Canadian Music Week: Toronto tips


Carlin Nicholson and Zeus will play the Horseshoe Tavern for a second straight year during CMW. (Juila Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Complied by Vacay.ca Staff

TORONTO — As the music industry descends on Toronto for Canadian Music Week, Vacay.ca has put together a list of the best places to eat, drink and hang out during the five-day wall-to-wall marathon of sound.


  1. Library Bar at the Royal York — Pricey, yes, but worth it. Get a Bison Burger ($23) or for small bites try the Crab Cakes ($16). It’s not meant to be a music venue, so the acoustics aren’t great, and a lot of suits are likely to be in the crowd. Musicians can sometimes be drowned out, so aim to sit close to the mike while you gnosh. (Click here for the website; 100 Front Street West. Go on Thursday for the Sounds Australia Showcase that begins at 8:10 pm. Traveller & Fortune is the band you want to see; they’re on at 11:30 pm.)
  2. The Piston — Comfort food done with a little culinary flair is what sets this hip Bloor West spot apart from other venues. The music stage is separated from the restaurant, which means you’ll have to time your order right to avoid missing any of the tunes. (www.ThePiston.ca; 937 Bloor Street. Go on Saturday for the Catalan Music Showcase, 9 pm)
  3. C’est What? — Terrific beer list, both in bottle and on tap, including rotating cask ales. The menu is eclectic with items like chicken curry roti, Moroccan stew and lamb burgers, with most items costing less than $20. (www.cestwhat.com; 67 Front Street East. Check out Melissa Cameron, Thursday at midnight)
  4. Parts & Labour — If you ever wanted to pay $37 for roasted squab while watching bands from the Hard Drawn Dracula label, here’s your chance. The food from chef Matt Matheson features lots of game meats done with French culinary panache. (www.partsandlabour.ca; 1566 Queen Street West. See Army Girls on Thursday at 10:30 pm)
  5. Nyood —What the heck does this place have to do with the fest? It’s one of the city’s “it” restaurants, full of foodie and hipster types. It belongs higher on the list, but it’s only got one night of music during CMW (Thursday). Try the Stewed Cornish Hen ($20). (www.nyood.ca; 1096 Queen Street West)

The Horseshoe Tavern — Great music, great bar scene. Don’t order the food. Go next door to BQM if you’re hungry.

These spots serve food until 1 am or later:

  1. New Ho King Restaurant — The best late-night Chinatown restaurant in town has saved many a hangover. It serves food until 5 am on Friday and Saturday; until 4 am on other nights. Shhhh … you might even be able to get beer after 2 am. (www.newho-king.ca; 416 Spadina Avenue)
  2. Pachuco — New Mexican restaurant on the Danforth is worth a visit for the fish tacos alone. (no website; 99 Danforth Avenue)
  3. The Irish Embassy — Excellent food and service, with a late-night menu that includes Fish & Chips ($16), Irish Lamb Stew ($16) and Poutine ($11). (www.irishembassypub.com; 49 Yonge Street)
  4. Shanghai Cowgirl — Serves food until 4 am, and it’s where you want to be if you’re craving a triple-decker grilled cheese with bacon ($9.50) just before going to bed. (www.ShanghaiCowgirl.com; 538 Queen Street West)
  5. Lou Dawgs — Good BBQ sandwiches and chicken wings, with the kitchen open until 4 am Thursday to Saturday. Good beer selection too. (www.LouDawgs.com; 589 King Street West and 76 Gerrard Street East)


  1. Goodnight! — It’s down a dark alley and you need a reservation to enter (text message 647-963-5500), but it’s worth the effort for the best cocktails in the city at this speakeasy. (www.goodnightbar.com; Richmond west of Spadina — spot the smokers hanging out in the alley behind the men’s clothing store and you’ve found it)
  2. Unit — Full of antiques and reclaimed furniture, this late-night lounge that doubles as a bakery during the day is one of the coolest little places going. (unitbar.wordpress.com; 1198 Queen Street West)
  3. Bar Volo — Best beer bar in Toronto. Ask any brew snob. (barvolo.com; 587 Yonge Street)
  4. Crooked Star — Friendly place with relatively cheap prices for what is an expensive city to drink in. You might even spot K’naan at one of the tables. (no website; 202 Ossington Avenue)


  1. The Dakota Tavern — They don’t make ’em like this anymore. (www.thedakotatavern.com; 249 Ossington Avenue)
  2. Phoenix — The venue’s okay and the acoustics are solid, but it’s the lineups that makes this place special. Headliners Slash, Treble Charger and Cat Empire will all be on stage at the Phoenix. (www.phoenixconcerttheatre.com; 410 Sherbourne Street)
  3. Lee’s Palace — Host to many a great CMW show — and more amazing Toronto music moments than we can count. (leespalace.com; 529 Bloor Street West)
  4. The Horseshoe Tavern — It’s seedy, smelly, steamy … and that’s all kinda sexy. (www.horseshoetavern.com; 370 Queen StreetWest)
  5. El Mocambo — One of the oldest places in the city, the El Mo is another Toronto institution. (www.elmocambo.ca; 464 Spadina Avenue)

Dates: March 21-25, 2012
Schedule and Wristbands: To find out the schedule, read about all of the artists, and to purchase wristbands, or tickets to single shows, visit the CMW website. Wristband pickup is at the Royal York Hotel, the CMW host site.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

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