bars Toronto

The top 10 bars for up and coming bands in Toronto

Odds are if you’re a non-touring, fledgling musician without a record deal, you’ve played in some pretty weird places. Coffee shops, churches, sports bars and legion halls don’t even begin to cover it. Here are some places that are actually a joy for up and coming bands to play, and where they even stand a chance of possibly getting a little exposure.

Here are my picks for the top bars for up and coming bands in Toronto.

Dupe Shop

Most of the time this Bloordale spot is a specialty shop for all things analogue, from tapes by local musicians to cassette players and duplication services. Occasionally the area by the front window is transformed into a miniature stage. Acts such as Anamai have played intimate sets here to floor-seated crowds.

Baby G

The same person who brought us the Garrison owns another slightly smaller club on Dundas West. Divided into two halves each with their own bar, this place has a professionally elevated stage and high-grade sound system, and has played host to local rising stars Charlotte Cornfield, Luka, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Thrifty Kids and Cindy Lee.

Smiling Buddha

This two-level bar at College and Dovercourt has been a port in the storm for indie Toronto artists. Even smaller acts can reliably book shows here and actually get decent sound.


A small stage at the back of this narrow Kensington saloon regularly hosts live indie acts. The same crew actually runs Farside in East Chinatown, also worthy of mention as a local up and coming artists’ haven.

Lula Lounge

This lush space on Dundas West hosts a lot of bigger acts and Latin American music, but indie acts such as Deliluh are able to snag spots on a bill here, meaning bands just starting out get a chance to try their hand at playing a bigger stage here.


Operated in part by indie musicians, this Bloordale restaurant hosts live acts in a beautiful space to the side with great sounds, and has always championed newcomers to the Toronto music scene.


This basement bluegrass bar at the corner of Ossington and Dundas has proved a place for young folk and other acts to spread their wings, especially thanks to residency programs that allow bands to improve their chops playing once a week.

The Rex

This jazz bar on Queen West hosts live music every day, so it’s relatively easy for music students to get on bills and get used to playing for an audience.


Garage bands can play the same stage as rock stars such as Stompin’ Tom Connors, The Police, and The Cramps at this unpretentious tavern at Queen and Spadina that’s been around for decades.

The Only

This Danforth Cafe has given plenty of songwriters their soulful start in an unintimidating atmosphere where there’s lots of craft beer on tap to quell those performance jitters.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez at Baby G

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