Toronto’s nightlife is ever-changing. I’ve spent my whole life in this city, and watched as Parkdale transformed from a strip of appliance stores to the place to wait in line for a dive bar. I’ve seen hot spots come and go, city council meetings try to keep more from opening, and dank DIY holes fly by in a flash. And while the city still has its mainstays—the Horseshoe Tavern, Lee’s Palace et al—for every Cameron House, there’s a Club Rockit.
This list isn’t intended to be a comprehensive rundown of the city’s live music, partly because I can’t pretend to know what it was like to see Led Zeppelin. Below are 11 venues we remember because we went to them. We’ve maybe missed some of your favourites. If so, let us know and we’ll get to ’em next time.
via David Waldman
Conveniently located atop a Shoppers Drug Mart, the Funhaus was largely known as a safe-haven for young Toronto goths not yet ready for the Velvet Underground’s musty backdrop. But it held its own with its fair share of metal, punk and hip-hop gigs. Sure, its dance floor seemed to be collapsing, and sure, I was once thrown off the stage during Rise Against into a pile of ladders, but not even the sweat-soaked windows could take away from how fun this place could be. And, like all good venues, the conveniently located pizza shop downstairs was the perfect compliment to hot-boxing a Planet Smashers show.
Ted’s Wrecking Yard
via The Grid
Ted’s Collision is a College St. staple, but name and ownership changes aside, it’s still a shell of its former self. That’s because before the latest generation of twenty-somethings were stumbling past its hardly marked sign, there were twenty-somethings stumbling up the stairs to catch a live band, and in its short run, the Wrecking Yard had its fair share of future stars. From Jason Collett and Leslie Feist to the Weakerthans, plenty of top-tier Canadian talent was groomed on the Wrecking Yard’s tiny stage. Hard to believe, but its been 13 years since the shop closed its doors.
Bread and Circus
Kensington’s catch-all, Bread and Circus was an 85-person capacity venue that hosted intimate stage shows and artist showcases. It’s one of the few venues that could just as easily hold a Fringe Fest play and indie rock show in the same week. More importantly, it filled a niche in the city that’s become increasingly specialized: You never quite knew what you’d see, but usually, it ended up great.
It’s been almost two years to the day since Siesta Nouveaux played its final notes, and the void its closing left in Toronto still hasn’t been fully filled. A barebones space, Siesta hosted everyone from local crusts to in-circuit up-and-comers like Trap Them and Ceremony and, more than anything, gave kids a place to wild out. The space was self-sufficient, policed by its own scene, and was better for it. When it was bought for redevelopment, a big chunk of Toronto’s artistic community died with it.
Try finding a better picture. I dare you.
Seeing a show at the 360 Club was like being in a punk rock bowling alley: Bands like Fucked Up and Cancer Bats played shows here in the early days, and like a lot of other spots on this list, it was the ideal place for an all-ages show. Unfortunately, that’s partly why it closed. Nobody bought that the rowdy crowds were the real reason for its closing, since the venue was conveniently wedged between busier venues like the Horseshoe and the Rivoli, but concerns over underage drinking became pretty real, especially piled onto the controversy already surrounding how the Ukranian Legion was running the place. It closed seemingly without warning, and it was a total fucking bummer.
Rockit sign as recreated in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The Rockit was an absolute shithole. A literal shithole, at times: My first experience there was a local punk gig that at one point inexplicably featured a gigantic pile of feces in the middle of the dance floor. It was the day after Warped Tour 2003 and an incredible gig that featured a very young Flatliners and Protest the Hero, plus Closet Monster, Hostage Life and Bombs Over Providence.
Piles of poop aside, The Rockit was also the homestead for opportunistic promoters hawking pay-to-play battle of the bands showcases upon gullible teens. So why do we miss it? Because when it wasn’t filled with steam or feces or 14-year-olds politicking on stage, The Rockit was an incredibly intimate place to see a show. For every hand-clap filled tween mallcore gig, there was Dillinger Escape Plan playing to a sardine-packed crowd. There’s nothing quite like seeing two guitarists hanging off the balcony, doing front flips off the amp while the singer runs across the crowd like Christ on the Ocean. Admit it: You swooned a little when Edgar Wright recreated it for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Adrift still exists as a lifestyle and skateboard store, but its new posh location on Spadina near Richmond isn’t the same. The Adrift Clubhouse was less a store than an indoor skatepark, and at night, that halfpipe turned into a stage. Dank, beer soaked and often drowned in over-loud hardcore, it was a unique place to see a show. And while Soybomb is doing a hell of a job keeping that energy alive, we’re big proponents of “the more the merrier.”
The breeding ground for much of the city’s current crop of alternative talent, the Big Bop was a three-tiered Toronto dive that gave young teens a place to express themselves and sometimes catch a great gig. It could be sweltering in the summer—I have a vivid memory of inexplicably puking outside after a sweltering Death By Stereo show—but its diverse calendar fostered talents in punk, metal and the once-prosperous Toronto ska scene. Laugh now, but some of your favourite bands were skanking with the rest of us back there in the early oughts.
CiRCA didn’t know what it wanted to be, and with more than 3,000 square feet of space, that quickly became a problem. Was it a place to dance, or the kind of venue that could rival the Kool Haus or Government with its hip-hop acts? We’ll never be sure, because even with its massive masquerades and Clipse shows, the venue was eventually strong-armed by the LCBO and AGCO, losing its liquor license just before New Years Eve 2010. It filed for bankruptcy soon after.
We don’t necessarily miss Presto so much as the reaction that formed around it. The Nike-run Kensington venue was almost immediately overrun by graffiti, and before long Adbusters had staked their claim in the fight. Eventually the sportswear behemoths would skip out on the idea and the venue would become a DIY gallery space Xpace, but not before bands like The Hidden Cameras and Future Rhetoric publicly trashed the venue’s corporate affiliations. As for those who played, and received complimentary sneakers, there—Chixdiggit!, The Weekend and more—here’s hoping they took that money and ran.
Get it? Ran? Because Nike makes shoes?
The Dungeon (Oshawa)
Protest the Hero at the Dungeon in 2006
Behemoth frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski reportedly called The Dungeon the worst venue he’d ever played, and rightly so. But like the rest of this list, it had that certain je ne said quoi: In this case, the vampires. While up-and-coming bands out of the Southern Ontario punk scene hit the Dungeon on their regular circuits, hordes of gauntlet-wearing goths could be found lurking around, stumbling down from Lazer-X-Treme to inhale cigarettes, drink red wine and sad-dance to Ministry remixes. It was a hell hole, hotter than the sixth plane of Hell, but somehow better for it. If you could hold your nose in the blood-filled bathrooms and make it through the sauna-like conditions without passing out or puking, you might have ended up seeing one of the better shows of your youth. That was a big if, but kids still traveled East to Bond St.