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Best of Toronto

The Best Blues Bars in Toronto

Posted by Rick McGinnis / March 30, 2012

Blues in TorontoThe best blues bars in Toronto have come a long way from the tavern back rooms and down-at-heels cocktail bars where the blues were played here a couple of decades ago. The Albert Hall at the Brunswick House was the archetype of this period, but it's long gone, and something's changed in the meantime.

Where once you might have seen old hippies playing Muddy Waters tunes at full volume in between cherished appearances by ancient blues legends, the Toronto blues scene has become a fully vested part of our jazz scene, and has benefitted from an influx of young musicians in the process. The clubs are also a lot more friendly to musicians, many of them run by players, with an obvious passion for the music and adventurous booking policies. You're a lot less likely to hear blaring versions of "Mannish Boy" these days, and a lot more likely to tuck into a decent dish of blackened fish with your blues.

See also:

The Best Live Music Venues in Toronto
The Best Jazz Bars in Toronto

Lead photo by swilton in the blogTO Flickr pool

The Rex

The Rex

The father and son team of Bob and Avi Ross have overseen the transformation of the Rex from a dive bar in a fleabag hotel into the city’s most popular jazz room in a boutique hotel with hardly anybody noticing. The blues here has a jazzy tinge, not surprising as the two genres have been merging slowly over the decades, but the crowd is avid and the room pleasantly retro with just enough updating to make it comfortable. More »

Hugh's Room

Hugh's Room

Named in memory of owner Richard Carson’s brother, this Roncesvalles Village landmark began life as a folk venue but has become home to blues and jazz as well as hosting private events. It’s a dignified space with an adult vibe, and a menu to match – a place where you might allow yourself to feel blue but not necessarily hungry. More »

The Silver Dollar

The Silver Dollar

A gritty showroom in a dodgy hotel, the Dollar is packed with the priceless retro feel that you can’t buy. Open since the ‘50s, it did some time hosting underground rock in the ‘80s before transforming itself into a blues heavy club that also books indie acts. Squint and you can imagine yourself in a South Side Chicago club back when cars still had tail fins. More »

Grossman's Tavern

Grossman's Tavern

The granddaddy of Toronto blues rooms, this cheerfully shabby club has been hosting music on Spadina near Kensington Market for 59 years. No frills and attitude free, it’s the hub of a community of bands and regulars that glory in its democratic and proletarian atmosphere. More »

The Reservoir Lounge

The Reservoir Lounge

This downtown east of Yonge nightspot features a conspicuously youthful group of regular performers, and boasts openly of its star-studded informal after-hours jam sessions. The website advertises "swing, Jump Blues and Boogie Woogie,” while the club hosts a crowd of conspicuously well-heeled young fogeys in a space that’s seen a succession of musical tenants over the decades. More »

Dominion on Queen

Dominion on Queen

Named for the brewery that once operated just a few doors away, this onetime hotel and tavern is now home to a self-proclaimed “beer parlour” that features jazz and blues as well as the odd comedy booking. The room is a faint echo of Albert’s Hall, though the beer selection is much better, and summer sees a weekly “Saturday Night Fish Fry” blue night. On a game night, you can check on the latest scores on the big screens in the adjacent Davies Room. More »

Gate 403

Gate 403

Roncesvalles Village is not only one of the city’s breeder havens, it’s also home to a conspicuous number of local musicians, many of whom can be found playing blues or jazz at this eatery just across from the venerable Revue Cinema. The food is good, the piano is well-tuned, and the blues is either jazzy or on just after a bluegrass duo. More »

Poetry Jazz Cafe

Poetry Jazz Cafe

The name evokes the Beat era, but don’t be fooled - this forward-thinking Kensington bar will more likely feature young musicians playing “a blues” than “the blues,” or perhaps playing an old blues track on vinyl nights. The crowd is young, and things can get boisterous on summer nights thanks to the popular patio. More »

Discussion

18 Comments

alan / March 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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although i have not been for years, the black swan on the danforth was always about the blues...is it gone onto something else?
alan / March 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm
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i'm showing my age and the last time i was a blues bar but is healey's closed?
wenix replying to a comment from alan / March 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm
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Black Swan is still around but its a skid bar now. Healy's closed shortly after he died... I think Bisha Condo is going up in its place.
Chester Pape / March 30, 2012 at 01:15 pm
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Although the ground level room at the Brunny has pretty much always been a student infested rathole Albert's Hall at it's peak was actually a pretty good room. In the eighties they regularly brought in the heavyweights from Chicago which is not really something that happens at all now (except possibly at the Silver Dollar, I have to admit I don't keep up any more)
Mikeee / March 30, 2012 at 02:11 pm
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The Monarch Tavern reno'd recently and have great live jazz on Wednesday's. I think they should book som blues too.
derek andrews / March 31, 2012 at 09:17 am
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Nice summary Rick. Readers can find a more comprehensive body of info weekly if you subscribe to the Toronto Blues Society's email broadcast Where It's At. You will see that the Gladstone Hotel Melody Room, Monarchs Pub (Delta Chelsea Hotel), Joe Mamas, Cadillac, Highway 61, Hollywood on the Queensway and Dakota Tavern (sic) are also active regularly. There are 43 steady blues sessions in the Maple Blues newsletter listings. The TBS also has a helpful web site, monthly newsletter and produces events like the Women's Blues Revue and Maple Blues Awards. I booked the heavyweights downstairs at the Brunswick (Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Neville Brothers) and indeed it was a moment in time. But live blues is very alive, including Muddy Waters cover tunes!
David replying to a comment from alan / March 31, 2012 at 04:37 pm
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Yes, Healey's closed shortly after Jeff passed away...unfortunate on both counts. :(
Jordan Safer / April 2, 2012 at 02:52 pm
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Monarchs Pub at The Delta Chelsea runs a free blues series every Thursday, the Gladstone Hotel Melody Bar has been running a free first Thursday of the month blues series since Sept 2010, Dominion on Queen has just announced their blues series, and as Derek mentioned there is plenty more happening in the blues scene that can be found at www.torontobluessociety.com. While the veterans are still playing a ton in Toronto, there are also lots of younger musicians pushing the boundaries of traditional blues.
Stephen Wickens / April 14, 2012 at 09:43 am
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Monarch's is often good on Thursdays. I'm surprised you didn't include Highway 61 on Bayview.
Cosplay / September 26, 2012 at 09:55 am
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The Monarch Tavern reno'd recently and have great live jazz on Wednesday's. I think they should book som blues too.
Cosplay / September 26, 2012 at 10:01 am
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The Monarch Tavern reno'd recently and have great live jazz on Wednesday's. I think they should book som blues too.
Steven / January 12, 2013 at 05:17 pm
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Jeff Buckley played there on the 28 & 29 of June, 1994. If only I were a few years older, at the time...
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Yes, Healey's closed shortly after Jeff passed away...unfortunate on both counts.
jun / January 29, 2013 at 09:47 pm
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very good,thank you.
Jasa Import Barang / March 23, 2013 at 03:27 am
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forex / March 23, 2013 at 10:10 am
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fashionbags / April 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm
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Toronto Blue scene has become part of a fully vested
gar mason / February 7, 2014 at 01:27 pm
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Please don't forget ROC'N'DOCS in Port Credit, long time supporter of the blues. Live music seven days a week, twice on Sundays, great food, short walk south from Port Credit Go Traim

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