has played host to concerts and musical performances for decades, its music scene growing exponentially. From internationally touring megastars to the city’s own booming indie and hip-hop music scenes, Toronto’s music venues host gigs of all sizes and styles. While there’s plenty of press on the countless artists playing throughout the city, here’s a chance to explore Toronto’s many venues and the stories behind them.
The Virgin Mobile Mod Club Theatre, better known as the Mod Club, began as a replacement venue for a weekly Saturday club night at the Revival, right across the street. The venue was a community centre, and then had a brief stint as a nightclub. Its presence in the music industry was cemented by a concert by the British band Muse, who often still hold their after parties at the club, even when they perform elsewhere. The theatre was sponsored by Virgin Mobile in 2011. While the 600-person venue’s focus was originally on British acts, it now organizes performances of all genres.
Mod Club, 722 College St, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 588 4663
Building, Concert Hall, Music Venue, Theater
Musicians know they’ve made it if they have the chance to play Massey Hall. As Canada’s oldest concert hall and the first building in Canada meant exclusively for musical performances, Massey Hall is a Toronto (if not a Canadian) institution. Massey Hall was constructed by industrialist Hart Massey in memory of his late son; Massey gifted the venue to the City of Toronto, with an official opening on the 14th of June, 1894, featuring a performance of Handel’s Messiah. For over 115 years, Massey Hall has opened its famous red doors to music enthusiasts, and musical geniuses such as George Gershwin, Ivor Stravinsky, and Neil Young have graced its stage. Over a century old, it is considered a Toronto Heritage site. While it is mainly a music venue, it has also hosted boxing matches, speeches, movie screenings, and meetings.
Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 872 4255
The Danforth Music Hall
The Danforth Music Hall actually began as a movie theatre, and its long-standing musical reputation originated with performances before film screenings. The Danforth has experienced its share of trials and tribulations over the years. After falling into a state of disrepair, it closed in 2004. It was taken over and renovated a year and a half later; however, the tenants were evicted after failing to pay the rent, and The Danforth was closed down once again. Following its reopening in 2011, the venue has been a booming success, hosting over two thousand people (and even more memories).
The Danforth Music Hall, 147 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 778 8163
Courtesy of The Danforth Music Hall
The Cameron House
While The Cameron House originally operated as a hotel, it’s now best known for hosting performances by folk and roots artists. Priding itself on live music every night of the week, this venue has also started its own record label, Cameron House Records. Covered in murals and giant ants (originally red, but painted white for Nuit Blanche in 2009) crawling over the façade, The Cameron House is easily recognizable. The venue has two rooms: a front lounge for music, and a backroom for theatrical and comedic performances. Known for its unusual décor, The Cameron House is a perfect place to discover new artists. While there is no cover fee, ticket prices do vary, so make sure to check the the lineup!
The Cameron House, 408 Queen St W, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 703 0811
Building, Music Venue, Shop
Similar to The Danforth, Lee’s Palace was originally a movie theatre built by the same chain, and it was a shoemaker’s shop before that. Lee’s was then converted into a cabaret, inspired by NYC drag shows. The façade’s famous mural was created by Al Runt, who also did the one for The Cameron House (and the TTC Ride Guide!). The venue is a two-floor building; the first floor is for live music, and the second floor (known as the Dance Cave) acts as a nightclub. The live performances are typically alternative rock, although there is a bit of everything.
Lee’s Palace, 529 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 532 1598
Bar, Beer, Canadian, $$$
A staple on the Queen West strip, Horseshoe Tavern gets its name from its past as a blacksmith shop. Initially meant for country artists, it gradually opened its doors to different genres. The tavern went through a punk and new wave phase and hosted legendary music acts such as The Rolling Stones and The Police in the late ’70s. Briefly a strip club, the venue now presents live music again, from unknown musicians to more famous bands. The Horseshoe Tavern is divided in two spaces; the backroom is dedicated entirely to music, separated from the bar at the front.
Horseshoe Tavern, 370 Queen St W, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 598 4226
Courtesy of Horseshoe Tavern | Courtesy of Horseshoe Tavern
The Phoenix Concert Theatre debuted as a nightclub on the weekend and is a concert venue during the rest of the week. The venue has hosted such artists as Bob Dylan, and Green Day in 2004, but it also hosts events and performances from various festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2005, the owners felt the need to shut down one of The Phoenix’s regular events after three shootings happened in the span of a week, right in front of the building. Despite the controversy, The Phoenix has continued to thrive. With one of the city’s largest dance floors, the venue is a staple.
The Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 323 1251
The Opera House
Opera House, Music Venue
The Opera House
Despite its name, The Opera House has never hosted operas. However, unlike many of these venues, its beginnings were always focused on music. The Opera House flourished as a Vaudeville theatre, mixing burlesque, comedy, and music, until films took over. The venue switched to musical performances in 1989 and made its reputation as a grunge club. With its 850-person capacity, it has hosted many bands and artists (like Nirvana in 1991) on the ascent, before they could make the switch to bigger venues.
The Opera House, 735 Queen St E, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 466 0313
Courtesy of The Opera House | Courtesy of the Opera House
The Music Gallery
The Music Gallery got its start in the basement of a former YMCA on Queen Street W. Serving as a safe haven for musical experimentation, The Music Gallery was evicted from its original venue when the building was demolished in 2000. Refusing to stay down, a ‘Guerrilla Gallery’ was mounted for a year, with events happening in venues all around the city. Toronto’s ‘Centre for for Creative Music’ has now found a new home in the St. George the Martyr Anglican Church. The venue hosts everything from classical representations to jazz concerts and embraces all types of music.
The Music Gallery, 197 John St, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 204 1080