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10 of the Absolute Best Jazz Clubs in Toronto

By CAROL SPODE

Best Jazz Clubs Toronto

Jazz Bistro makes our list of the best jazz clubs in Toronto (Photo: George Pimentel)

To lovers of jazz and blues, Toronto is particularly rich terrain. It’s even possible to visit one or more jazz clubs in Toronto every single day of the week. There are several rooms that feature live jazz every evening, along with top-notch bars known for showcasing local talent and at least two dinner-jazz hotspots—think the legendary Ronnie Scott’s in London—that focus on international acts. From a local lover of live music, Where.ca offers this list of Toronto’s best jazz and blues destinations.

1. JAZZ BISTRO
As the newest addition to the Toronto jazz scene, Jazz Bistro is at the high end of the club spectrum. Here, New York elegance meets Toronto understatement: a huge chandelier hangs over gold-webbed table settings and a shiny red Steinway piano. Spread over three floors, the open-concept design ensures that diners in the balcony also get a view of the stage. Fabulous food accompanies a great line-up of local and international performers. Appropriately sophisticated attire is a must. See who’s performing this month by clicking here.
• Jazz Bistro, 251 Victoria St., 416-363-5299, jazzbistro.ca
Map and reviews

2. HUGH’S ROOM
The concept of this dinner-and-music venue—where diners enjoy performances in a concert-hall setting of candlelit tables—was the brainchild of brothers Hugh and Richard Carson in the late 1990s. Sadly, Hugh passed away in 1999 and never got to see the realization of their dream. Yet his name and reputation as a music lover and bon vivant live on through his brother’s Toronto jazz club, which he named after Hugh when it opened in 2001. A diverse group of performers have passed through the stage, including Ron Sexmith, Judy Collins, Bruce McCulloch and Alan Doyle. Dinner and ticket reservations must be purchased online in advance. Click here to make reservations and here to see who’s performing this month.
• Hugh’s Room, 2261 Dundas St. W., 416-531-6604, hughsroom.com
Map and reviews

3. THE REX HOTEL
The Rex has dominated Toronto’s jazz landscape for over 40 years. With more than 15 bands per week, it definitely earns its slogan “More Great Jazz than anywhere else, all the time.” The casual atmosphere, wide beer selection and solid pub fare (the nachos are some of the best in town) make it the perfect place to just walk in off the street and hang out anytime of the week. The jazz on offer is always an exciting mix of acts—Harry Connick Jr., Kurt Elling and Wynton Marsalis have all played The Rex. Cost usually involves a donation to the tip jar and a drink, though some performances do require a cover charge. See what’s playing this month by clicking here.
• The Rex Hotel, 194 Queen St. W., 416-598-2475, therex.ca
Map and reviews

RELATED: The 10 Most Important Music Venues in Toronto

4. GATE 403 BAR AND GRILL
Located just outside of downtown, Gate 403 Bar and Grill on Roncesvalles is a natty blend of upmarket pub and shabby-chic piano bar. The venue is known for its daily schedule of live jazz and blues acts. There is the pub end, where patrons can just walk in from the street, and the more intimate, candlelit cavern section for customers with reservations. The actual performance space is quirkily placed in the centre of these two areas. See what’s on this month by clicking here.
• Gate 403 Bar and Grill, 403 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-588-2930, gate403.com
Map and reviews

5. RESERVOIR LOUNGE
Tucked away in the cellar of a stone building in the Old Town Toronto area, Reservoir Lounge is a mix of Paris jazz cavern and supper club, hosting a different genre of jazz five nights a week. Casual dress is permitted, but the cocktail-lounge atmosphere should inspire some dressing up. The best nights for jazz performances are Tuesday and Saturday, when the lounge hosts pianist Tyler Yarema and his cohorts—almost permanent fixtures on stage here for the last five years. Reservoir’s claim to fame: it launched the career of Michael Bublé. See what’s on this month by clicking here.
• Reservoir Lounge, 52 Wellington St. E., 416-955-0887, reservoirlounge.com
Map and reviews

6. MONARCH’S PUB
Downtown’s Delta Chelsea Hotel is an unusual spot in Toronto for a jazz club, but it is home to a haven of excellent live jazz and blues performances called the Monarch’s Pub. Venture past the huge TV screens and the bar populated by hotel guests, and head towards the stage in the pastel-coloured lounge area. Be prepared for an evening (from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) of great music with an eclectic crowd of jazz and blues groupies who come to support the regular acts and practice their dance moves. See what’s on this month by clicking here.
• Monarch’s Pub, Delta Chelsea Hotel, 33 Gerard St. W., 416-585-4352, monarchspub.ca
Map and reviews

7. HOME SMITH BAR
This performance space at The Old Mill is so intimate, it’s like watching a live band in your living room. The room is cozy, with all the refinement of a private gentleman’s club, and has a respectably sized bar and a small performance area dominated by a grand piano. Solo and group acts take the stage regularly on Fridays and Saturdays. The house speciality is the Jazz Party, hosted by a specific performer with others simply turning up and joining in. To see what’s playing this month, click here.
• Home Smith Bar, The Old Mill, 21 Old Mill Rd., 416-236-2641, oldmilltoronto.com
Map and reviews

RELATED: 10 Top Sports Bars Near Toronto’s Air Canada Centre

8. ORBIT ROOM
Founded by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, this minuscule venue in Little Italy presents a mix of rock, blues and jazz several nights a week. The best time to come, however, is on Friday evening, when the backing band of the late local legend Jeff Healy—now called the Dave Murphy Band—set the planets spinning with their inspired mix of genres. To see the whole schedule, click here.
• Orbit Room, 580a College St., 416-535-0613, orbitroom.ca
Map and reviews

9. CHERRY STREET RESTAURANT
This eatery in the Port Lands was built in 1907 as a Dominion Bank, and transitioned to a restaurant in the 1940s. It is now nicely positioned on the street taken by gaggles of cyclists and skaters en route to the Martin Goodman Cycle Path. The space was refurbished in 2010 to incorporate an intimate performance space with great acoustics to showcase the restaurant’s music program. The schedule varies from week to week, but always features artists like the incomparable Alex Samaras and Sophia Perlman, plus other superb mainstays from the Toronto jazz scene.
• Cherry Street Restaurant, 275 Cherry St., 416-461-5111, cherryst.ca
Map and reviews

10. THE PILOT TAVERN
The Pilot makes it onto this list because of its jazz performances on Saturday afternoons. Need a break from shopping or dining in Toronto’s Mink Mile? Make it a musical break. From 3:30 to 6.30, you can listen to jazz in this fun Yorkville resto-bar. Check out the riveted metal décor, vintage aviation decor and lovely rooftop patio. Click here to see this month’s schedule of events.
• The Pilot, 22 Cumberland St., 416-923-5716, thepilot.ca
• Map and reviews

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— Carol Spode runs Tailor-Made Toronto—http://britgirlintoronto.wordpress.com—which offers Toronto-based itinerary planning tailored to a client’s interests and time frame. If you are a visitor, have visitors coming to stay or simply want to find out how exciting and diverse Toronto can be, then leave a comment on Carol’s blog. Contact: britgirlintoronto@wordpress.com.

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