Readers’ Choice 2021: Toronto’s best music

Your favourite music venues, record stores, musicians, DJs and live band karaoke


Best Blues/Jazz Bar

The Rex Hotel

While other music venues have been slow to return from the pandemic, the Rex has gone full force. After a brief window of outdoor patio shows that really animated the neighbourhood, the historic Queen bar and hotel is back to two indoor shows a night, 5:30 and 8:30 pm, seven days a week. It remains home to some of the best blues and jazz in the city, from their classic Rex jams to U of T ensembles to perennial favourites the Worst Pop Band Ever.

Currently, the venue is running a series of shows by Juno-winning jazz artists. Whether you’re familiar with the genre or not, you know you can step in and hear some of the best in the city, usually without spending more than $15.

194 Queen West, therex.ca

Runner-up

Jazz Bistro

351 Victoria, jazzbistro.ca

Best LGBTQ bar

Glad Day Bookshop

North America’s oldest surviving LGBTQ book store has weathered rising rents on Church and now a pandemic. The owners were already getting creative by becoming a multi-purpose community hangout when they pivoted to livestreaming during COVID. Now that clubs can reopen, Glad Day is back throwing Drag Race and Dragula viewing nights, hosting dance parties and drag brunches while keeping the online thing going for the literary side of the business.

499 Church, gladdaybookshop.com

Runner-up

Crews & Tangos

508 Church, crewsandtangos.com

Best Live Music Venue

Canopy Music Theatre

Appropriate for the age we’re in, this year’s live music venue winner is a socially distanced outdoor space. Sitting in the somewhat hidden space (the exact location is on a need-to-know basis) feels like hanging out in someone’s backyard – because that’s exactly what it is. Musician Josh Piché opened the tree-lined space during the pandemic to give folks and jazz musicians, singer/songwriters and other artists a place to play.

St. Clair West and Dufferin area, canopymusictheatre.com

Runner-up

Horseshoe Tavern

370 Queen West, horseshoetavern.com

Best Karaoke

Good Enough Live Karaoke

Have you ever wanted to front your own band? For the length of a song or two, you can – no matter your musical talent. GELK has a repertoire of over 250 songs for you to choose from, including some things that would typically be found on the back pages of the karaoke binder (if at all). They’ve been making a slow return in a four-piece formation, perfect for your rock star dreams. And they play next on November 12 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.

goodenoughlivekaraoke.com

Runner-up

Bar+

360 Yonge, bar-plus.com

Best Local DJ

DJ Blush

Brittney Townson-Labovitz has been DJing retro rock & roll, soul, disco and new wave hits from the 70s and 80s for well over a decade. Formerly a part of Bangs & Blush, which hosted the legendary Shake Rattle & Roll night at Clinton’s, she’s now solo as the resident DJ at Budweiser Stage, spins weekly at the Wheatsheaf Tavern and all sorts of bars and events in between. She was also the primary booker and DJ at Stone’s Place before it departed due to the pandemic.

djblush.com

Runner-up

DJ Waves

djwaves.ca

Best Local Musician or Group

Ori Dagan

You can find local musician and man-about-town Ori Dagan on all sorts of quirky stages throughout the city and on every multimedia channel from TikTok to Facebook Live – even writing the occasional article. The Toronto singer/songwriter is both a Rat Pack-style jazz singer/scatter and the kind of community-builder and scene cheerleader that we need.

oridagan.com

Runner-up

Rough Cuts

roughcutsto.wixsite.com

Best Music Streaming Service

NYTheSpirit.com

David Marsden was the architect of one of the most nostalgically beloved eras of Toronto radio: The Sprit of Radio on CFNY. He’s brought back that punk and new wave high point with a throwback online station that will deliver you right back to the 80s and make your forget that you’re an adult now (yes, that’s a Pursuit of Happiness reference).

NYTheSpirit.com

Runner-up

Spotify

spotify.com

Best Nightclub

The Piston

This Bloor West venue is slowly coming back to life as capacity increases and bringing back theme parties, each with their own hard-to-resist era or genre-specific playlist: Synthesexer (indie electronic), Fast Times (80s vinyl), It’s All Good (90s video dance party) and Wax Candy (disco). It’s never not fun.

937 Bloor West, thepiston.ca

Runner-up

Lula Lounge

1585 Dundas West, lula.ca

Best Party Series

Mojo Toronto presents FML Mondays

This party has been happening weekly at a private male strip club in the Village after the club closes and the poles clear out (at least officially) for over a decade. Always a good time, there are DJs, drag and drinks. In the COVID era, there are also music videos. What more could you want?

Flash on Church (463 Church), mojotoronto.ca

Runner-up

Synthesexer

The Piston (937 Bloor West), instagram.com/synthesexer_to

Best Radio Station

JazzFM 91.1

After a brief and controversial shake-up a couple of years ago, JazzFM is back to being a favourite of Toronto’s jazz community and a veritable institution. Canada’s only 24/7 all-jazz radio broadcaster and listener-supported charitable organization, the 70-year-old station is once again going strong.

jazz.fm

Runner-up

CIUT

89.5 FM, ciut.fm

Best Record Label

Cursed Blessings

Al Nolan of Canadian punk band the Almighty Trigger Happy and Doug Smart, formerly of MLSE, launched this vinyl/digital record label during the height of the pandemic. Their goal is “reinventing the safety pin” – bringing back DIY ethics and ethos to the independent music scene – and their first release was a compilation of the same name. Expect hardcore, metal and every flavour of punk.

cursedblessingsrecords.com

Runner-up

Dine Alone

dinealonerecords.com

Best Record Store

Kops Records

This long-running Queen West record shop took a slight move west during the pandemic, but is still going strong. There are thousands of 45s, new releases, rare and vintage records, a streetside dollar bin and they buy and sell. Their Danforth warehouse – where they receive and inventory thousands of LPs – is a record collector’s wet dream.

395 Queen West and 209 Danforth, kopsrecords.ca

Runner-up

Shortstack Records

778 Dundas West, shortstackrecords.com

Read more 2021 Readers’ Choice poll results here

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