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Best of Toronto

The Best Live Music Venues in Toronto

Posted by Aubrey Jax / October 9, 2013

live music venues torontoThe best live music venues in Toronto dot the city, representing the diversity which makes Toronto music fans so damn lucky: we can see huge international talents any night of the week in a wide array of non-stadium venues, and up-and-coming local acts have countless options to cut their teeth in. While Sneaky Dees, The Rex, the freshly reopened El Mocambo, The Rivoli, and Lula Lounge all remain iconic figures in Toronto's music scene, and smaller venues like Double Double Land, The Shop Under Parts & Labour, and the Tranzac are dear to the hearts of Toronto's underground, these are the live music venues the city is feeling the most love for right now.

Here are the best live music venues in Toronto.

See also:

The top 10 east end live music venues in Toronto
The top 10 outdoor concert venues in Toronto
The top 5 venues for hip hop in Toronto
The top 5 nightclubs for EDM in Toronto
5 underrated live music venues in Toronto

Dakota Tavern

Dakota Tavern

Located just north of Ossington and Dundas, the Dakota Tavern’s saloon-style decor and western atmosphere make it the favourite haunt of Toronto's whiskey-drinking, plaid sleeve-rolling, cowboy boot-collecting crowd. Country, blues, and rock are the mainstays of its intimate corner stage. More »

The Horseshoe

The Horseshoe

You have to walk through an alarmingly narrow bar to enter the rear venue, but Toronto music fans are just nuts about The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. For over 60 years, the rustic yet solid stage has supported bands like The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, and countless international and local rock acts. More »

Lee's Palace

Lee's Palace

With its iconic mural repainted in 2010, Lee's Palace is a memory box for many fans of indie and rock. What the Annex venue lacks in lighting and general pizazz, it makes up for with its gritty charms and ongoing history of booking some of the most iconic midsize acts who come through Toronto. More »

Massey Hall

Massey Hall

One of Toronto's oldest live venues, Massey Hall is still a mainstay of the Toronto music scene. Fans rejoice when they see that a favourite hot ticket and/or rising act is playing the elegant, acoustically rich auditorium rather than the ACC. Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins, Sonic Youth and countless other icons have graced its stage. More »

The Opera House

The Opera House

This midsize venue in Riverside hosts everything from pop acts to metal shows. Some concertgoers are at odds about just how good the sound is (it may depend on the night or the band), but no one denies it offers a unique experience and good sight lines for hot ticket names in a gorgeous space. More »

The Mod Club

The Mod Club

Mid-sized Little Italy institution the Mod Club hosts touring acts and local gigs of a wide range of genres from rock and indie to hip hop and electronic. Their stage is outfitted for professional lightshows while still offering a more intimate experience than an arena gig. Plus, more often than not, the dance floor is bumping. More »

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

The Great Hall is a West Queen West venue with swanky stage curtains, a decadent balcony and a reputation for being a sweat box in the summertime. The venue hosts an eclectic array of indie acts both touring and local. Basement venue BLK BOX (aka Black Box Theatre) has become a favourite for electronic fans. More »

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

Warehouse sized and offering two floors and multiple bars, The Phoenix ranks as one of the city's best mid-sized venues. Just east of downtown, it's one of those spots where almost every Torontonian has caught a favourite band (or a dozen), and for a venue of this size it offers plenty of character and surprising intimacy. More »

Drake Underground

Drake Underground

This smallish bar/venue is located in the basement of The Drake Hotel, and while they don't always promote heavily and drinks are on the expensive side, the subterranean venue is beloved by many for the intimate opportunities it offers to see genre-spanning artists and DJs on its red curtained stage. More »

Kool Haus

Kool Haus

The downtown Guvernment club complex is also home to the Kool Haus, which can be rented for private events, parties, and fundraisers, but also regularly features some of the best touring acts who come through Toronto such as Janelle Monae, My Morning Jacket, Miguel, and Cat Power. More »

Hugh's Room

Hugh's Room

Folk and roots fans know they have a friend in Hugh’s Room, which since 2001 has brought an intimate, cozy vibe to north Roncesvalles. Folk fans can grab a bite to eat from the restaurant and chill out in the west end venue while enjoying folk acts such as Old Man Luedecke. More »

Wrongbar

Wrongbar

This modish Parkdale bar and venue has quickly amassed devoted fans, functioning as a catch-all for everything from electronic and hip hop to post punk and garage rock, but specializing in contemporary sound. Dance parties, hyped up local acts, and touring artists of countless genres find a temporary home here. More »

The Garrison

The Garrison

Relaxed, dark, and offering cheap eats in the front room, The Garrison is a necessity for many up-and-coming Toronto bands. Hosting everything from touring indie acts to local book launches, their open mindedness helps Toronto's noisier, weirder underground scene to find an audience. More »

Adelaide Hall

Adelaide Hall

Adelaide Hall seems to capture the heart of any music lover who enters it. A new figure in Toronto's live music scene, it offers coveted second floor balcony sight lines, a convenient downtown location and a rooftop bar. For now Adelaide Hall seems to be sticking to a curated mix of local and international indie artists. More »

The Music Gallery

The Music Gallery

Tucked away in a modest yet lovely downtown church, The Music Gallery is a treasure of the Toronto music scene. Acoustics are great, minds are open, and the vibe is relaxed (drinks in the courtyard!) yet reverent to the art. They also host Toronto's annual X Avant New Music Festival. More »

Discussion

42 Comments

kb / October 9, 2013 at 03:16 pm
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There is nothing really that great about the Dakota. If I hang up antlers and christmas lights in my living room will it be the number one venue in Toronto?
ChaCha / October 9, 2013 at 03:28 pm
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Listen your methodology is flawed because at _______ the sound system really sucks and once someone puked on my shoes there.
Dogtag / October 9, 2013 at 03:48 pm
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I don't see what's so damn special about the Dakota. Sure it's fun, but it's just a basement where they jam musicians in a corner. The sound isn't great, the views aren't great, I just don't understand how this was voted #! other than it's a trendy Ossington place to get brunch.

Also, Hool Haus, to me, is the absolute worst. It's just a gigantic warehouse where you're smashed in like sardines. Good luck seeing anything, or getting a drink.
the glue / October 9, 2013 at 03:50 pm
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Can we at least agree that The Sound Academy is the worst venue in the city?

Beyond horrible sound, hard to get to, terrible sight lines.
theres nothing else of consequence / October 9, 2013 at 04:07 pm
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This should really be called a list of "The Only Live Music Venues".
Agreed replying to a comment from the glue / October 9, 2013 at 04:45 pm
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I couldn't agree more. That place is a fucking nightmare. If my favourite band of all time was playing there, I would actually consider not going cause I hate it so much.
sw / October 9, 2013 at 05:05 pm
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Wrongbar is a horrific venue. I saw alt-j there a while ago and the sound was terrible, you couldn't see anything if you were right up front.. If you're in the back, you feel like you're in another room.

Danforth Music Hall should be on this list. The slanted floor makes it so everyone in the room has a great vantage point and they book sweet bands there.
sw / October 9, 2013 at 05:05 pm
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*couldn't see anything UNLESS you were right up front.
gr1 replying to a comment from sw / October 9, 2013 at 05:27 pm
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HOW DO I MOVE THROUGH A CROWD?! THIS VENUE SUCKS.
Rmund / October 9, 2013 at 05:30 pm
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I don't really like Hugh's Room. Unless you get a table to watch the show from, you're stranded in a no man's land of staff and other patrons walking around way back from the stage, and thereby you can't really sit down anywhere else, because there isn't a proper bar to sit at. And if that's the case, your sight lines are kinda fecked for the show anyway.

As for the Dakota, it may not have the best sight lines, but the general vibe of the place is a lot of fun, the musicians they book are good, and even if it's crowded, you feel like you're in the midst of the action. Not to mention it's wayyyyy cheaper than Hugh's Room as far as admission prices, though admittedly smaller. Even so, better times are to be had at the Dakota.
nancyknickers replying to a comment from the glue / October 9, 2013 at 05:36 pm
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I completely agree. Saw one show there and decided to never see another, no matter who it is.
sw replying to a comment from gr1 / October 9, 2013 at 06:02 pm
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Are you that dumb? Have you ever been to Wrongbar for a show? Good luck getting through the crowd without a slew of choice words or an elbow in the face thrown your way. But all the power to you, asshole.
dc / October 9, 2013 at 07:36 pm
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Well if you're including Kool Haus and The Phoenix, why not throw in Molson Amphitheatre too?
Chris / October 9, 2013 at 07:38 pm
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How Opera House is even on this list (let alone #5) and Danforth Music Hall isn't, I don't understand. Especially since they're both comparable in size.

The Opera House sounds like utter garbage, the staff are miserable, and the security are a bunch of cocks.

The Danforth Music Halls wins in all of those categories, plus as a convenient slanted floor, which makes the whole place a great spot to stand. Not sure what you guys were thinking when you made these rankings.
Arthur / October 9, 2013 at 07:52 pm
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You guys should check out Dazzling Lounge on Thursdays on the 2nd floor. They always have a live band, djs and some of Toronto's best r&b and soul singers. It's been running for almost 5 years now. Very dope and underrated.

https://www.facebook.com/LiiveThursdays
loodle / October 9, 2013 at 08:25 pm
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seriously what about The Danforth Music Hall? It's conveniently located, acoustics are decent and I can see even if I'm sitting in the very back row of the balcony.
Ricky Ticky / October 9, 2013 at 08:43 pm
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The absence of the Danforth Music Hall on this list makes me think Blog TO, or the writer has a personal thing against the venue. It's a fantastic spot and I bet most people in the city agree.
Aubrey replying to a comment from Ricky Ticky / October 9, 2013 at 08:59 pm
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Hi Ricky, this list was voted by the readers of blogTO, so your conspiracy lies with them...
evan / October 9, 2013 at 09:03 pm
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Danforth Music Hall is an echo box. The Phoenix is a better rock venue than Lee's IMO. I'll never forgive Sound Academy for literally ruining concerts. BLK BOX by the Wrongbar guys is something really special. I'm very excited to hear Adelaide Music Hall on Friday. Drake Underground and Sneaky D's upstairs have housed some of my favourite shows ever but aren't super special themselves. Echo Beach is actually great, both Sigur Ros and Bjork sounded great there. Finally, Dakota number 1? wtf?
juepucta / October 9, 2013 at 09:16 pm
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Only the Docks (under whatever name it tries to sell itself these days) sucks harder than the Kool House.
H / October 9, 2013 at 10:41 pm
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Queen Elizabeth theatre at the Ex Grounds. Saw Patrick Watson there and it was amazing. Totally under utilized. I stopped going to the Sound Academy - despite some great bands. I got sick of crappy sound and sight lines and drunks talking through entire sets in the back. I'd stand in front but I don't want to pay to be crushed by the sweaty masses. I think I'm getting to old for that. :P Danforth Music hall is great. TOTALLY run down but great.
Andrew / October 9, 2013 at 11:53 pm
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issues with lots of these, but for the most part they have the bases covered- except in THE MOST IMPORTANT DETAIL OF ALL!!!

The curtain at the Drake is mustard yellow, not red.
Yvonne / October 10, 2013 at 02:07 am
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where's Sound Academy??? best venue in Toronto EVER!!!! of course I am being sarcastic bitches!!! Yvonne hates the F'ing Sound Academy!!! The dock is the worst. Put an open air concert outside of T&T will be better than the stupid dock.
Yvonne / October 10, 2013 at 02:09 am
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and what about Air Canada Centre????? BEST EVER!!!!! and Skydome!!!!
Brandon / October 10, 2013 at 09:26 am
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I've seen many a show at Opera House, and I can say that, either due to the system or the techs, that it consistently has pretty poor sound. Especially considering how good the acoustics should be in a place like that. Most consistent would be either Lee's Palace or Warehouse.
Ashley / October 10, 2013 at 10:40 am
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I went to Adelaide Hall for the first time for this years Festival Music House and fell in love with it. The sound was great, turnover between all the bands was quick and smooth and the staff were very friendly. Love the 2 stories, too. Look forward to future shows there.
Shoop Shoop / October 10, 2013 at 11:04 am
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Sound at the Great Hall is the fucking WORST. they need to move the funktion 1 from blk box upstairs, or SOMETHING to fix it.

The opera house could be a really nice place if they spent a dime to avoid it looking like the dump it does.

smc replying to a comment from sw / October 10, 2013 at 01:52 pm
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The sound was terrible at the Alt-J show because Alt-J are terrible. Nothing to do with the venue. I've seen a number of shows there (Tanlines, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, etc.) and there's nothing wrong with the sound.
El Ombre / October 10, 2013 at 03:07 pm
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I would be remiss if I didn't mention The Rockpile. They've been having some flashback bands the last few years. Swollen Members, Quiet Riot, etc.
Chris / October 10, 2013 at 03:49 pm
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all the trash talk about the sound academy..have you been there in the last couple years since they got a new sound system? I agree it sounded horrible but since much improved! location still sucks.
Danforth for sure should be on the list, and have had awesome shows this year!
Audio Blood / October 10, 2013 at 04:12 pm
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Not sure we can pick a fav, but interested in hearing about what's yours!
Toronto Wedding / October 12, 2013 at 02:24 am
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If you are planning a Toronto wedding, Toronto wedding venues and Venues in Toronto we’ll make your dream wedding come true and make your d-day memorable.
J / October 12, 2013 at 08:06 am
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RE: Rockpile. I think the Concert Hall/Masonic Temple was one of the best venues in the city for numerous reasons such as acoustics, location, and venue size and general design.

This building was recently purchased in the summer, I hope it becomes a regular mid-sized venue again. Up until recently it was threatened with a wrecking ball. I hope the building is saved from future builders and forever preserved on the corner of Yonge/Davenport.
J / October 12, 2013 at 08:09 am
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I forgot to add, concerts at Masonic Temple rarely exceeded $20, and some of those that did creep into the $25-30 range included up to 3-4 great bands on a single night.
billy dan / October 14, 2013 at 06:27 pm
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Sound Academy is the worst in the city, by far. Danforth is good and could have been included. Dakota is great for vibe, feeling close to the bands, and excellent curation.

Mr/Ms "nothing else of consequence" there are a ton of venues, some decent some not, that aren't on this list.

Pretty good: Piston, Gladstone, Silver Dollar, Rivoli
Meh: Handlebar, The Boat, Sneaky Dee's, Izakaya, Holy Oak, Callilac Lounge, El Mocambo
Shitty: Rancho Relaxo, Smiling Buddha

And even that's far from comprehensive.
mar / October 14, 2013 at 06:45 pm
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wow. how is danforth music hall not on this list? disqualified!!!!

Also I have never heard a single person in this city say anything about sound academy other than that it is the absolute worst
Andrew replying to a comment from kb / November 1, 2013 at 02:42 pm
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lol.
cody / November 25, 2013 at 02:10 am
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i really think hoxton should be considered a lot of big shows and great sound systems cheap ticket prices
Timothy Wilson / January 24, 2014 at 12:13 am
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The Orbit Room never makes these lists. For 19 years we've been keeping people dancing and having fun. No pretense, the best musicians and great times. Maybe we don't need to make these lists.
Sketch Williams / February 24, 2014 at 07:38 am
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Hey Guys read through the list and comments, I'm brand new to Toronto from winnipeg and would be super pumped, if, aside from what places have been mentioned, as I'm going to check out these places regardless, there were any other LIVE venues I should check out.

any comments would be appreciated
Cheers :)
Dougall / May 2, 2014 at 01:02 pm
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What about Rancho Relaxo? It's actually got an amazing sound, it's a narrow hall so even 20 people makes it feel packed when the artist looks out into the crowd, and it's got a great cheap drink selection with every classic VHS to boot.

It's definitely one of my tops for Toronto.
Jeff / June 9, 2014 at 01:01 am
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I am the new booking agent at The newly renovated "The Duke" it was a traditional Toronto landmark that lost its way...It has now had a culture change and look forward to bringing Toronto some of the best that our music scene has to offer.
We are at our 13th show, so stay tuned!

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