sauce on the danforth

This Toronto bar designed to feel like a living room has the most intimate concerts

Described as a Victorian-Goth Bordello-Chic Lounge, it's safe to say there's nothing quite like Sauce on the Danforth in Toronto, and live music is a huge part of this equation.

It also feels more like a living room than a lounge, in the most friendly and inviting way. Nearly a decade ago, Michelle Belisle and Johnny Lucier brought their dream to life, inspired by their frequent vacationing in Louisiana.

"We use to frequent New Orleans on a regular basis which had a huge influence when deciding on a concept for Sauce," says Belisle, who is affectionately known as Mitzy. "While we love large concerts we are bigger fans of smaller venues, and in a sense we were trying to bring a piece of NOLA back to TO with us."

To create the effect of a warm living room with a cozy feel, the owners "emptied [their] living room" for the furniture and decor at Sauce. They painted the walls the same colour as their home, collected mirrors and paintings from second-hand shops and invited friends to donate items to round out the collection.

When Sauce arrived it wasn’t long before it made a splash and soon a vacant seat became a luxury in this neighbourhood bar, which boasts a sweet back patio heated for winter, in addition to the intimate 30-seat venue where the music happens.

Then the lockdowns hit and they were forced to close.

"As time went by and we opened and closed and opened and closed we snuck in as much live music as possible when possible," explains Belisle. "In the few weeks of 2020, when inside seating was allowed, we designed and purchased necessary materials to form a bubble in which live music could be played."

The bar strictly limited capacity according to health protocols which made the shows some of the most intimate they ever had.

"Through see-through barriers, the audience was once again able to sit with the music and enjoy the talent," recounts Belisle. "Unlike normal times when there was no cover, these were ticketed events with 100 per cent of funds going to the artist."

Last spring, friends of the venue came together by way of a GoFundMe campaign raising over $25,000 .

The venue continues to be a place where musicians not only play but also hang out, frequently resulting in spontaneous collaborations and new friendships.

JUNO-winning blues pianist, singer and songwriter, Julian Fauth can be found at the venue every Tuesday evening. Explains Fauth:

At first, it was a solo gig, and I just played my stuff, initially without a microphone, and sometimes just instrumentally. Over time, people came and sat in, and it turned into a kind of jam.

Some people still wanted me to play solo, so we eventually I did one solo set and then everybody gets a chance. But the length of the first set is flexible, and I try to keep it short if there are lots of musicians.

It's not technically an open stage, but if you're a player and would like to join, I'm usually open to it. There is a core group of musicians who come pretty regularly. The quality of the players, whether pro or not, is actually very good, and most of them practice more diligently than I do.

In November, Sauce on the Danforth plans to get back to regular live music programming and will be experimenting with a suggested cover charge at the door to go directly to the musicians.

Sauce is open seven days a week, with the live music lineup updated on their website.

Lead photo by

Ori Dagan

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