NXNE Hits Toronto today, and the city is in for six days of great music, films, and events geared to the muso in all of us. Here’s a list of great places in Toronto that are not only musts for this week, but highly recommended as cool places to hang this summer.
The 2010 Toronto Summer Hang Lists
These are by no means the only destinations this city has to offer, but they are personal favourites and we think you would like them too. Every one of these places will afford you a great time, whether it be for music, food, or drink. Just click on the links for more information about each place. If you are in the music, media, movie, or entertainment industries and are visiting Toronto this summer, these are the places you will find your contemporaries and get a good taste of the city and its inhabitants. If you’re in a touring Indie band, these places will connect you to your peers, or offer a break from the travails of the road. Every one of the establishments listed below will lead you to more places equally as interesting.
Here are the lists…
All Around Best
Academy of Spherical Arts: This bar/restaurant/pool hall is unique for many reasons. First of all it is huge, yet intimate and cozy. The food is top notch, and the pool and snooker tables well maintained and absolutely beautiful examples of fine craftsmanship. The bar is the most compelling reason this watering hole is a standout. There must be at least 200 different Scotches available, a massive wine cellar in the basement, and one of the best collections of Bourbons in the city. The physical bar itself is an awe-inspiring hand crafted work of art, and they need a library railed ladder to reach some of the bottles. The bartenders know their stuff, and there is a bus stop at the corner, ample parking, and an inexpensive cab ride to just about anywhere downtown. Leave the car at home…you’re going to want to sample some of the amazing collection of fine liquors and wines available here. This is where the Rolling Stones partied when they were in town rehearsing their last few tours.
Cadillac Lounge: An excellent menu of the wings/burgers/clubhouse variety and some great live music that spans terrific roots/country/punk locals, new Indie acts, and legends ranging from Robert Gordon to Wanda Jackson. The Caddy also boasts one of the largest and best patios in the city. Most of all, the drinks are well poured, the tap and bottled beer are ice cold, and the staff like being there just as much as you do. Say hello to the owner Sam, share an order of fries, dig the music, and enjoy the patio. Indie roots, country and punk bands play and party here regularly. The Queen car stops right out in front.
Grossman’s Tavern: It ain’t fancy, but it has the ability to take you out of the present and plop you down in an un-definable past when everything was better and life wasn’t full of bad news and lousy breaks. A home for most every local blues musician for the past 40 years, Grossman’s is a friendly, homey, excuse to bend elbows with old friends, make new ones, and get a good buzz on either to start an evening out or end one. Again, the beer is ice cold, the drinks are well poured, and the staff are more like family than employees. More about their food and music below. Give our best to Dawn if she’s waiting tables the night you’re there. The local blues and folk community can be found here most nights. The Spadina streetcar stops right in front.
Laide: It’s dark, exotic, and driven thematically by Russ Meyer, Bettie Page, and gentrified pornographic day dreams. The bartenders are adventurous and creative, and Laide is one of the few places we hang where you can trust the staff behind the bar to make something just for you. Tell them what you like and they can come up with a drink that you have never had before, but will please even the most demanding palate. There’s a stripper pole in case your date has one too many shooters, and nice booths and intimate corners to insure a modicum of privacy. A solid, inventive menu, great background music, and drinks you will remember for a long time. Upscale chic with a low brow mindset. Great place to unwind. I recommend taking a cab.
Eat My Martini: There are 150 different martinis on the menu here and well poured well drinks. The prices are such that you will want to try as many of the martinis as you can handle. A lively, young crowd, loud house music, and a tiny patio that affords some of the best people watching on the College Street Strip. A limited budget goes a long way here. College streetcar stops right across the street.
Southern Accent: More about the food down below, but the bar here is not only beautifully stocked, the bartenders are fun, engaging and you will return as much for the conversations that spring from these bar stools as you will for the Hurricanes, Bourbon Sours, and ice cold Creemore on tap. One of the better Bourbon selections in the city thanks to Francis, one of the owners, seeking out and adding the best ones available. Great clientele, lots of movie and creative folks, and the kind of conversations that make you lose track of the time. The ‘40’s New Orleans ambiance doesn’t hurt either. Great Cajun, Zydeco and Blues played at a ‘just right’ volume fuels the discussions, and Richard, the main bartender, will charm the bejeesus out of just about anyone. Actors, directors, and professionals can be found at the bar most nights and lovers of New Orleans sights and sounds feel most at home. The Bathurst streetcar and Bloor subway line are just around the corner.
The Dakota Tavern: A great place to drink. Dark, funky, and full of people who still believe in great music. Lots of regulars, including some very well known musical artists from the Toronto area. A long bar, comfortable bar stools made from what appear to be whiskey casks, and a friendly, attentive staff. By the way, the food here is wonderful comfort food and the house made mac and cheese is unbelievably good. Keith’s on tap as well as a whole bunch of other good brands, and the bartenders know how to mix a highball. Ron Sexsmith, Tom Wilson, and other musical dignitaries can be spotted at the bar when they’re not out on the road. Ossington bus stops right in front.
The Emmit Ray: A little off the beaten path, The E.R is west of the madhouse that makes up the College Street Strip in Little Italy, but manages to have a large and interesting clientele who come for the great prices, cool regulars, and eclectic musical choices by both the live performers and the D.J’s. Again, this bar offers extremely reasonable prices and a solid menu of treats you won’t find anywhere else. Good brown whiskeys abound, and there are specials all the time. Try the warm olives, cheese platter, pate, or house made pot pies. Fun crowd, cold beer, easy access. Andrew knows his whiskeys and Bourbons, Christa and Matt also add to the friendly vibe, and Sebastian and Fiona are behind the bar when the owners take a break. The College streetcar stops at the corner of Dovercourt and College, a 30 second walk to the Emmit Ray.
THE NUMBER ONE ALL AROUND HANG
Cherry Cola Rock N’ Rolla Cabaret Lounge: This is the bar for the summer of 2010. It has the potential to become legendary, joining the front bar at The Troubadour in L.A, Nobody’s in Greenwich Village, Thursday’s in Montreal, and Bemmelman’s and Blues on Belair in Toronto as places I will never forget. From the ‘50’s Brothel ambiance, to the beautiful women who dance in the window box, to the legions of fans who pack the place late in the evening, to the incredibly friendly and alert bar staff, Cherry Cola is the place that just screams ‘ground zero’ for a good time. A lot of that is attributable to co-owners Glenn Hughes and Cherish Stevenson, who make their presence known every night adding their personalities to the place and taking it up a notch every time they’re in the room. It is a well known fact that the people who are responsible for the vision an establishment pursues need to be in the building, and like all the other places on this list, these two are here putting their all into what is clearly a labour of love. This is an extremely well stocked bar, and the bartenders are without a doubt the cutest, sexiest, and quickest in the city. If you order a Long Island Ice Tea here (a summer favourite) you will get one made from scratch, not a pre-made cocktail out of a plastic bottle. The dirty classic gin martini is frosty and potent. The drinks are liberally poured, and the staff sport smiles and genuinely seem to really be enjoying themselves at all times. There seems to be a camaraderie amongst not only the staff and the owners, but almost every person in the place. It is the kind of bar that instills loyalty and respect in its clients, and Cherry Cola seems to possess an overflow of both. The bar pours some inventive and creative shooters, the beer is ice cold, and the mixed drinks are crisp and well poured. There is a secluded patio for smokers and conversations are frequent between strangers here. We have yet to depart Cherry Cola without at least a few new friends. Spotted here recently, music maven Cameron Carpenter, Led Zeppelin/Them Crooked Vultures bassist John Paul Jones, members of Sum 41 and Billy Talent (pictured here, Bob with Sum 41’s Tom Thacker and Billy Talent’s Ian D’Sa), entrepreneur David Daniloff, and musical artist Jay Sparrow. More about The Cherry down below. 200 Bathurst, a 30 second walk north from the corner of Bathurst and Queen. Look for the red door, chandelier, and Tom.
The Emmit Ray: A great mix of cool DJ’s and live jazz. A great spot to chill and groove. Terrific local jazz groups like ‘New and Used’ who channel some of the greats.
The Mod Club: Many will tell you that the sound and sightlines in this high-ceilinged concert hall cannot be beat and I would be hard pressed to argue with them. Everything from touring biggies and up-and-comers to the best of the local Indie bands. Platinum Blonde’s Mark Holmes spins tracks with the best of them on Saturday nights.
The Hideout: Awesome layout, busy bar and a fine patio. An Indie favourite.
The Orbit Room: One of the few places that has built a reputation with residency bands that deliver fine soul, R&B, funk and blues. Hot crowd and good sound. Lots of fun and the music is always top notch. In the heart of the College Street Strip.
The Rivoli: A Queen Street West favourite since the late ‘70’s. The showroom in the back features solid local bands and touring artists from everywhere. Good food, a nice lounge upstairs, and a usually packed bar and dining room upfront.
The Drake Hotel: I first saw Ali Milner here, and Athens, Georgia’s Caspar and the Cookies, and there are a lot of Indie showcases in the intimate basement showroom. Make sure you check out the rooftop patio.
The Bovine Sex Club: Hard to get hipper than this. The Bovine has been around for like 30 years and still draws the coolest of the cool and the edgiest and hottest new bands that play downtown Toronto. When the horror/comedy vampire flick ‘Suck’ premieres at NXNE next weekend, catch Alice Cooper tending bar at the Bovine during the film.
Cherry Cola: The new kid in town, Cherry Cola has already established itself as the go-to place for band members as well as their fans. The Eagles of Death Metal opened the place and are returning for another show, and more bands are doing showcases here every week. Great DJ’s like Starboy and DJ Andrew keep the joint jumping until the last person leaves, and the dance floor gets jammed in the wee hours. Great fun.
Grossman’s Tavern: Da Blues, Baby! If you love the blues and solid roots music, Grossman’s will fill your cup. Everyone from Jeff Healey to Downchild, to Jerome Godboo have played this place and have always found an appreciative audience. Not only that, the grilled cheese sandwich and French fries are delish and inexpensive. Ice cold pitchers and great blues. Saturday afternoons the Happy Pals play New Orleans style jazz and have been doing so for decades. Do not miss.
Hugh’s Room: Perfect sightlines and good sound make this a favourite for CD release parties and roots showcases. My only complaint is this: I would really love this place more if the menu was a little more ‘down home’ with ribs, chili, meatloaf, and chicken fried steak replacing the stacked-up ‘cuisine’ they serve now. I could see Hugh’s being more like the Dakota Tavern, even wondering to myself what the vibe would be like if they put sawdust on the floor. Still, you will always hear great music in this venue every time you visit.
Horseshoe Tavern: It isn’t known as the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern for nothing. Everyone has played this place. The first time I saw the Talking Heads was here. The ONLY time I saw Johnny Paycheck was here. New bands debut here and legends return, like last week’s Diodes reunion. A must see and hear venue and a guaranteed night of great music and cold beer.
The Dakota Tavern: This walk-down basement venue is one of my favourite places ever. It is all about the music in this establishment. The bands that play here are the real deal and I have never walked away without thinking about what a great show I had just seen. Myk Gordon, Harlan Pepper, and Lee Harvey Osmond are just a few of the stellar artists who have packed this room in the past. The sound is always wonderful and the vibe is warm and natural. Do not miss.
FOOD: Eat In
If you get hungry while you’re here for NXNE or on vacation, you are in luck. Toronto is a city full of great places to eat. Here’s a short list of some of the best, and our pick for one of the best restaurants anywhere.
Rancho Relaxo: Authentic Mexican cuisine, perfect margaritas and a fine showcase venue upstairs. Owner/Chef Donnie Blaise has been a avid supporter of music and bands for decades, including running the still missed Fryfogel’s in London Ontario. He not only makes sure that young bands have a place to play upstairs, he has put together a menu of ridiculously good Mexican fare. This is where the Dos Equis Man has dinner…and a Dos Equis.
Sneaky Dee’s: Less authentic and more Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex than Rancho Relaxo, but also has a showroom upstairs that presents quite a few All Ages shows. The portions are huge and they serve breakfast until 4 every afternoon. Good luck trying to finish the large nacho platter or combination plates.
Café Diplomatico: Authentic, unpretentious Italian fare served by a busy wait staff and best eaten on the extremely popular patio. Expect a line-up on weekends, but well worth the wait. The antipasto platters are excellent and the people watching is an added plus.
Banjara: The best Indian restaurant I have ever eaten at. The Butter Chicken is perfect, the naan is tasty. They also carry Cheetah Beer…an actual Indian Pale Ale. Warning: If the menu says an item is hot, they mean HOT! Always busy…go early.
Bella Vista: My favourite Italian restaurant in Little Italy. The sausage Penne with Arrabbiata Sauce is to die for, as are the personal thin crust pizzas. Everything on the menu is a family recipe and absolutely wonderful. Friendly service, a nice patio, and a pretty good wine list. Perfect place to dine before heading out to a show.
Southern Accent: Cajun done right. Try the blackened chicken, gumbo, and jambalaya and start with the best calamari we’ve had in Toronto. This is simply one of the most romantic and satisfying restaurants in the city. Large outdoor patio for dining, a fortune teller/psychic on the premises, and one owner in the kitchen and the other on the floor. Save room for the dessert menu…seriously.
Highway 61: Ribs, both beef and pork, the smoked chicken, the pulled pork or chicken the best cornbread I’ve ever had in Canada, and onion rings from another world. Great staff and the owner is in house most days. If you’re as sloppy an eater as I am you will need a stack of napkins and a few wet-naps. An absolute summer destination, especially if your grilling skills aren’t up to snuff. Dammit, I just drooled on my keyboard…
Rodney’s Oyster House: Rodney used to bring a big wooden tub of fresh oysters into the old Jo Allen’s just off of King Street back in the 80’s every Thursday, and my friends and I would sit there at the bar and eat until we either ran out of money or room. Rodney’s seafood savvy and love affair with food has manifested itself into this wonderful upscale restaurant where you can feast on the freshest and most lovingly prepared Pacific and Atlantic seafood available anywhere. The clam and oyster selection is vast, he has Dungeness Crab in season, and you and your friends can buy a whole live King Crab that will feed a dozen or more people. Also check out the chowders, New England, Manhattan, and corn.
The Old Mill: Old School dining and dancing just like it used to be. Seriously, this is a great night out especially if you want to have an elegant dinner with music that ranges from blues, to classic rock and roll, to big bands and Rat Pack tributes. Perfect for a date or a night out with the Mrs. Add an overnight stay, and you won’t be sorry.
THE ABSOLUTE BEST
Harbour 60: Every meal I have ever had here has been memorable. Beautiful food served in beautiful surroundings. The bone-in rib steak and the seafood platter are my favourites, and the seared Ahi starter is undeniable. Excellence permeates everything on the menu, and I mean everything. Excellent service, attentive staff, and the ambiance all conspire to make you feel special and welcome. Honestly, of all the great restaurants I have had the pleasure to dine in, Harbour 60 is the pinnacle. Reservations are recommended. Valet parking.
FOOD: Fast Food/Take Out
Here’s a short list of great places for when you need a good nosh at the hotel, on the run, or wherever. Some deliver, some don’t. The menus and phone numbers are at the links.
Dangerous Dan’s Diner: Like the man says, this is a Southern style diner. Everything is good.
California Sandwiches: Best Italian sandwiches in the city. Almost always a line-up, but totally worth the wait. The sandwiches are huge.
Popeyes: Yeah, I know, it’s a chain, but oh Baby, that is some fine chicken. Great sides too.
Pizza Hut: Also a chain, but as Seb Agnello pointed out to me, they make Pizza the Sicilian way, with a perfect thick pie infused with olive oil and with an almost Focaccia bread quality and texture. The wings aren’t bad, either.
Burro Burrito: Another wonderful and singular place on the College Street Strip. Best take-out Burritos in town.
JohnnyRockets: Yippers…another chain, but definitely a cut above. The Original cheeseburger is one of the best burgers I have had, and it is the only place in Toronto where you can get an actual Nathan’s Hot Dog, a New York fave. Not Pinks, but pretty damn good for a hot dog. Great shakes and floats, and ice cold Keith’s on tap. Eat in or take out. Across the street from Dundas Square and a fine place to wait for Iggy and the Stooges’ NXNE appearance.
Caplansky’s: The Centre Street Deli is too far North of the city, but Caplansky’s fills in nicely. Order the Old Fashioned medium, you won’t be sorry.
South Sea: Great Chinese food at reasonable prices. Just down the block from the Black Swan. The pork fried rice and crispy chicken are awesome.
Churrasqueira Oliveira Ltd.: Right next door to The Emmit Ray. Just look in the window to see what’s available. Closes early, so grab some take-out for later. Wonderful chicken and ribs and the deep fried shrimp are a bargain.
Smokin’ Bones: More Southern style comfort food made with love by believers in quality. Everything on the menu is soulfully satisfying. The ribs and chicken sell out early, so act accordingly.
The Vesta Lunch: The only place on this list open 24 hours a day. The Vesta has been dishing it out since 1955. There when you need ‘em.
bob segarini writes stuff, sings stuff, watches stuff and does stuff. He can be reached at email@example.com, read at http://www.fyimusic.ca and listened to at iTunes, http://www.rtds.ca and on CD’s by The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, All the Young Dudes, Segarini, and Cats and Dogs.
Today’s Quote: “This business has no business being a business.”