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, where Mike Myers perfected his comedy chops. Toronto also has the spots to entertain you musically, with live acts at places like The Garrison. However, you might want a little something different. 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, although we don't know when, because like a fine wine, Toronto gets better with age. The city is waiting for you to get out and stay out late.
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. However, dark looks good when it is nightlife we are after. (416-263-0330)
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)
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)
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)
Formerly The Annex Wreck Room, Coda is a nightclub that is super proud of their audio and lighting system. Your favourite energetic gym songs will feel like they are directly pumping through your veins. The specialty is electronic, house and techno music with underground DJs often visiting to host your weekend nights. Coda even has a spacious dance floor that doesn't require you to fuse to a stranger. Dance anywhere and dance all the way until 5am. Coda even offers snacks, like chicken tacos and fruit kabobs that will have you making better decisions than a 2am street meat run. (416-536-0346)
Music is becoming more and more private. Earbuds are stuffed into our eardrums to create an internal symphony. However, remember the concert? The small venues where you felt like you had a relationship with the artist on stage, and there was nothing distracting you from the music? Hugh's Room provides just that. This nightspot is a cozy venue in the Roncesvalles area with small circular tables that harbour groups or couples. Dinner is available before the show, or you can be bar happy as you enjoy some great acts. Big names like Colin Hay, Richie Havens and Ron Sexsmith have played here. It is small enough to feel like they are playing just for you and your beloved if you choose to make a date night of it. (416-531-6604)
In some ways, Toronto is an underground labyrinth. With subways connected to condos connected to office buildings, there are many months of the year where Torontonians do not see the light of day. Why not celebrate this vampire quality with a music venue that is delightfully underground, settled into the Drake Hotel? Live indie shows range from a Daft Punk cover band to big names like Beck and M.I.A. The 250-person space provides an intimate mood at every concert. DJ dance parties, film screenings and comedy performances round out the offerings on other evenings. There is no cell phone service in the basement, so stay close to your fist-pumping friends. (416-531-5042)
Toronto restaurateur and nightlife kingpin Charles Khabouth has been at the forefront of both the city's dining and dancing scenes for years. So when he opened Uniun in the downtown Entertainment District in 2013, Toronto's party-loving set knew it was going to be a hit. The 16,000 square foot space opened in the 1920s as a factory, but has since housed its share of popular nightclubs come and go. Uniun aims to have staying power with comfortable leather banquettes and thousands of LED lights lining the walls, a state-of-the-art sound system and, of course, plenty of space for dancing. Up to 1,500 patrons at a time can enjoy Uniun's vibe and grab a drink at one of six bars. ((416) 603-9300)
Located in the Thompson Hotel, The Wildflower is cooler than you. Even the website seems vaguely bored, as if it no longer has time to do such monotonous activities as picking a daisy clean to get the answer to the question, "Does he love me?" Answer: lovesusnot (which happens to be their web address). This lounge is 3,500 square feet of modern art, indie music and fashion trends. It's the kind of place that you don't even need beer googles to find fascinating and beautiful. Bottle service is in the hundreds of dollars if you decide to challenge that last statement.
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.