In some ways, the rest of Canada is right to hate Toronto and not just because it’s kind of awesome. As the nation’s most populous city, Toronto can expect to host any musical act touring North America, whether it’s an indie rock band from Bristol, a massive L.A. hip-hop star or China’s leading concert violinist. As such, the range and quality of live music venues in Drake’s hometown rivals any on the planet. While we deeply encourage exploration beyond this modest list, these five venues are uniformly excellent and stylistically diverse.
Danforth Music Hall
147 Danforth Ave., 416-778-8163
It began life as an outpost movie theatre in 1919, but today the venerable spot near Broadview subway station is one of the city’s most accessible venues with heaps of good bars and restaurants nearby and an eclectic booking policy that sees former Verve rocker Richard Ashcroft, superstar DJ Floating Points, Melissa Etheridge and metallers Anthrax all booked in a single month (with plenty more besides).
11 Polson St., 416-469-5655
Rebel is a pain to reach by Uber and nearly impossible by public transit. But the former Sound Academy situated in the industrial no-man’s land of Toronto Harbour looks and sounds fantastic thanks to a year-long, $10-million refurbishment. Its 3,000-plus capacity means top-flight acts like Sting and Big Sean can make it a viable tour stop, it doubles as a kick-ass nightclub and it boasts one of the best views of the T-dot skyline.
The Horseshoe Tavern
370 Queen St. W., 416-598-4226
It sounds like a cliché but no Toronto nightclub list would be complete without the Horseshoe, which has weathered more trends since its 1947 inception than the entire back catalogue of Vogue and remains the best place to see a baby band or a marquee act making a surprise appearance (we’re looking at you, Mick and Keith). Everyone who is anyone has played here, and it will always be thus.
722 College St., 416-588-4663
This excellent if relatively compact (capacity 600) spot on the western tip of Little Italy somehow makes every event seem ridiculously special, transcendental even. We’re thinking of multiple, mind-melting early DJ sets by Mark Holmes, a crazy-good recent performance by The Lumineers and a crazy-bad one by Stone Roses howler Ian Brown. Plus, the late-night, long-running Latino drag bar El Convento Rico is just down the street. ¡Buenos tiempos!
The Dakota Tavern
249 Ossington Ave., 416-850-4579
Small, subterranean and occasionally overrun by hipsters haunting the fashionable neighbouring boîtes, the country-leaning Dakota nevertheless conjures all the best things you think about when you think about live music: proximity between audience and performer, sparkly lights, cheap(ish) beers, manageable cover charges and a booking policy that consistently favours substance over style.