Toronto continued to experience a shrinking pool of music venues in 2016, mostly in response to rising rents and redevelopment. Some promising new spots also opened, but not nearly enough to replenish the rapidly dwindling supply. City council is finally taking steps to investigate and address the factors behind this pattern, but no one is predicting an easy fix.
VENUES WE LOST IN 2016
APRIL: The Old Laurel, 300 College
We had high hopes for the Old Laurel, but the British pub and venue closed down after only seven months in the space formerly known as Rancho Relaxo. The bar was the brainchild of Davy Love, who has since opened a new spot on Gerrard East called Janie Jones that hosts some low-key DJ nights, but no live music.
MAY: Humble Beginnings, 3109 Dundas West
This Junction restaurant and event venue closed down after three years last spring. The establishment was known foremost as an organic, locavore restaurant, but also often booked folk, jazz, poetry and soul performances.
Tattoo, 567 Queen West
Tattoo was quietly sold by owners INK Entertainment in the spring, closing the doors on what had evolved into a decent mid-sized live room with lots of potential. Originally known as Tattoo Rock Parlour, the club had ditched the bottle service booths and become more of a live venue after tweaking the name, but the changes weren’t enough to keep the doors open.
JULY: Zipperz, 72 Carlton
While it was known more for cruising than for music, Zipperz was a gay village institution for 18 years, and one of the few places where you could catch show tunes being belted out over live piano in the early evening and sweaty dance parties at night. Taking its place will be yet another condo development, though we’re happy to report that owner Harry Singh opened Blyss Nightclub in late October in the former Church on Church space. Blyss focuses less on drag and more on the dance floor, and celebrates its official opening on December 31, with its New Beginnings Ball.
AUGUST: Cabal, 782 King West
Just outside of the King West nightlife strip, Cabal was an exception to the Top 40 and bottle service model of its neighbouring bars. Unfortunately, quality underground house and techno parties weren’t enough to withstand the financial pressures of a rapidly gentrifying downtown core.
SEPTEMBER: Not My Dog, 1510 Queen West
After more than a decade, Parkdale watering hole Not My Dog closed this year after the building’s new owners decided they’d like to move a new business into the location. While it was smaller than many people’s living rooms, the bar consistently featured strong roots and indie bookings, including occasional impromptu performances by bigger names who happened to stop by for a pint.
OCTOBER: The Hideout, 484 Queen West
Over the last 10 years, the Hideout had become one of the most popular live music venues on the Queen West strip, especially during music festivals. Unfortunately, the building’s new owners decided they wanted to fill the space with some other type of business and elected to not renew the lease. A new incarnation of the Hideout is in the works, but the owners are still looking for the right location.
NOVEMBER: The Tennessee, 1554 Queen West
Long-time Parkdale fixture the Sister changed hands and rebranded under the bar’s original name, the Tennessee, in early 2015, but the revamp of the roots rock and indie venue was short-lived. The windows of the bar are currently papered over, with no indication of what will take its place.
DECEMBER: Cherry Cola's, 200 Bathurst
Branded as Toronto's "sexiest" live music venue – think women dancing in cages and red velvet – Cherry Cola's specializes in burlesque and rock 'n' roll, and you only have a few more days to experience it. The doors stay open till Friday (December 23), with a blowout event that includes Midnight Towers, King Beez, High Heels Lo Fi, Anti Queens and others.
VENUES WE GAINED IN 2016
FEBRUARY: Velvet Underground, 508 Queen West
It was widely assumed that the Velvet Underground would be gone forever when it closed in 2015, but Embrace opted to keep the name and much of the bar’s identity when the concert promoters reopened the spot. The new look is more streamlined, the sound improved, and there’s less focus on goth and alternative nights. The space has quickly settled into its new identity as a live music venue.
SEPTEMBER: The Baby G, 1608 Dundas West
The Garrison’s owner, Shaun Bowring, opened another Dundas West venue this fall, and while the Baby G features similar indie-band-focused bookings, the smaller size means it’s more accessible to local acts and up-and-coming talents. Despite the lower capacity, it boasts much better sound than most rooms this size.
OCTOBER: Rebel, 11 Polson
After many months and millions of dollars in renovations, the former Sound Academy finally reopened as Rebel. It now features better sightlines, improved sound, more washrooms and a great view of the city through the giant windows that have replaced the rear wall.
Blyss Nightclub, 504 Church