Toronto has a jazz scene that’s vibrant and thriving.
Of course, the city’s many great artists wouldn’t be able to do what they do if they didn’t have somewhere to play. Luckily, Toronto has an abundance of bars and clubs where locals and visitors can enjoy an entertaining night of live jazz.
You can find an evening of classy, formal dining, casual New York underground vibes and everything in between. There are longstanding stalwarts along with hidden gems that crop up. And this is a jazz scene that supports the old guard of venerable veterans while leaving plenty of room for talented newcomers to ply their trade on any given night.
Here are some of the top destinations for live jazz in Toronto.
Jazz Bistro is an elegant and beautifully decorated club that welcomes so many local and international jazz stars, and everyone is excited to play the club’s gorgeous piano — a red Steinway certainly catches the eye. Next to the Senator Winebar and just steps from Yonge-Dundas Square, the Jazz Bistro offers a classy ambiance and incredible food in Toronto’s bustling metropolitan centre. Whether you’re sitting down for dinner or you’ve got a spot at the bar, the music sounds great. It’s a perfect spot for date night.
Claiming the crown of Toronto’s longest-running jazz club, the Rex hosts 80 shows a month with some of the best Canadian artists and talent from around the world. Located in the Queen West shopping district, it consistently has a stacked daily lineup of jazz groups and serves pub-style fare to whet your appetite.
Calling itself “Toronto’s hippest night spot,” this club does things a little differently and has been successful for 20 years and counting. Located in St. Lawrence right across from the Flatiron Building, Reservoir Lounge features live jazz every night. They book each of their artists for the same night each week and the theme is always uptempo jazz and jump blues. A small but delicious food menu and excellent bartenders keep people coming back as much as the music. While the sight lines aren’t great, this room is as much about partying as it is about dancing and enjoying live music.
The Pilot has been booking jazz artists every Saturday afternoon for many decades, and because of this it has one of the most enthusiastic and loyal jazz crowds in Toronto. You’ll need to get to this Yorkville tavern at least an hour before the show if you want any chance of getting a seat.
This is a prime venue for Latin jazz and world music in Toronto. Lula Lounge boasts a great atmosphere, amazing staff and a really unique environment that’s reminiscent of an old-world dance hall. They have great Latin nights on the weekends, including salsa lessons. The food is deliciously unique, and the sound is impeccable.
Hugh’s Room Live is in the running for the best acoustic music venue in Toronto, with great sound and clear sight lines. Named after the late brother of founder Richard Carson, this not-for-profit organization is as collectively cooperative and diverse in its sensibility as jazz in this city and throughout Canada. Like no other venue, it supports and nurtures jazz artists in Toronto. After closing its doors in January of 2017, it was revived that spring thanks to donations from supporters in the music community. It is a survivor, and that spirit is in every nook of the space.
This relatively new addition to Toronto’s jazz scene is a classy, civilized spot that will have a ton of appeal among whisky connoisseurs and jazz aficionados — and especially among fans of both. The bar boasts more than 250 different whiskies, and there’s a live jazz band or two just about every night. This is a cozy, tried-and-true jazz room with a faithful following. Here you’re likely to find nontraditional bands led by university students — many of whom are current or former participants in our Jazzology program — so it’s a great place to check out Toronto’s potential future stars.
With its blocky red decor and dedication to staging live jazz just about every night, the 120 Diner isn’t your typical diner. This is an incredibly artist-friendly space, with a robust local booking policy and a strong sense of community. The staff have hearts of gold, and the venue has surprisingly decent sound for such a small room. Come here to see some of Toronto’s most talented jazz artists in a casual downtown setting with a selection of classic diner fare.
This spot in Kensington Market is all about the next generation of jazz. The narrow, dimly lit room is home to experimental jazz and spoken word that breaks from the norm and “jumps without parachutes.” Poetry Jazz Cafe is a cool, youthful, eclectic, spirited and brave upstart that always aims to offer something completely different than you’ll hear anywhere else.
There is no hotel lobby bar in Toronto quite like this one. It always has live jazz on the weekends and often during the week, too. Phenomenal bar staff, a warm, timeless ambiance and a new-and-improved menu should be more than enough reason to go. The best reason of all? Fay Olson has been booking the best local jazz in this room for years.
This enduring establishment in the Entertainment District has featured some of the finest music in town for more than 20 years. N’awlins features blues on Thursdays and jazz on Fridays and Saturdays, along with some kickin’ Cajun-Creole cuisine. If you want a taste of New Orleans right here in downtown Toronto, look no further.
Alex Lifeson, Tim Notter and their crew have the hottest spot on College Street. Coming up on its 25th birthday, The Orbit Room continues to book some of the best musicians in town on a regular basis. Home to a terrific Hammond B3 organ, the venue books as much rock and funk as they do jazz. It’s a bar only, so eat first!
First opened in 1943, Grossman’s Tavern is one of Toronto’s oldest live music venues. With a long-standing reputation for blues music, this lovable dive bar has seen the likes Jeff Healey, Blue Rodeo and the Downchild Blues Band before they became the household names they are today. Along its walls you can see its many decades of history. With current acts like Combo Royale and Laura Hubert, it’s often a high point of our Classic Jazz Safaris. Stop by for cheap draft beer and bar food, and enjoy a night of entertainment that won’t let you down.
This tequila joint in the Trinity-Bellwoods area serves up freshly squeezed margaritas and imported beers on tap, and on Thursdays and Fridays, live jazz and swing music are also on the menu all night long. If you’re looking for a spot with an intimate vibe and a dusky atmosphere, topped with Mexico’s best liquor and a live jazz band to set the mood just right, look no further than this Ossington bar.
The newest addition to the Toronto jazz scene is one of the most enjoyable places imaginable. They include all forms of music but lean toward up-tempo jazz and world music. Everyone on staff seems to love their job so much, and the audience is all for it. Best of all, it’s a relatively new club and it is almost always jammed. We’re guessing it’ll be around for a long time.