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Get the Party Started: Toronto’s Nightlife Boasts Something for Everyone

THE RECIPE FOR A GREAT EVENING OUT IN TORONTO? AMAZING MUSIC, A BIG DANCE FLOOR AND A LITTLE SOCIAL LUBRICANT.
BY CRAIG MOY

The Drake Hotel. Photo by Connie Tsang.

The Drake Hotel is a hip west-end hub. Photo by Connie Tsang.

UP IN THE CLUBS

Toronto may not be Las Vegas or Miami when it comes to extravagant nightspots. But even in this relatively staid city there’s a clutch of people who know how to party—and a brace of impressive venues to host the revelry. Downtown’s nightlife nexus is generally bound by King and Queen streets, between Bathurst Street and University Avenue. Upstart Ace (425 Adelaide St. W., 416-504-1444) caters to the city’s trendy young professionals. It’s intimate, but there’s room to breathe, and for a premium you can keep it that way in a private booth. Similarly smaller scale is Media Bar, a chic nightclub-meets-social-club type of space where you can charge your iPhone while nursing your drink. On the other end of the spectrum are spaces such as Uniun—which attracts big crowds with its no-expense-spared ambience and guest appearances by top international DJs—and Exhibition Place’s Muzik nightclub, featuring such amenities as a beauty bar (with hair and makeup services for ladies) and an exclusive Grey Goose lounge.

That said, sometimes a discerning nightcrawler needs something more novel to get the blood pumping and the champagne flowing: hybrid bars-slash-nightclubs The Everleigh and Cabin Five attract attention by fostering a Canadiana-chic vibe, while Rock ’n’ Horse Saloon carries 10-gallon Stetsons, cowboy boots and bolo ties into the 21st century on the back of a mechanical bull. And then there’s Chill Ice House (page 27). True to its name, Toronto’s newest nightspot embraces our wintry weather: the lounge’s walls, furniture, bar and even its glasses are made of ice.

MIX AND MINGLE

Getting a nice, stiff drink in Toronto has never been difficult, per se, but these days it’s easier than ever. The really timeless tipples, of course, have long been kept alive at the leather-bound Roof Lounge, one of the city’s most venerated—and most comfortably traditional—hotel bars, while numerous neighbourhood establishments up the ante by using artisan ingredients in soon-to-be-classic and real-deal-timeless recipes. The Black Hoof’s Cocktail Bar (923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511) leads the pack in this regard, but you can’t go wrong ambling into the likes of Northwood (815 Bloor St. W., 416-846-8324), D.W. Alexander or Montauk (765 Dundas St. W., 647-352-4810), which has both Manhattans and negronis on tap. Speaking of time, bars such as SpiritHouse and Museum Tavern use it wisely to create barrel-aged cocktails—drinks that have gained smoother, mellower flavours by maturing in oak barrels for three to four weeks.

If it’s a more unusual sip that you seek, BarChef is a natural first-call: the city’s foremost envelope-pushing lounge is known for utilizing molecular techniques in its signature cocktails. Should those complex creations prove intimidating, rest assured that dialed-down, yet contemporary, drinks can be had at finer venues across Toronto. We recommend investigating the inventiveness of Momofuku Nikai and Cold Tea.

GET IN THE GROOVE

The city’s live music scene is ample and diverse. Use this handy guide to decide where you should go tonight!

Kool Haus, Phoenix Concert Theatre and Sound Academy: Toronto’s mid-size concert venues are known (though not always favourably) for their cavernous acoustics, as well as for their consistently varied bookings: one night might see British synth-pop stylists Bombay Bicycle Club, while the next could bring alternative rapper Ab-Soul to the stage.

Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace: In business for more than 60 years, the ’Shoe is a prime destination for scoping out emerging local talent—particularly those with a folk-rock or alt-country vibe—as well as bigger-name bands. Somewhat larger, Lee’s Palace attracts a range of established indie acts, including Beach House, The Wooden Sky, Cloud Nothings and Royal Canoe.

The Rex and Jazz Bistro: Toronto’s jazz scene isn’t necessarily as vital as it once was, but these downtown venues keep swinging. On top of its regular jazz and blues programming, Jazz Bistro also boasts a weekly Latin showcase and Sunday jazz brunch. Older and a bit rougher around the edges, The Rex nevertheless invigorates with a minimum of two shows every night.

The Hoxton: Each month, this urban-chic space hosts a decent number of big-beat EDM artists who know how to play to the clubby crowd.

Wrongbar: Eclectic DJs are the stars of the show at this Parkdale venue. The official schedule is sparser than at other spots, but musicians playing elsewhere in town have been known to drop by Wrongbar to spin some post-performance vinyl.

The Drake Hotel: This hip west-end arts-and-culture hub alternates between indie-rock concerts, DJ-directed dance parties, comedy shows and more.

The Tranzac: The Toronto Australia New Zealand Club (The Tranzac for short) has made a name for itself by regularly hosting a variety of hyper-local performers. The tunes tend toward the folksier end of the spectrum—with a smattering of contemporary classical and creatively improvised music—but often incorporate a somewhat experimental mien.

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