I’ve been reading some staggering news lately about Toronto’s music scene and just how many live music venues have shut down. In the first three months of 2017, the city has seen eight, yes, eight venues shut their doors. Those would be the rock bar, Hideout; gay-friendly Indie house, Holy Oak; folk house, Hugh’s Room; Black community hub, Harlem; the Hoxton dance club, the DIY venue Soybomb, Indie-music venue The Central; and legendary rock house, the Silver Dollar. In the last decade, 70 have closed their doors. Sad.
And personally, an even sadder fact about the Silver Dollar closing is that it’s closing for renovation and will open alongside a high-rise student dorm. They are unsure if the venue will be a student bar or what. Having worked in developing and operating student dorms for 15 years in the UK, I am certain that I, too, have had a hand in shutting down some establishments for the benefit of the deep-pocketed investor.
This is exactly what is affecting Toronto’s music venues – property development. Landlords are pushing rents up, renovating their properties or outright selling them to a developer. I mentioned here about the regeneration taking place in Toronto, but wasn’t paying attention to its direct affect on the music industry. The only ones that are safe are venues owned by landlords who operate and appreciate their space being used for music. There are also issues with noise complaints from the occupants of the shiny new developments helping to shut down venues as well. And, it’s forcing musicians out of Toronto in order to create and get their music heard.
Live Music Venues in Toronto
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many of those venue organizers are searching for new locations to re-open and there are still many venues in which you can catch your favorite acts. I took advantage of as many live acts as I could during my recent stays. So take a look at these live music venues the next time you are in Toronto. Some charge a modest fee and others say, ‘Pay what you can.’ So if they are passing the hat for a donation, drop in $10!
The Jazz Bistro is a great place to enjoy an intimate night of music. The venue holds about 60 people and on a Tuesday night, you can score a table without a reservation. I enjoyed the fun and energetic jazz ensemble of Robert Scott on piano with the sultry vocals of Genevieve Marentette. It was jazz improve at it’s best and quite entertaining. You can catch live music there most nights except Mondays and the music ranges from Pop, R&B, a bit of Frank Sinatra, Opera and Blues. The early shows are often free and those from 8p charge $10. 251 Victoria Street
Lula Lounge, is another unique entertainment venue offering an eclectic mix of music. They recently hosted an impressive, nearly sold-out show titled, Influenced – A tribute to Neo Soul, featuring vocalists Lisa Michelle, Gina P, Mellow Dee, and a highly talented back-up band, including soul flutist, Jef Kearns. They do a dynamic mix of soul, jazz and R&B.
One thing I love about Lula is that their offerings are diverse – whether soul music, salsa Saturdays, Brazilian beats, world jazz, solo piano concerts, brunches or brass ensembles. This is a very cool place. They are trying to create appeal for a number of audiences – and well done them. Their menu will accommodate most palates and the venue holds a max of 250. Events are priced separately, but definitely check out their lineup. 1585 Dundas West
Blu Ristorante, considered one of Toronto’s Best Italian restaurants in trendy Yorkville, offers live jazz on Friday and Saturday evenings. I caught the act on Saturday with John Campbell on piano and vocals. It was delightfully soft music. The kind you can easily have a conversation over and very mood setting. There were even patrons of the restaurant taking turns singing on the mic. The atmosphere is subdued and quite romantic – so, great date place. 17 Yorkville Ave
While it’s not technically Toronto, take the train for 20 minutes to the lakeside area of Port Credit to the Shore Grill & Grotto to catch one of their nightly acts. Tony Paglia and the Nomads Band was playing the night I was there. Every week they have a special guest, and this week it was Johnny O, who also happens to be my favorite doorman from the Toronto Hilton! They offer lots of upbeat, energetic entertainment nightly and the menu there is fantastic. Such a great environment and it was packed. Free entrance! 71 Lakeshore Road E., Mississauga
And speaking of the Toronto Hilton, they offer live music every Thursday and Friday nights in the airy Tundra Bar and no two nights are the same, so they have a good rotation to sample. 145 Richmond Street West
Other great venues for music on or near West Queen which I’ve mentioned here are the Drake Hotel’s Underground, which showcases live events most nights of the week and the Gladstone Hotel just down the road offers a variety of pub events along with live music in the Melody Bar.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether a venue is large or small, or whether I’m talking Toronto or Tokyo, the most important thing is to stay on top of live entertainment where you live and where you are going. There is so much great talent out there and we need to continue to support the artists so they continue to have access to showcase their creative talent. Now, where’s that hat?