As our cityscape changes more and more every week, it seems appropriate to harken back to some great Toronto bars that are gone but not forgotten. Across the city, there have been some legendary bars and clubs that played home to local patrons looking for a night out drinking and socializing, cutting some rug, or also soaking in the sounds of some great indie bands.
This list contains a mix of bars and clubs that fit into all categories. The one binding factor is that each was a memorable spot that was beloved by the many people who frequented them on hazy hogtown nights.
Probably the centre piece of Queen West night life in the 80s and 90s. With a tropical vibe and music that celebrated Caribbean culture, the Bamboo was an oasis in Toronto that served as the go-to party spot for years. The bar has a fantastic back patio and several levels and rooms that made a night at ‘the Boo’ usually unforgettable.
How can you go wrong with a spot that was a bar, restaurant, lounge, and candy shop? You can’t. One of the first night spots on Queen West that attracted crowds away from the club district, The Gypsy Co-Op was the antithesis to club culture and offered a more laid back vibe for crowds more into the alternative scene. The bar closed in 2007 after just over a decade of operation.
The Church Street location was the home to many hardcore, punk, and emo acts of the late 90s and early 00s including Billy Talent, Dillenger Escape Plan, and US midwestern emo/post-rockers The Appleseed Cast. Kids would climb up the steep stairs to the second floor venue, where it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see straight edge kids climbing the walls during frenzied guitar driven sets.
The south-east corner of Bathurst and Queen was the home of many a great live show or dance party in the 90s and beyond. Whether dancing on the second floor to Rage Against the Machine or catching an underground hip-hop or punk show, the place was a landmark in the Toronto club scene. It also hosted the very first Arcade Fire show in Toronto.
The Silver Dollar
After much public debate and coverage, the legendary Silver Dollar Room hosted its final show in 2017 with Toronto noise rockers METZ holding the honour of the final performer. Toronto indie music-scene pioneer and promoter of ‘The Dollar’ Dan Burke cultivated one of Toronto’s most distinct and finest live music venues.
In the mid/late 2000s when indie met dance in the form of DJ groups like Justice and MSTRKRFT, Wrongbar was the place to go for this music. The Parkdale spot was the go-to spot for the hard partying / hard-dancing music lovers at that time.
Now a Shoppers Drug Mart, the second storey concert venue on Queen West hosted many all-ages shows for indie kids back in the day including indie hip-hop legend Aesop Rock.
Ted’s Wrecking Yard
The former host to seminal Toronto indie music series Wavelength, Ted’s is the place where many great indie bands got their start including The Constantines (pictured below), Feist, and Broken Social Scene.
The College West second floor spot was home to an enormous amount up-and-coming bands for close to 20 years. It holds a special place in history of indie shows in Toronto.
A legendary Toronto night club that had some of the purest vibes and best dance parties in the city during the late 90s. The Brant Street club was a destination spot where everyone was there for a good time, and great music.
On Queen’s Quay east of Bay, before there was The Guvernment, The Warehouse, and The Koolhaus — there was RPM. From 1986 to the early 90s, the venue was known for legendary DJ sets from Chris Sheppard and was the place to be to get dancing on a Friday or Saturday night in Toronto.
The legend of the ‘El Mo’ is a large one with some of the biggest bands especially the 1977 surprise show by The Rolling Stones. It has also hosted noteworthy indie bands over the years including Sunset Rubdown and bigger indie acts like The White Stripes. Noteable rich guy Michael Wekerle has purchased the bar and plans to re-open the space soon, maintaining its mandate as a live music venue.
Located in Leslieville on Queen Street, the now closed spot was the best low-key option on Queen East that allowed you to sit back and hear some great tunes spun on vinyl in an amazingly kitschy space. Great craft beer added to the vibe, not to mention plaid nights and local live music.
Across the street from the also-defunct Press Club, the Magpie was a simple, no-frills large open-concept box of a bar that offered great beer, music, and crowds. This was one the best spots to grab a pint before Dundas West really took off.
Closed in 1986, Larry’s Hideaway was a revered dive bar on Carlton Street that brought many of the punk and new wave artists of the day to Toronto for the first time. Notable acts include: Teenage Head, Black Flag, and Bauhaus.