This under the radar Mexican restaurant is a hidden gem for live music
Discover a hidden gem in the Junction when you first walk into La Rev, a warm and cozy Mexican restaurant which doubles as one of the last remaining live music venues to own and tune an acoustic piano.
Owner-operator Indira Nanavati is a classically trained pianist who initially opened the venue a decade ago with her high school friend, a cook, although the partnership ultimately did not last long. Nanavati explains:
One day my friend broke down and said he couldn't do this – so he left me on the spot, on a stressful Saturday night, and I had that moment when I asked myself could I do this by myself?
It was scary but I got on Craigslist and found a new chef, and 10 days later I was open. It has been like that since then.
For me the kitchen part has always been a partnership – I have always needed that support in the kitchen so that I could focus on what I wanted to do which is live music, whether I am booking it, playing or just listening as I work.
While the live music is central to La Rev, their Mexican "comida casera" – homestyle cooking – is popular both in the Junction and beyond thanks to delivery apps.
"Our kitchen staff is from different regions of Mexico so it's nice to get different flavours that way," says Nanvati. "Although the menu changes you can always count on freshness, a mix of street food and since I’m from Acapulco we do a lot of seafood as well."
Before opening La Rev, Nanavati was a server at nearby Axis Gallery & Grill where she first encountered blues musician Julian Fauth, a JUNO-winning Toronto gem known for his soulful pipes, haunting songs and old-time piano stylings. Recounts Nanavati:
Julian was playing at Axis on Saturdays and Sundays – he was my connection to all the jazz and blues artists that I love now. Before then I was all about classical music…I guess that because I am from the classical world, I always make sure that the piano is tuned and sounding good.
Julian, being a honky tonk blues player, has played in some dives and didn’t always play the best pianos, especially before his JUNO win. Some of his fans told me 'Wow Julian has gotten so much better' and I said 'No he just has a nice space now, a nice piano to play on.'
It is a pleasure to give him this space to play, and others form our community.
For a few years now we also have resident jazz pianist on Peter Hill, he works with so many singers around town but in this duo series he plays instrumental with special guests like Bill McBirnie, Reg Schwager, Alison Young and the list goes on.
In the true spirit of inclusivity there's not usually a cover charge at the door – but musicians are compensated by the house and a tip jar invites the audience to show appreciation.
A new event which is a huge hit is a Monday night jazz jam led by trumpet Brownman Ali featuring an impressive array of Gen Z jazz talents. For Nanavati as a booker it has always been important to nurture young talents.
"Initially when I started I didn't have many connections to musicians in Toronto, so I reached out to a lot of Humber students," expains Nanavati. "It [has been] really nice to see them grow and evolve, and to be able to provide a space for people to be creative without any judgment."
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