There are the huge concert venues in every city that feature the biggest acts, but there’s something about uncovering a hidden gem that makes the music sound even better. Whether they feature a quirky history, or mix saucy tunes with even saucier BBQ, here are some of Canada’s most unique live music venues. It’s time to listen like a local.
The Commodore Ballroom - Vancouver, British Columbia
Art Deco flourishes are paired with the best mix of up-and-coming and big-name acts at this Downtown Vancouver venue. Not small by any means, The Commodore can host up almost 1,000 people, without losing any of the intimacy. A sprung dance floor anchors the space with balconies and tables skirting the perimeter for those much needed dance breaks. If a history of acts like Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, and Kiss isn’t enough, this legendary venue has been named as one of North America’s 10 most influential clubs, and even has a book written about it.
After the show breaks, spill out onto Granville Street, the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district, and take up a game of bowling at the Commodore Lanes or grab a poutine to balance out all those beers.
Blacksheep Inn - Wakefield, Quebec
Laid-back vibes are found at the Blacksheep Inn on the banks of the Gatineau River. About 30 minutes north of Ottawa, this locally notorious music venue is actually in Wakefield, Quebec. Despite its name, expect a club-style venue, not a quaint inn, and be prepared to listen to the best of the local music scene. Grab an ice cold (and cheap!) beer pre-show, then let the Blacksheep’s eclectic assortment of acts entertain you. Described as being in “a dusty little Quebec village,” you’ll definitely be treated to a insider’s experience at this tavern.
Baba’s Lounge - Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Take the high road from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island over one of the the longest bridges in the world and arrive at Baba’s Lounge. Part authentic Lebanese cuisine, part intimate music venue, this quaint spot is the launch pad for lots of local bands like Joel Plaskett, The Trews, and Wintersleep. Music of pretty much every genre can be found on stage, and with a different show seven nights a week, you know that whenever you pop by, you’ll be listening to something new.
Looking to extend your night after the show? Pick up a copy of The Buzz, a free monthly newspaper to inspire your next move.
Windsor Hotel - Winnipeg, Manitoba
Built in 1903, you know this dive bar-esque music hall has history. In fact, it’s rumored that even Charlie Chaplin stayed there during his heyday. Now, through much change — both in terms of ownership and musical style — the Windsor hotel continues to bring great live shows to the flourishing Winnipeg scene. With a rec room vibe, you’ll feel welcome as soon as your step inside. Stop by this classic gem tucked between skyscrapers and get a taste of Winnipeg’s past, while seeing bands that are sure to shape Winnipeg’s future.
Once you’ve had your fill of tunes, grab a cab to The Handsome Daughter, if you’re feeling peckish or want to take the stage yourself at karaoke (on Tuesdays). If some late-night competition is more your thing, swing by Flea Whiskey’s for a game of billiards and a shot of whiskey, of course — plus they have specials every night of the week.
The Drake Underground - Toronto, Ontario
Yes, Drake is from Toronto. No, this is not his bar. Rather, this live performance venue that never sleeps is your one-stop-shop for a true Toronto experience. From innovative indie shows and dancey DJ sets, to laugh-out-loud stand-up comedy and quirky film screenings, The Underground is hipster in the best way possible. Though drinks can be on the pricey side, you’ll be saving face by learning about the next big thing in music.
The Drake Underground’s prime location will set you up nicely for an evening of gallivanting post-show. Stroll down Queen Street West to find a late-night bite at Bar Fancy, for tasty comfort food, or Barton Snacks to end your night satiated.
The Palomino Smokehouse & Social Club - Calgary, Alberta
Known by the locals at “The Pal,” you’ll probably find a friend or two at this Downtown Calgary smokehouse and live music venue. Rest assured that whenever you do stop by, your entertainment will be paired with some of the most mouth-watering BBQ this side of Texas. Plus, this venue is a welcome reprieve from the classic country stylings of the stereotypical Calgary live music scene. Striking the perfect balance between tasty eats and live performances, it’s not surprising that The Pal is always busy. But trust us, it’s worth the wait.
Music is a quintessential part of culture and live music really lets you experience the life of a local. Planning your next trip? Be sure to add one of these unique venues to your itinerary.