Music isn't just sound—it also informs our sense of place. And so, a look at some of the places that have shaped Toronto's music.
The venues, schools, record labels, stores, and other landmarks that created the sound of our city and shaped its music history.
During the 1990s, Toronto continued to embrace a wide range of genres, from DJ-centric clubs to indie-rock showcases. Some venues were influential, but short-lived. Meanwhile, for other places that opened or hit their stride during the decade, the beat goes on.
1 The Music Hall (147 Danforth Avenue)
An on-again, off-again music venue that traces its lineage to Allen’s Danforth Theatre in 1919. During the ’90s, it alternated between live performances and rep cinema screenings.
2 Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor Street West)
Originally the Bloor Theatre (no relation to the cinema that currently bears the name), it opened as a music venue in 1985 with a performance by Handsome Ned. A year later, Al Runt created the first of several colourful exterior murals. The first one met its demise in 1992 when, according to the artist, the owner painted over it.
3 Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne Street)
Previously known as The Diamond, this mid-size venue hosted a variety of touring acts. It’s still around today.
4 Opera House (735 Queen Street East)
Like Lee’s Palace, the Opera House revamped a former movie theatre as a concert venue—in this case, one that had, at various times, been named things like “Acropolis” and “La Plaza.”
5 Matador (466 Dovercourt Road, north of College Street)
Once a bowling alley, the Matador endured for 40 years as an after-hours country music haunt before closing in 2007. It was used as the backdrop for Leonard Cohen’s video for “Closing Time” in 1992.
6 Ted’s Wrecking Yard (549 College Street)
The first home of the Wavelength music series, this venue operated from 1997 to 2001 and became a focal point for performers who lived in the area.
7 Lizard Lounge (66 Gerrard Street East)
A cavernous dance/music venue near Ryerson whose early promotional efforts caused controversy. Protestors picketed Now’s offices in June 1989 after the weekly ran ads for the Lizard Lounge depicting a naked pregnant woman caked in mud under the caption “Rock n’ Roll Breeder Bar.”
8 Top O’ The Senator (253 Victoria Street)
Located, as the name suggests, above the venerable Senator diner, this was one of the city’s top jazz venues for 15 years until it closed in 2005.
9 Reverb/Big Bop (651 Queen Street West)
Once advertised as “Toronto’s 4-floor funhouse,” the former Holiday Tavern developed a reputation for metal, punk, raves, and all-ages shows. The infamous purple fake-brick exterior was peeled away when the site reopened as a CB2 store earlier this year.
10 Velvet Underground (510 Queen Street West)
During the ’90s, this Queen West club offered alt-rock performances and a hangout for the street’s goth scene. According to its website (the place is still open for business), it hosted the release party for Alanis Morissette’s album Jagged Little Pill.
11 360 (326 Queen St West)
The name of this venue derived from its Royal Canadian Legion branch number. Originally a social club for Ukrainian war veterans, the branch faced bankruptcy in the early ’90s. When the provincial government allowed Legion halls to serve the public around that time, it became a rock venue. The Legion shut it down in 2005 in the midst of North by Northeast, both because the branch wasn’t fulfilling its requirements to the organization and because of the possible loss of its liquor licence.
12 Ultrasound Showbar (269 Queen Street West)
Operating from 1990 to 1996, its intimate stage provided a showcase for up-and-coming bands and singer/songwriters. Currently occupied by Civello, a salon.
13 The Rex (194 Queen Street West)
The motto of the Rex is “where jazz musicians come to hear jazz,” which has been true of this Queen Street staple since the late ’80s.
14 Nathan Phillips Square
The Barenaked Ladies received an unexpected publicity boost when they were scratched from the New Year’s 1992 festivities outside City Hall. A zealous City staffer felt the band’s name objectified women, which was a no-no under existing regulations for performances at Nathan Phillips Square. The resulting furor over political correctness made City officials look silly.
15 Industry (901 King Street West)
Club spotlighting DJs from around the world and underground dance acts from 1996 to 2000. The site now houses a Shoppers Drug Mart.
16 Harbourfront Centre (Harbourfront)
Showcasing musical genres from around the world, this ampitheatre (currently branded the WestJet Stage) has provided entertainment in a waterfront setting since the summer of 1992.
17 Molson Amphitheatre (Ontario Place)
Built as a larger replacement for the Ontario Place Forum, this outdoor venue opened in with a performance by Bryan Adams in 1995.