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Best of Toronto

The Best Jazz Bars in Toronto

Posted by Jacob Thompson / June 27, 2014

jazz bars torontoThe best jazz bars in Toronto are home to some of the city's top musicians. While Toronto doesn't have its own distinct jazz sound, the city's venues are home to a plethora of talented emerging artists coming from institutions such as Humber College, York University and the University of Toronto. This new community of artists has reinvigorated jazz in a city where diehards still lament the loss of former staples like Montreal Jazz Bistro and Top O' The Senator. What Toronto lacks in distinctiveness, it gains in diversity; from classical, to funk, to fusion, you won`t be hard pressed to find the subgenre of your choosing in this city.

Here are the best jazz bars in Toronto.

See also: The best blues bars in Toronto

Writing by Jacob Thompson.

The Rex

The Rex

The classic - you knew this was going to be here. The Rex offers a diverse selection of local up-and-coming artists while also having the clout to host Grammy award-winners. Live jazz is played seven days a week, with afternoon shows as well. This, combined with a cool and calm ambience and reasonable cover, has made this Queen St. spot the place to be for over 40 years. More »

Poetry Jazz Cafe

Poetry Jazz Cafe

This Kensington stowaway offers diverse music and some hip décor. Located in a former garage (not the mechanic kind), Poetry Jazz Café aims to bring what they call "young jazz mavericks" to their establishment. You'll see a lot of musicians fresh out of school trying to prove themselves on the circuit. The youthful vibe and the cozy confines gives it a homey feel. Check out their alcoholic rendition of Bitches Brew. More »

Jazz Bistro

Jazz Bistro

The former location of Top O’ the Senator filled its jazz void with this strong up-and-comer. It’s more of a formal bar then what Toronto is used to, but should be more attractive for the city's diehards. Shows run in the evening and its open concept space plays well to the music. Cover is on the pricier side, but you do get a quality night of jazz. More »

Gate 403

Gate 403

Gate 403 in Roncesvalles prides itself on being a local Gastro pub as well as an upscale piano bar. Shows go seven days a week starting at 5pm and typically showcase Canadian talent. Gate 403 is not only a popular date spot - it's also home to Toronto's largest grand piano. More »

The Orbit Room

The Orbit Room

Canadian prog rocker Alex Lifeson opened this bar back in 1994; 20 years later, it still maintains its musical diversity. Located in Little Italy, this bar plays a variety of jazz, blues, funk, R&B, and reggae while priding itself on having its own unique sound and following. The Orbit Room offers live music every day of the week from local Canadian talent. More »

Home Smith Bar

Home Smith Bar

Celebrating its centennial year in 2014, this bar, is located in the confines of the Old Mill luxury hotel and spa in the Humber Valley. They host local and international artists and offer live jazz week-round, starting in the early afternoon. The decor is early twentieth-century with its inauguration date oddly correlating with the beginning of World War I. More »

Grossman's Tavern

Grossman's Tavern

What makes Grossman's so special? For one thing, they've never charged cover in their 66 years of existence. Located in Chinatown, Grossman's offers live music every night while also hosting a five-hour open jam on Sundays for those who wish to try their hand. It may not be as flashy as some of the newer lounges but its old world charm and consistency lands it on the list. More »

N'awlins

N'awlins

If you couldn't tell from the name, this lounge is another in a long list of bars that have attempted to capture that New Orleans feel. Perfect for small parties, the King Street lounge offers live music every night until 1am. Come for the jazz, stay for the Cajun food, although get ready to open your wallet. More »

The Reservoir Lounge

The Reservoir Lounge

The Reservoir Lounge is located on Wellington, just across the street from the Flatiron Building. Its basement location makes for a more intimate night out, which bodes well for the crowd that comes to dance. The Reservoir Lounge guarantees an energetic night out full of be-bop and martini-swirling. More »

Discussion

16 Comments

horsepower / June 27, 2014 at 03:08 pm
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if it were still open, I'm sure Trane Studio would be amongst the top, if not the top venue.
Water into beer / June 27, 2014 at 04:52 pm
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Sad. Toronto used to be on par with many of the great Jazz cities, but that's no longer the case. The Colonial, Errols, George's Spaghetti House, Chicken Deli South, the Montreal..etc.
These current venues are bush league compared the the jazz scene here a few decades ago.
Garneau / June 27, 2014 at 09:24 pm
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Trane could've been awesome, but the business model required selling $46.00 entrees to a packed house that has paid cover and intends to drink four drinks.
Obvious Miss / June 27, 2014 at 11:19 pm
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Erm, the Hughs Room?
Jeff / June 28, 2014 at 08:15 am
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Don't forget C'est What? Love the Hot 5 Jazz Makers on a Saturday afternoon.
Liam / June 28, 2014 at 11:38 am
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I wouldn't say Hugh's Room is a jazz bar, Obvious Miss. It's the best folk venue in the city though, imo. But what is missing here right now is the Emmet Ray and the Tranzac. A lot of my friends play shows frequently at those two venues.
Kelly / July 2, 2014 at 10:45 am
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The Rex is a treasure. An unpretentious family business, friendly, inexpensive, and very welcoming. Got to be the cheapest meals and drinks on Queen -- not fancy but just fine. It deserves more love.
Jeremy McNeil / July 4, 2014 at 07:18 am
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Im sorry but the Rex club is one that I'm going to keep off my list of clubs to visit. I inquired about an event that they posted on their website three times and also found independent sites staying that the event in question was indeed going on
jeremy mcneil / July 4, 2014 at 07:22 am
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Only to find out the day of that it was a different performer with the sane name. I organized a group from out of town to go and had to break the news to a lot of disappointed people. When I finally got a reply from Tom the guy who books the acts he told me to get a life after a few other choice words. I'm sorry but I figure a more professional reply would be giVen and will be continuing to spread the word of this man as he is representing this club poorly.
Sean replying to a comment from horsepower / July 4, 2014 at 02:22 pm
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Yes you are correct, Trane Studio was a heavy spot which i used to hit quite often. Owner Frank was on point and the space was real...
Sean, Owner Poetry* Jazz Cafe
Sean replying to a comment from Water into beer / July 4, 2014 at 03:20 pm
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The scene now isn’t sad, you are! Come out from your dusty victorian bungalow and look around, the landscape, faces, attitudes and yes the music have shifted. One cannot drive forward or get to any destination by constantly looking in the rear view mirror, we would crash.

The city is steaming with young, hungry artists, musicians and writers, knocking on old doors, wanting you to open your mind and listen and not judge. Step out of the way and allow these new brave, mavericks to experiment by jumping without safety nets musically.

The good old boys clubs and country clubs and jazz clubs only trace of diversity were on the stage and back in the kitchen, while the owners spent weekends at their cottages listening to Sonny and Cher.

If jazz is to experience a rebirth and new enlightenment; you have relinquish your colonial grip and provide the space and means for the young to think and play and write and move.

A few decades ago died a few decades ago!

Sean, Owner Poetry Jazz Café.
Daniel Barnes / July 4, 2014 at 09:20 pm
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I agree that the scene today pales in comparison to the 1970's and before. I was under 10 yrs old watching big jazz names at the colonial. Anyhow, the Rex, it is unique and useful, gotta get used to the mixed crowd of listeners and non, I say this as someone who experiences these spots from the stage, I like the owner too, but one has to wonder about a business model that sees him selling 3 million $'s in beer per year while the musicians pass the tip jar to top up their measly garauntee.
Gate 403?! Comon, they pay the acts sh*t and treat them that way too, it's a hole.
The Orbit room programs only about %10 jazz, it's not a jazz room,
Gross mans!?, please
I too loved the Trane
The Jazz Bistro is a real jazz spot, just on the high end, and Holmes Smith bar is crusty but has some acts.
I look forward to checking out the poetry jazz cafe
Victoria / July 7, 2014 at 12:06 am
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While I wouldn't consider this a jazz bar I will say that on Sunday afternoon/evenings I have been hearing beautiful jazz come out of the Paradise on the Danforth near Donlands. Just incredible to listen to. Just moved there and haven't been able to go inside due to babysitting needs but lie on my bed and listen to exquisite playing.
Sean replying to a comment from Daniel Barnes / July 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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a double bourbon on the rocks on the house, thanks for your intuitive perspective on the state of this jazz thang' today in Toronto... See you soon my man.

Sean @ Poetry
darnit / July 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm
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I agree with Liam that the Tranzac and Emmet Ray should definitely be on the list. In terms of the quality of the jazz acts they get, I'd rank them higher than almost all of the clubs listed here. The Tranzac also has a tradition of booking acts that do edgier, freer jazz, and so isn't as stuffy as the Bistro or the 403.
DaddyCombs / August 15, 2014 at 01:54 am
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Ciao al tutti,

Well, as a man whose father played in college with the Adderly brothers, I grew up listening to jazz. While jazz today has many varied forms (straight ahead, fusion,etc.) good live music is good live music (I'm a former trumpet player). That being said, I look forward to hearing some great live music Aug. 28th thru Sept. 4th, while I visit Toronto...see y'all soon!

Ciao,

R...

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