The Best Blues Bars in Toronto
The 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.
Lead photo by swilton in the blogTO Flickr pool
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »