Toronto's Best Nightlife: Find Late-Night Fun in These Party Spots
By Courtney Sunday
New York and Toronto Local Expert
As so eloquently stated in the 90s comedy Wayne's World: "It's party time! Excellent." (Now that Mike Myers has cemented his Canadian celebrity status by making it onto a stamp, a quote by him is reputable). If you want to watch the dark night become darker and "just one drink" turn into "too many drinks" we have your party-central destinations in Toronto. Being the Canadian city with the largest population, Toronto's only problem when it comes to nightlife is too much choice.
You can certainly go the comedy route with a visit to Chicago's sister location of Second City or Comedy Bar. Similarly, Toronto has the spots to entertain you musically, with live acts at places like The Garrison or Rivoli. However, you might want a little something different. Something like burlesque dancing at Cherry Cola's Rock 'N' Rolla Cabaret and Lounge (yes, that is really the name). Or perhaps something like a mechanical bull-ride at Boots 'N' Bourbon Saloon. One thing is for certain: if you want to emit the vibe of off-the-beaten track, just put an "N" instead of "and" to be on your way.
There are other nights to sleep. Now that Netflix is a reality we no longer have the excuse to stay in to watch TV. Toronto is waiting for you to get out and stay out late.
10 El Rancho
Sometimes you want to dance like no one's watching...and at other times you want to dance like everyone is watching. If you are feeling the latter, El Rancho is a great latin dance club in Toronto where you can shake any part of your body that feels like shaking. Although other latin clubs in Toronto can be intimidating for the beginner who has not yet mastered the splits, El Rancho is a welcoming space. So welcoming that if you come before 11pm, they not only give you free admission but a salsa and bachata dance lesson. Dinner is also delightful, with dishes from fajitas to chorizo to bring a little latin flavour to your tastebuds as well as to the dance floor. (416-921-2752)
9 Comedy Bar
The unpretentious exterior to the Comedy Bar let's you in on its no-frill secret: they want you there to laugh. That's it. If feel-good TV isn't feeling quite as good, consider this low-cost night out. Often for less than a cost of a movie, you can get a seat at a show that may be live improvisation or stand-up comedy. There are laughs every night of the week. It is the underground and alternative choice for stand-up comedy. The menu includes some jazzed up versions of standard pub fare, including a Montreal Steamie (a hot dog that doesn't normally make its way east to Toronto). (416-551-6540)
Rivoli is a Toronto restaurant/bar/pool hall/live music venue dedicated to helping you to have a good time (if you have a problem with that sort of thing). The expansive patio is filled with sun-starved Canadians come the summer months, yet that is not the only reason to go. The back room has acts ranging from phenomenal acoustic music to poetry readings to comedy acts. The talent has even included Kids in the Hall, Cowboy Junkies, Beck, the Indigo Girls, Iggy Pop and Janeane Garofalo. Feist worked at the bar at one point in time, so be nice to your bartender just in case you go to his or her concert in the future. The 5,000 square foot pool hall upstairs is great for letting off a little steam. Try to get one of the 13 vintage pool tables and call it a night. (416-596-1908, 416-977-5082)
7 Cube Nightclub
Although imagining dancing in a place called Cube might conjure up claustrophobic images, Cube is indeed the opposite. Impressively spacious, L shaped yellow vinyl couches snake around the club offering the opportunity to rest tired feet in a charmingly retro fashion. Most people choose to stand with cocktails as accessories, swaying to the top 40 and house music. Built in the reformed Ultra club, Cube attracts the over 25 crowd. Cube claims that it was built "with evening mischief in mind." Some clubs seem to be dark to hide their dinginess, but Cube could get away with being more brightly lit, were it not for the whole beer goggles thing. (416-263-0330)
6 The Garrison
The Garrison is a no-frills place where some of the top acts in the city congregate. It has the two essentials of live music: good acoustics and space to dance (or at least sway without taking someone's eye out). Go into the front room to get an earful of the night's offerings. Once you are ready to commit, pay your cover and get prepared to say "What?" as things can get quite loud. Not only do they have bands, but also DJ nights, and even an expose of book titles from Coach House books. Check out the schedule on their website, open every day but Monday to entertain the heck out of you. (415-519-9439)
5 Cherry Cola's Rock N Rolla Cabaret and Lounge Toronto
We are certain that by the name alone you can tell that a night out at Cherry Cola's Rock 'n' Rolla is not going to be ho-hum. With everything from go-go dancers to burlesque nights, Cherry Cola's bring the sexy back to Toronto. Even the bartenders glam it up with heavy makeup and lace bustiers. The place glows with black and red accents, taking you far away from whatever in your life occupies your thoughts most of the time. Expect to hear some of that "Rock n Roll" that you might have expected, with live bands and smooth tunes almost every night of the week. (416-703-6969)
4 Second City
Toronto's Second City has churned out some of the best of the best of epic Canadian comedy talent. We are talking Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Michael Myers, Catherine O'Hara, Gilda Radner, Martin Short and Dave Thomas. With 50 years of laughs under their belt, The Second City has comedy sketches, revues and late-night improv, polished to perfection for your side-splitting amusement. The 316-seat venue feels intimate and works just perfectly for a date, with pasta and pizza and other options available to replace the calories burned by laughing. Go to see the future stars on Canada's walk of fame. (416-343-0011, 800-263-4485)
3 C Lounge
C Lounge is a spa inspired lounge and the decor is certainly chic when you enter. You can get some spa treatments if you come early, pampering yourself while you sip cocktails. The music is often top 40 with some R&B and there is plenty of space to bump and grind. In the summer, the amazing patio has VIP cabins, palm trees and a pool. It is open in the winter as well, with jackets on offer to bundle into once you have already checked your Canada Goose. The crowd tends to be in the 20s and 30s and well dressed, although people in yoga pants can also be found. If you are bar hopping, this is a good one to tack onto Muzik. (416-260-9393)
2 Boots 'n' Bourbon Saloon
Boots N'Bourbon is a country Western bar in downtown Toronto that surprisingly works. Dust off your cowboy boots and get ready to hear some good music played by musicians in flannel shirts. Entertainment doesn't end there, with a mechanical bull daring people to stay on for less than one second. Fuel your pre-ride nerves with food ranging from fried cheese to bacon bombs (in case you want your bacon fried and beer battered and smothered in cheese). Make your own Po' Boy and wash it all down with a signature cocktail, like Grandma's Texas Lemonade. All we can say is that grandma liked a strong drink. (647-348-0880)
1 Horseshoe Tavern
The Horseshoe has been entertaining Torontonians since 1947. Most people who have lived in Toronto for some time have a Horseshoe Tavern story. An innocuous looking place on Queen Street West, it changes along with the times, providing everything from folk to reggae to rock and roll. It has become an accomplishment for a local musician to secure a gig and the Horseshoe is proudly dedicated to showcasing the best of the best of Canadian local talent. Throughout its formidable history, it has become a place for the famous to play intimate surprise concerts, from the Rolling Stones to Blue Rodeo to Etta James. It may be a little bit of a dive, but it's Toronto's favourite dive for 65 years and counting. (416-598-4753, 416-598-4226)
About Courtney Sunday
Courtney Sunday lived in Canterbury, England and Luzern, Switzerland before returning to Toronto in 2010. Yoga teaching and freelance writing became her full-time professions, as she learned the true meaning of the statement: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." Courtney now divides her time between Philadelphia and Toronto. She loves the cafe culture of both cities and the ever-expanding group of foodies. When not leading small yoga teacher trainings around the globe she explores her cities by foot: www.courtneysunday.com, @Omathomeyoga.
Read more about Courtney Sunday here.