 03:02 pm
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You wrote that the Grilled Cheese is where Who's Emma used to be. It actually was across the street, in the basement of what is now Paul's Boutique.
mike in parkdale / August 22, 2014 at 04:06 pm
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Tonic was never my scene, but System Soundbar was probably the successor to Industry. It's now a condo. Or maybe Boa/Stereo.... also now a Condo.
Suzee / August 22, 2014 at 04:36 pm
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Also... Beat Junkie?
Gerry / August 22, 2014 at 06:31 pm
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Piccadilly Tube, Rock n Roll Heaven, Hot Roxx in Brampton where the chicks used to throw their panties at the bands
Kate / August 22, 2014 at 08:05 pm
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Knob Hill Hotel.
Dom / August 22, 2014 at 08:31 pm
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Everyday I ride by the location of Catch 22. That was always a great time.
The Ripper / August 22, 2014 at 09:45 pm
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Nuts and Bolts, need I say more?
Craig / August 22, 2014 at 09:58 pm
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Sure do miss Albert's Hall. There were some legendary nights there.
Peter / August 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm
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Almost included the Phoenix ..haha - still there :)
Sam / August 22, 2014 at 11:03 pm
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Dominos
Nm1 / August 22, 2014 at 11:08 pm
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Twilight Zone. From the amazing Assoon brothers. What's there now? A parkin' lot.
Bob Reid / August 22, 2014 at 11:54 pm
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Branko's. Where we all got our first gig.
Rob / August 23, 2014 at 12:25 am
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I'm surprised SYSTEM SOUNDBAR isn't mentioned at all...
GeorgeC replying to a comment from Tikiliberationfront / August 23, 2014 at 12:35 am
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Yes , The Rondun Hotel/Tavern/Pub is right up there with the best. Some heavy weights play there in the late 70's/early 80's
Check out this link https://www.facebook.com/TheRondunHotel
GeorgeC replying to a comment from Kate / August 23, 2014 at 12:37 am
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Knobhill is still there re-opened as Rock Pile East
Linda Saint John / August 23, 2014 at 05:49 am
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Right on Craig ! Alberts Hall definitely...but also downstairs @ the Bruns...with Mary deKayser? on Sat.
Ryan Thoams / August 23, 2014 at 06:10 am
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It's funny that the Old Big Bop sign final vanished from CB4.
Change...
Steve hedgecore / August 23, 2014 at 07:33 am
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As Nosey Ned mentioned, Who's Emma was at 69 1/2 Nassau, where Paul's Boutique is now. You can still see the looney sized hole in the floor where you used to be a to look down on the people watching bands in the basement.
Chris / August 23, 2014 at 07:38 am
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Catch 22
anthony / August 23, 2014 at 08:39 am
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I like this list got most of the great ones. But as someone mentioned the Siboney as not being on the list. As is the Morrissey.
Kevin / August 23, 2014 at 08:46 am
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Ultrasound, the Copa, Siboney
Kevin / August 23, 2014 at 08:47 am
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Maple Leaf Garden
TC / August 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm
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Nags Head North.
John / August 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm
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There is a reasonably good quality recording (bootleg?) of R.E.M. at Larry's Hideaway in 1983 floating around the 'net.

I don't know the rules of linking to things like that from here, but someone reasonably well versed in the art of Google can find it quite easily
Spence / August 23, 2014 at 01:36 pm
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How about Tony's East and Tony's West?! They had some amazing acts play both venues...David Wilcox, Carol Pope, Goddo, Minglewood, Teenage Head!
punk enthusiast / August 23, 2014 at 02:23 pm
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PLANET KENSINGTON
Keith / August 23, 2014 at 04:00 pm
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Club Rockit
Selena / August 23, 2014 at 07:18 pm
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Sanctuary on Queen W. was a goth club , then turned into a Starbucks! Very very sad indeed :(
B. Ross Ashley / August 23, 2014 at 07:48 pm
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Fiddlers' Green Coffee House, behind the old Eglinton Ave. Y.

Managed by Edinburgh/Toronto folk music legend Tam Kearney, Fiddler's Green whas where you went in the early 70s if you wanted to listen to U. Utah Phillips, Leon Redbone, Dave van Ronk, and up-and-coming players like Grit Laskin. It was the home of teh still-more-or-less extant folk supergroup "Friends of Fiddlers' Green".
Damian / August 23, 2014 at 09:41 pm
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Loved Friday nights at the Rock n Roll Sex Bar
greg / August 24, 2014 at 09:57 am
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I was escorted out of the Gasworks by the bouncers...
My friend and I were trying to talk to some girls that clearly weren't interested in us and the bouncers made it VERY clear that our time was up.
Also saw U2 at the Maple Leaf.
penny / August 24, 2014 at 11:02 am
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Brunswick House, Horseshoe Tavern & the El Macombo
Colin / August 24, 2014 at 11:30 am
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Apocalypse Club, Edgewater Hotel, back room at Rotate This
Banantits / August 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm
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How in the hell was System Soundbar not on this list?!?!
TC replying to a comment from John / August 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm
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I think that REM gig you mentioned showed up on the second disc of the Murmur deluxe reissue.
Cinchedtight / August 24, 2014 at 08:55 pm
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Limelight, catch 22, night gallery, savage garden, sanctuary, nuts and bolts, anarchists cocktail, neutral
DaveyCee / August 24, 2014 at 08:58 pm
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Going back in time.. but The Nickelodion, Le Coq D'or, Hawk's Nest, Embassy, The Generator, Chez Moi, Left Bank, Limelight, Liquid, Mars, etc etc
Mitch / August 25, 2014 at 01:17 am
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Anyone remember Fun Haus on queen st w? Now home to the upper level of shoppers drug mart.
farbsie / August 25, 2014 at 09:34 am
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You forgot Fez Batique. Also The Crystal room and even more importantly the 360. Just happens that Make It Funky (www.makeitfunky.ca) hosted the last parties ever held at all 3 of these venues.
dOOd / August 25, 2014 at 11:20 am
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I'm glad someone mentioned Nag's Head North. Although not technically in Toronto, it was a good, reliable venue that hosted a wide variety of pop, r&b and good old rock and roll acts. Friends who had a minor punk bands the '70s also frequented a joint called the Turning Point. It was on the second floor of the building at Avenue Road and Bloor where Remenyi Music now stands. I recall it as a place that would give new bands their first exposure.
Frank / August 25, 2014 at 01:57 pm
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You forgot the Hotel Isabella (blues upstairs, new wave downstairs in The Lower East Side and the draught room and patio on the ground floor), and The El Mocambo. Living down town from '75 to '84 (between the ages of 18 to 27) was simply glorious music wise!

Thanks for the memories.

Sheff
Hank E Tonkman / August 25, 2014 at 04:21 pm
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Why do you refer to the Garys as "infamous"? They were a (music)godsend.
#malapropism
Matt The Golem / August 26, 2014 at 05:53 am
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I remember going to the Colonial to see Muddy Waters. Was too young to get in but the bouncer let me stand in the doorway so I could hear the set.

The Garys were 'infamous' for having really low ticket prices so shows at the Edge would sell out fast. And for bringing in every touring punk/new wave act they could find.
TJ / August 26, 2014 at 07:56 am
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My personal list of much-loved, sadly-missed places.....

Albert's Hall

The Siboney

Domino's

Larry's Hideaway

The Cabana Room

The Greeks

The Diamond Club

Tiger's

The Apolcalypse

Catch-22

The Bamboo

original Ontario Place

RIP....... so many great joints, great nights, great bands and memories.
Brad / August 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm
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Nags Head North
old person / October 25, 2014 at 10:07 pm
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this list is really punk-heavy and the big bop blurb specifically leaves out a lot of the non-punk stuff that happened there (from 90s rap to goth-rave to SnM parties)

the weave
the beat junkie
the spectrum
classics

thank goodness the bamboo was mentioned
Adam / October 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm
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Rock and roll heaven was world famous. Used to be called L.A North during the metal scene. The Shanghai, bar none, entex, palladium, generator, rpm, death in the underground, Chicago's, there was a little club above gasworx for a while too.
RM / October 25, 2014 at 10:24 pm
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This is one severely depressing post (it's a great article, and I love the suggestions of other people) But it's just a reminder of how many awesome places we've lost in this city for great music/dancing.
boPeep / October 25, 2014 at 10:34 pm
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Tropical Paradise. BFGs
assworks / October 25, 2014 at 11:08 pm
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Did Platinum Blonde really play the Gasworks? I'm having trouble believing that happened.
Wayne / October 25, 2014 at 11:46 pm
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Ultrasound/X-Rays is bar none the one whose absence I still lament. Some young bike courrier guy use to spend many a night fronting his band, The Uncool, singing to me, my date (I'd bring everyone I met back then to see him), and the bartender. He'd do Dylan covers on request, but his own songs were what so great they're definitely what kept me and the bartender coming back. And on a more recent note, Virgin has all but killed The Mod Club so it too should be on this list.
Brio / October 26, 2014 at 11:14 am
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Thr Rockit
Ian / October 26, 2014 at 02:49 pm
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The Hawk's Nest on Yonge in the early 70's.

Glen / October 26, 2014 at 11:08 pm
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System sound bar
Gary / October 27, 2014 at 10:09 am
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The Black Hawk Motor Inn - Saw Eric Burton there!
The Ascot Inn - numerous bands
Route 66 - on Jarvis St - David Wilcox was a regular
The Yonge Station & the Level Crossing (upstairs) - Saga & Max Webster were regulars
The Piccadilly Tube - Triumph among many others
Cafe on the Park - (beside Eglinton Park), I saw Long John Baldry and Michael Nesmith (Monkees fame) there...
The Nickelodeon and Jarvis House - with numerous house bands
Hosekopf / October 27, 2014 at 11:48 am
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Iguana Lounge on Pears Ave
Genuine / October 27, 2014 at 07:36 pm
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The Montreal Bistro & Jazz Club. The Village Vanguard of Toronto. Even the great Oscar Peterson played there, plus many many jazz legends. My heart broke when I heard the news in 2006. It still remains irreplaceable.
dave in muskoka / November 13, 2014 at 08:02 am
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you forgot one of the stars of the early punk scene or of the Liberty Village if your not that old to remember punk; The Spadina Hotel
Kat / November 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm
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The Morrissey!
And yes, all of the above :)) it was the best of times.
Kitty / November 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm
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RPM..
Carmelita / November 30, 2014 at 10:21 am
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What about the Tazmanian Ballroom? and also would like to second the Twilight Zone.
Indigo / November 30, 2014 at 10:40 am
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El Macombo!

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