bars bands Toronto

The top 10 bars for up and coming bands in Toronto

If you want to discover the next big band in Toronto, there's no better time to do it than in the fall. Lots of fresh-faced, idealistic undergrads are back in town and looking to achieve dreams of stardom (i.e. getting their newly formed band on a stage... any stage) in between rigorous school schedules. But with so many clubs touting live music every night of the week, where does one go find these diamond-in-the-rough, musical icons of tomorrow?

The following bars are the best at helping inexperienced bands get their foot in the door. While the venues (and spotlights) aren't huge, they're usually popular, wallet-friendly hangouts that draw audiences regardless of who's on the bill. It's a good setup for artists that haven't built a fanbase yet, and patrons who love new music but don't want to risk spending a lot to see someone who, uh, might need a few more guitar lessons before hitting the big time.

While the likes of the Dakota, the Garrison, the Drake, the Bovine,, Hugh's, Lula, Silver Dollar, and many more (whoah, this city) are also favourite haunts of ours for watching new talent grow, here are 10 of the best bars in Toronto for finding up and coming bands. RIP, El Mocambo.

Cameron House
One of the oldest and best-preserved elements of Queen West culture, the Cameron House has always fostered new musical talent and provided slots for Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies and Ron Sexsmith before they were famous. The front room tends to feature established acts and artists in residence, but the back room is more free range and open to any genre. Bonus: the two-stage setup allows escape to greener musical pastures if one of the bands isn't sounding so hot.

Rancho Relaxo
This Tex-Mex resto and live music lounge is a staple for the college crowd. Bookings are almost exclusively for small, local acts, indiscriminate of experience, connections or genre - the typical weeknight upstairs could offer anything from folk songs to metalcore. It's close to lots of Kensington Market and College Street watering holes, too, so it's a convenient stop to make during a night out in the neighbourhood.

Smiling Buddha
Further west on the College Street strip, this unassuming kitchy-deco dive has honed a reputation for showcasing Toronto's future indie elite. Promoter Mark Pesci, who has built a solid resume uncovering great punk, noise and garage bands, takes care of programming for the bar, which often offers two shows at a time in the main room and the basement (you probably won't pay more than $10 at the door for either of them). Recent notable names on their stage include Metz and Greys.

A non-profit community space focused on the arts, The Tranzac is an ideal place for student bands setting up a show for the first time. Since it's located in the heart of the student-occupied Annex, a reliable stream of twenty-somethings frequent the bar for an affordable and fun night out. Head over if you're in the mood for mellow vibes along the lines of folk, blues, country and jazz (though the Tiki Lounge is known to get experimental).

Velvet Underground
Though its goth-club heyday is long gone, the Velvet Underground continues to be a steady base for anything that fits under the alt-rock umbrella. In between DJ nights, the venue books new and relatively unknown local talent for live shows with cheap or no cover to get in. The bar is one of the more spacious ones on this list with a large floor that's perfect for more danceable stuff. Plus: the Velvet Underground held the CD release party for Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. If that doesn't cement it's musical legacy for you, I don't know what will.

Placebo Space
Located in Etobicoke, Placebo Space is just a short trip from Humber's Lakeshore campus and is the best place to hear the music students showcase their skills live. Owner Yunior Marino designed the venue as an inclusive place for new artists of all genres to try out their ideas in a welcoming environment, which is reflected in the unique art installations that adorn the rooms. As a result, expect to hear a lot of stuff you wouldn't normally get at more well-known and central Toronto bars, such as experimental, jazz, and world tunes.

Clinton's Tavern
This historic Bloor Street tavern is known for dance parties now, but has also hosted many early-career shows for Toronto bands that are famous today. The Cowboy Junkies, Jeff Healey and Barenaked Ladies all played on Clinton's back-room stage when they were just beginning their path to fame, and the bar continues to offer that opportunity to emerging artists now with a beautiful bar and killer sound.

The Sister
Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, The Sister in Parkdale dedicates its small stage to as many live bands as it can handle. The room's warm and more sophisticated decor, with lots of leather booths and dining tables for seating, make it a nice place to sit back and relax with live music for an evening. Having craft beer, an amped-up menu and renovated patio available certainly don't hurt, either.

Cherry Colas Rock & Rolla Cabaret Lounge
Since Tattoo rebranded and started to shed rock bookings, Cherry Colas seems to have picked up the mantle, with local bands that fall into more mainstream or hard-rock territory moving in, surely in part to soak up any remnants of Josh Homme and co.'s rockstar aura (exclusive gigs for Them Crooked Vultures and Eagles of Death Metal took place here). The red velvet couches and pinup-esque bartenders make for a decadent night out, and their Indie Week inclusion means many more upstarts will debut here this month.

The Rockpile East/The Rockpile West
I won't blame you if you think of the Rockpiles as places where bands end up instead of get started; notable headliners recently have been The Misfits, Anvil, and Vixen (if those don't sound familiar: congrats, you youngster). However, two important things to keep in mind about this bar-duo: firstly, they're both stewarded by Dominic Chiarmonte, former owner of The Big Bop. Secondly, Toronto's metal pioneers have historically come from outside the downtown core - hoody-adorned scenes in Scarborough and Etobicoke are more likely to give rise to new great heavy bands.


Horseshoe Tavern
As one of the oldest and most famous rock institutions, the Horseshoe does tend to book big established acts more often than not. But for years, it's also stayed committed to featuring young independent bands at least once or twice a week with Shoeless Mondays and Dave Bookman's Nu Music Tuesdays (the latter of which has seen the local debuts of Tracy Chapman and Everclear). Cover is free for these nights, and the venue always helps the bands out promotion-wise by sending listings to all local media outlets.

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