The Best Jazz Bars in Toronto
Toronto jazz may not have its own distinct sound in the way that New Orleans or Chicago does, but given the city's status as cultural hub and home to an astounding number of ethnic groups, its main distinction is the sheer level of talent, quality and diversity within.
Live jazz in Toronto has changed radically in recent years. When Jazz Report Magazine editor Bill King was asked to name the hottest current jazz clubs in the city for the International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE) in 2003, he picked three: Top O' The Senator, Montreal Bistro and The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar. Today only The Rex is still in business.
But if high-profile, historical jazz clubs have faded in recent years, the wealth of talent in the city has only grown. It seems more than ever clubs are opting for PWYC covers, hole-in-the-wall bars are providing intimate settings, and artists are engaging in spontaneous collaborations. Seems like a pretty exciting creative moment to be in, even if you're just stopping in for a pint.
With some 19 shows a week and relatively cheap entertainment, food and drinks, The Rex may be the most popular jazz bar in Toronto by default, but it's also built its reputation by featuring everything from internationally-renowned artists to up-and-comers like the weekly U of T jazz ensembles. With a sound so loud that it spills out into the street on any given night, it's inescapably magnetic, even if you have trouble finding somewhere to sit. More »
Occupying that cozy space in between local pub and classy piano bar, Gate 403 somehow manages to pull off being the perfect spot for young romantic couples and singles who need to cushion their loneliness with some sultry blues. An intimate setting that favours smaller ensembles, the bar still manages to fit in the coolest grand piano in the whole city. Hands down. More »
It's in a dimly-lit basement, and yet the Reservoir Lounge may just have the brightest atmopshere of any bar on this list. The bands, which tend to lean towards early be-bop, swing and boogie-woogie, are heavy on performance, giving the whole place a martini-glass sexiness that makes it impossible to walk by the stage without shaking your ass. More »
The Dominion used to be a brewery way back in the late 1800's; today they have 15 or so beers on tap and live jazz most nights of the week. The pub has a special kind of community focus with its Corktown Radio project, and frequent open jams. More »
Grossman's is the token poor man's jazz club here. There's never a cover, and there's live music every night. The bar carries high points for authenticity, and not just as a grimy "House of Blues" - Sunday's 5-hour open jam sheds all traces of formality and separation between performer and audience. More »
It started out as one of the many worldwide clubs for Australian and New Zealand culture, but has expanded to be Toronto's premiere centre for avant-garde and fringe music, with drama and other performance art as well. Galleries and studio spaces are great, but most of them don't have this many beers on tap. More »
The jazz is mainly focused on Saturday afternoon matinees, but with its long countertop that wraps around the stage it may be one of the best designed bars in Toronto for watching performers. Originally set up in 1944 to honour the RCAF, its aviation theme is more than just a clever design. More »
Toronto's premiere Latin jazz club, set in the Brazilian Quarters of Dundas West, the Lula Lounge is also one of the best combinations of live club and dancehall as well. The skill on their feet of some of the regulars can make it intimidating for novices, but the club has a dinner and dance lesson package on weekends to coax out your inner rhythm. More »
Located at The Old Mill Inn and Spa, the Home Smith Bar might appeal primarily to people already guests or visitors of the site, but the bar does host some of Toronto's top jazz artists on weekends. The $10+ cover means it's not the cheapest place to catch these artists, but if you like cozy turn-of-the-century decor, it's worth checking out. More »
A fairly new establishment that's gaining a reputation as Toronto's best Tequila Bar, Reposado also has a phenomenal house band that plays twice weekly, adding to the bar's Spanish flavour by throwing flamenco and other styles into their more traditional jazz. The low-lit bar can get a little tight for space, but you can always escape downstairs where the washrooms double as private listening booths. More »
Another up-and-coming restaurant/live club, Harlem is one of the few places devoted to African culture in Toronto in all its forms, from the Jamaican cuisine to live soul, jazz and Motown music and visual art. It's a shame that the elegant design of the main floor doesn't extend to the upstairs where the live music is featured. More »
Featuring amusing quotes from celebrities all over the walls and menus, and located across the street from the Roy Thomson Hall, Quotes Bar & Grill has inherently caught on with Seniors. Jazz is only offered on Friday evenings with the Canadian Jazz Quartet and the food is moderately-priced so it's not the kind of place to drop in casually. More »
With a design like your eccentric aunt's kitchen, Ten Feet Tall has a quirky, cafe vibe that gives it a friendlier atmosphere than most jazz clubs. With lots of light and colour, it's one of the best places here to go for a matinee show, which they feature every Sunday. More »
Jazz is just a small portion of the music featured at The Orbit Room, along with funk, soul, classic rock, reggae and R&B. It's owned by Alex Lifeson of Rush, which explains a lot of the repertoire, as well as the celebrity sitings, on and off the stage. Warning - the music contained within tends to inspire bad dancing. More »