Toronto's best live music bars

With a slew of summer music festivals each year, Toronto hosts an ongoing parade of incredibly talented musicians. While it would be ideal to participate in all the festivities, it can be a little tough on the wallet. Thankfully our local bars and music venues offer nightly live music options for the budget-minded urbanite, catering to whatever kinds of tunes are catching your ear this week.

Holy Oak

1241 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1N6

This hybrid spot turns from cozy café by day to ramped up cocktail house and craft beer pub by night. Sip on an orange blossom and gin Tanuki or body-warming Honey Bear made with whiskey, krupnick and hot apple cider. The crowd is cool, the drinks are cheap and the music ranges from R&B to folk to instrumental to bluegrass – although it generally maintains a soft, muted vibe for easy listening. Live music acts are scheduled several nights a week and cover is often PWYC.

The Silver Dollar Room

486 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5S 2H1

You can stop in to the Silver Dollar Room literally any day of the week for a locally brewed pint, a few rounds of pool, and an evening set list featuring bands from across Canada. The range in programming here includes everything from sold-out Mac Demarco shows to quiet acoustic nights. The Foggy Hogtown Boys play their weekly bluegrass show on Wednesdays, while the weekends are reserved for indie rock bands from Toronto and beyond.

Lula Lounge

1585 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6K 1T9

If the colourful, lit-up exterior of this South American salsa bar wasn’t intriguing enough, the sound live of live Brazilian dance music streaming through the front doors might do it. I hesitate to discover something Lula doesn’t offer. From a live music brunch buffet and group-ballroom-dancing-lessons-meet-club-nights to a weekly live music line-up that features live jazz and a full salsa band, the spot hosts a little something for anyone looking to rumba.

The Piston

937 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1L5

There’s a rustic, red-hued charm to this Bloorcourt spot, complete with a garage-door entrance, a parlour-style bar in the front, and a dance floor and stage behind a black curtain in the back (dare you to describe a sexier space). Back in 2012, I stopped in looking to have a quick Thursday evening pint, and serendipitously caught the now famed Toronto band DIANA playing a set off their debut album. Perhaps best known for their SHINDIG dance party, the Piston focuses on quality over quantity in their programming, hosting finely curated live music several nights a week.

Smiling Buddha

961 College St, Toronto, ON M6H 1A6

In a small, understated doorway just east of the Octopus Garden Yoga is a hotspot for local and international indie music, always live and often free. They have two stage areas – one on the main floor and one in the basement – so expect to hear all kinds of sounds, from New York indie pop to Parkdale post punk. The space is divey in the best way – it’s casual but not at all sketchy. It hosts a distinct hipster vibe with a selection of local craft beers and a tempting pint-and-shot-of-whiskey special.

The Garrison

1197 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1X3

The Garrison is a Dundas West spot lauded for gourmet Mexican fare, late-night dance parties and international live music. The front room, the Cantina, hosts local DJs spinning funk, soul, hip hop, indie pop and mash-ups from an early hour on its charming corner stage, while the sprawling backroom is a full-on concert venue with its own bar, an enormous dance floor and a velvet curtained stage. If you’re following an indie band that’s about to hit it big, chances are this is where they’ll play when they’re in town.


1184 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1N2

This Bloordale newcomer boasts a triple-threat act: a dinner menu that spins international favourites, a brewery-bar stocked with craft beer, and a separate live music space where local and international names serenade a crowd of up to 90 people. The bright, modern dining area serves fusion fare like fried jalapenos, gourmet Jamaican doubles, and spelt pappardelle. With its lush hanging plants and colourful tiles, it has the feel of a highly aestheticized ’50s diner – the music space, on the other hand, is dimly-lit with rows of warm Emerson light bulbs and complete with its own bar, just for listeners.

The Dakota Tavern

249 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 3A1

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another Toronto spot with as much Wild West charm as this Dundas West bluegrass bar, unanimously considered to be one of the top live music venues in the city. The made-from-barrels bar stools, the Persian-carpeted stage and the warm hanging fairy lights create the feel-good vibes at this spot, while the programming of well-known mid-career musicians spanning folky-funk to nightingale-voiced country provide entertainment seven nights a week.

Tranzac Club Arts Entertainment And Bar

292 Brunswick Ave, Toronto, ON M5S 2M7

In Toronto, this Annex music club is, simply put, legendary. It features a slew of unique sub-spaces inside (including a tiki lounge) where you can hear everything from jazz quartets to Irish folk music. Sprawling and anonymous, it’s a great place for a larger group meet-up or a solitary pint and dose of local talent.

The Painted Lady

218 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Z9

If you’re bar-hopping on Ossington, be sure to stop in at this local gem, serving French-inspired fare, noxious cocktails and top-grade live music since 2009. The music programming is pretty wide-ranging, from occasional burlesque nights to country ramblers to hip hop soirees. There’s a vaudevillian quality to this space, with boldly striped walls, gold baroque mirrors, hanging chandeliers, deep teal accents and a solid mahogany wraparound bar.

The Emmet Ray

924 College St, Toronto, ON M6H 1A4

Despite the classy low-lit interior and crushed velvet vintage sofa set, this place – as they phrase it – is about “character, not polish.” Named for the jazz legend of the 1930s, this College Street bar is a sultry, New-York-style spot to check out live jazz acts several nights a week. Enjoy a glass of over 230 whiskeys from across the world or sup on the upgraded pub fare, all while listening to the sexy sounds of the jazz guitar, piano, brass band or one-off like hip hop reggae parties and general dance madness nights.

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