You can find live music in Toronto pretty much any night of the week, but it’s much easier if you’re looking for the “next Broken Social Scene” than the cutting edge of jazz or blues. Many of the city’s music venues claim to be ideal spots for any genre, but if you seek something a bit more sophisticated (or sorrowful), these are the places you should hit.
Not just one of the best jazz bars in Toronto, The Rex has a rep for being one of the best in the world. That’s a lot to live up to, especially when a number of slots are reserved for less-tested local musicians. Still, with 19 live shows a week, there are also a number of world-renowned players that pass through the hallowed venue. Despite this stellar reputation, there are still a number of affordable and pay-what-you-can performances. One of the few places where you can pop in without any prior knowledge and probably catch something worth seeing. 194 Queen Street West, 416-598-2475.
The Silver Dollar Room
Infamous Toronto booker Dan Burke has turned the Dollar into a hard-rocking venue, but the early show on most nights still harkens back to the venue’s rich blues history. It’s got a bit of a rough reputation due to its placement next to the seedy Waverly Hotel but, if anything, its gritty, down-on-your luck atmosphere makes it an ideal environment for music’s most melancholy genre. 486 Spadina Avenue, 416-975-0909.
Toronto’s self-described “Home of the Blues,” Grossman’s Tavern certainly feels authentic. It was once one of the most happening places in town (back when people still described places as “happening”) but, decades later, it feels a bit like the clientele has grown with the bar. Which is to say, many of the regulars have been haunting the place for years, and they likely have the liver damage to show for it. But occasionally the city’s young’uns catch wind of the always-free, occasionally-excellent live music playing seven nights a week, and suddenly the place is bopping like the blues never went out of style. 379 Spadina Avenue, 416-977-7000.
More a supper club than a hole-in-the-wall, Alleycatz plays the slightly more upscale jazz bar on the list in an area of the city appropriately nicknamed “Young and Eligible”). Mondays and Tuesdays boast salsa and swing lessons but if you’re looking for live jazz, head over on a Wednesday night. Just don’t expect to enjoy it without also dropping a few bucks on food. 2409 Yonge Street, 416-481-6865.
The Emmet Ray
Most of the spots on our list pride themselves on their history, but in under two years this little College Street gem has already carved itself a nice spot in Toronto’s jazz scene. Named after a fictional guitarist from Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, the venue is a great home to live Monday night jams. Any place with over 40 whiskeys on the menu is likely to go over well with jazz aficionados. 924 College Street, 416-792-4497.
This little community club operates on an anything-goes programming philosophy, which over the years has made it an ideal home for avant-jazz, experimental and improvisational music that doesn’t quite fit into regular live music schedules. De facto house band Drumheller has developed a reputation as one of the more creative collectives to emerge from this scene, and they likely won’t be the last. 292 Brunswick Avenue, 416-923-8137.
Image courtesy of Metrix X.