Lifestyle

The 8 best places for live music in Toronto

Toronto is the big city that never sleeps, meaning you can see live music any night of the week in Toronto — and most days, too.

Ali Jenning
Ali Jenning

Ali Jennings is a freelance writer, house sitter, and teacher currently residing in the UK.

The 8 best places for live music in Toronto
Photo:DR-PSD/Shutterstock

As anyone who has been there will tell you, there are a million great reasons to visit Toronto, not least because of its amazing culinary scene, abundance of shopping opportunities, and world-class attractions. However, the city is most famous for its strong beating cultural heart; there are many chances to indulge in cultural activities here, such as art galleries, theatres, and festivals. Toronto is also a fantastic place to catch live music, with venues of all kinds dotted right across the city. But with so much choice, it can be hard to know which music venues stand out from the crowd. To help you out, here is a guide to the 8 best places for live music in Toronto.

1. Horseshoe Tavern

Horseshoe Tavern Toronto

Photo: Horseshoe Tavern/Facebook

A firm fixture on Toronto’s music scene since 1947, it is safe to say that the Horseshoe Tavern – often just called ‘the Shoe’ – is one of the most popular spots for live music in Toronto. Always packed with people, the Shoe might be one of the simpler and more intimate venues in the city, but it has played host to some of the biggest names in music, including the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, the Police, and the Barenaked Ladies. It is also well-known for being a big supporter of independent musicians, so it is common to see local bands performing all kinds of music here, from rock and pop to blues and rockabilly.

2. Lula Lounge

Lula Lounge Toronto

Photo: Lula Lounge/Facebook

If you are a fan of Latin and African music, Lula Lounge is the place to go. Located in an old Portuguese catering hall in Brockton Village, this venue is predominantly known for its weekend nights, which include a tropical dinner and drinks followed by a dance lesson and the chance to try out your new steps with the live band or DJ. However, if you want to check out some live music during the week, this is also possible at Lula Lounge, although you should check their website to make sure a band has been booked. Sundays to Thursdays can see you listening to reggae, hip hop, jazz, funk, dance, and many, many more world music genres.

3. Massey Hall

Massey Hall Toronto

Photo: Massey Hall/Facebook

Another Toronto institution, Massey Hall has been around for 126 years, making it one of the oldest music venues in the city. It has seen many famous faces walk through its doors and perform on its stage, including jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, who performed their legendary gig here in 1953. However, all kinds of musicians have played here, so you are sure to find something to suit your tastes. Massey Hall is also well-known for its amazing acoustics, plus its 2,765-seat capacity means that it can hold a decent amount of people while still retaining an intimate atmosphere. The venue is currently undergoing a two-year restoration and will be open again in mid-2021. When it does, you can be sure that it will continue to be one of the best places for live music in Toronto.

4. Dakota Tavern

Dakota Tavern Toronto

Photo: Dakota Tavern/Facebook

If you prefer your music venues to be of the basement bar-type, the Dakota Tavern is an excellent option. This Wild West-style saloon tends to veer towards country, bluegrass, and rock, but you never know what you are going to see on any given evening. As it is a bar, there is both the option for seated and standing, and due to its relatively small size, the acoustics are always great. But one of the best things about the Dakota Tavern is its friendly atmosphere; gigs here are always lively and fun, but they never go over-the-top. If you fancy listening to some bluegrass while you are having brunch, get yourself along to one of their Bluegrass Brunches, taking place every Sunday.

5. Reservoir Lounge

Reservoir Lounge Toronto

Photo: Reservoir Lounge/Facebook

Everyone loves to visit a jazz joint sometimes, and if you feel that need when you are in Toronto, head over to Reservoir Lounge. Considered to be one of Toronto’s hippest nightspots, this uber-cool jazz bar is a favorite not only among residents, but also the rich and famous; Prince, Tom Jones, and Peter O’Toole are just a few among a very long list who have visited.

The venue hosts both regular lounge bands and visiting guests, playing everything from straight and modern jazz to boogie-woogie and swing. If you happen to be traveling to Toronto at the end of June, the Reservoir Lounge also plays host to the TD Jazz Fest, which showcases jazz talent from around the world. Despite its huge reputation, the lounge has a pretty relaxed atmosphere, plus there is great food here.

6. Lee’s Palace

Lee's Palace Toronto

Photo: Lee’s Palace/Facebook

Just as well-known for its graffitied entrance as the gigs that are held there, Lee’s Palace came onto the Toronto music scene in 1985 and has remained popular ever since due to its strong acoustics and intimacy; the capacity here only runs to about 600 people. The number of world-class bands that have performed here is impressive  – Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, and The Verve, to name just a few – so if you want to say that as part of your Toronto trip you went to a gig at one of the city’s most famous venues, this is the place to come. Concerts are held here pretty much every evening.

7. The Hole in the Wall

Hole in the Wall Toronto

Photo: Hole in the Wall/Facebook

For lovers of pub gigs, the Hole in the Wall is an excellent option. This extremely cozy venue only has a stage large enough for two or three musicians, so it tends to focus on small-piece blues, country, and folk bands. Coming to a concert here is a great way of seeing what the area has to offer in terms of local talent. Live music nights fall on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with an open mic night, also being hosted here on Mondays for all those who want to give their budding musician dreams a go. To top it all up, the Hole in the Wall has 16 craft beers on tap and serves incredible food; the menu changes quite frequently and includes a variety of local and international dishes.

8. The Opera House

The Opera House Toronto

Photo: The Opera House/Facebook

Another historic Toronto music venue – don’t be fooled by the Opera House’s name; you are far more likely to hear punk, rock, and metal here than any other kind of music genre. Originally opened in 1909 as an Edwardian vaudeville theatre, the Opera House has gone through many guises in its over 100-year history, including that of a cinema and a performing arts venue; it became the music venue we see today in the 1990s, and has managed to retain much of its original vaudeville theatre architecture. The  Opera House also hosts comedians, DJs, and a variety of shows throughout the year.

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