Published Sep 12, 2013In our annual Hangout Handbook, Exclaim! asks some of our favourite artists and contributors to discuss the hidden gems in their hometowns. Here, Exclaim! Frequencies Editor Vincent Pollard outlines his favourite bars in Toronto, Ontario.
Northwood (pictured) (815 Bloor Street West)
With guest DJs playing music from techno to hip-hop and live sessions from the likes of Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning, and a straight $10 (incl. tax) for bespoke cocktails, this much needed addition to the Christie Pits neighbourhood is one of the best new small bars in the city.
Get Well (1181 Dundas Street West)
One of the better bars on the Dundas strip, this medium-sized bar attracts a music crowd with its connection to Toronto's Sonic Boom record stores and vintage arcade machines. Great rotating selection of craft beers, including cask ales.
1602 Dundas (1602 Dundas Street West)
Looking much like a bar from Deadwood, the official name of this Dundas bar changes every day — written on a chalkboard by manager Elliott on a whim, from Blur lyrics or Tom Waits album titles. It boasts one of the best whisky selections in the city and some of the most reasonable prices.
Bambi's (1265 Dundas Street West)
A cosy, hipster-filled basement with a focus on quality electronic music. Guest DJs in the past have included Nautiluss and the boys from Azari & III. Get there early if you don't wanna line-up but not too early or you'll be drinking on your own.
Hitch (1216 Queen St. East)
Now that the AVRO has closed, Hitch is one of the few decent bars in the Leslieville neighbourhood that is affordable and low-key amongst the high-end restaurants and total dives. Cocktails, bourbon and truckers hats abound and $5 specials pop up on a regular basis.
Sneaky Dee's (431 College Street)
This Tex-Mex dive bar is a Toronto institution. The small concert venue upstairs hosts live shows from acts ranging from Pantha Du Prince to Dirty Projectors, while downstairs hosts nachos, wings and cheap pitchers.
Betty's (240 King Street East)
Apart from a spattering of older regulars, Betty's feels like a campus pub in the best way. The food comes in big portions and the booze is reasonably priced and with 29 draft taps, beer drinkers are well cared for.
Wide Open (139A Spadina Avenue)
Literally built in a covered alleyway, every night boasts a different super-cheap drinks special to wash down the fine selection of grunge and '80s hair-metal on the stereo.
Pour Boy (666 Manning Avenue)
Emblazoned with a huge mural of Hendrix and Dylan, this Koreatown pub is owned by the people behind other student-friendly haunts such as the nearby Green Room. Where else can you get a pad thai and a pint for under $15 including tax and tip?
The Gem (1159 Davenport Rd)
It's slim pickings on the Davenport strip but the Gem operates outside of the conventional time/space continuum. Friendly and low-key, it feels like a slice of small town Ontario transplanted in the city. The food and drinks are cheap and cheerful. The staff not so much.
Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen St West)
A legendary music venue, the Horseshoe has been running since 1947. Everybody's played here on the way up and the way down, including Blue Rodeo, Wilco and the Rolling Stones.
Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen Street West)
Not actually a sex club but a brilliantly grimy bar for music fans of a more aggressive persuasion, with regular metal nights and live bands. Look for the industrial sculpture of bicycle parts in lieu of a sign.
Drake Underground (1150 Queen Street West)
The basement of the über-trendy Drake Hotel is where music fans see anything from Scottish folk hero Alasdair Roberts to rising NY hip-hop performer Mykki Blanco. Great attention is paid to sound quality and entry is usually reasonably priced. The drink prices, however, will require a second student loan.
The Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Avenue)
Unofficial HQ of Toronto's country, folk and bluegrass scene, the Dakota plays host to a Bluegrass Brunch on weekends and residencies from local artists such as Eamon McGrath on weeknights. The mandatory dress code includes an unkempt beard and a plaid shirt.
Castro's Lounge (2116 Queen St East)
A cosy, laid-back bar in Toronto's east end Beaches neighbourhood, Castro's boasts a 100 percent vegetarian menu (with vegan options), a selection of cask ales and live music every night.