Those travelling to Toronto won’t be surprised to hear that the city’s streets come alive once the sun has gone down. But knowing where to go to find the city’s best parties is part of the challenge. As co-owner of the late Footwork club and current CODA nightclub, and partner of Toronto’s Electric Island Festival series, Joel Smye is an integral tastemaker among Toronto’s nightlife. He’s been living and breathing the nightlife air for as long as he can remember. It’s only natural then that Joel knows where to go when it comes to, as he describes, an “unfiltered, historic tour through Toronto’s nightlife.” Strolling through the bohemian streets of Kensington Market, and down the Ossington strip, Joel pops his head into various bars, bidding hello to industry friends, while sharing tales of past romances. He takes us along for the ride.
The Thompson Rooftop lounge provides breathtaking views of Toronto’s skyline. When Friday hits, this is the perfect place to unwind and celebrate another working week. On the Thompson Hotel’s 16th floor, you’ll be greeted by cocktails, gourmet food and an unparalleled panoramic view of the downtown core and Lake Ontario, not to mention the chance to gawk at the activities happening by the crystal-clear rooftop pool. Throughout the summer months, the Thompson Rooftop plays host to an array of events, and last season’s ABOVE series, which featured local DJs every Sunday, quickly became a city favourite.
The Thompson rooftop lounge
550 Wellington St W
Between the neighbourhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown, Toronto’s free spirits, bargain-hunters and foodies come together at Kensington Market. As one of the city’s oldest and most colourful boroughs, Kensington offers a truly multi-cultural experience to all who stroll through. The eclectic mix of vintage clothing stores, grocers and cafés makes Kensington Market a beloved landmark in the city. Whoever said jazz is a dying art just didn’t know where to find it. Kensington Market is home to one of Toronto’s most provocative jazz bars – Poetry. Amongst the dimly lit, narrow halls, art lovers come here to lose themselves in the sounds of dark rhythmic soul, haunting vocals, dynamic spoken word and lively percussion.
224 Augusta Ave
You can’t leave Kensington Market without indulging in one of the many specialty restaurants. Otto’s Berlin Döner is a highlight, specialising in two of Germany’s most beloved street foods: the döner kebab and currywurst. It’s spearheaded by the Mansion Brothers, a team of young, creative restaurateurs, who are also responsible for several other concept-restaurants across the city including Otto’s Bierhalle and SoSo. Joel goes straight for the kill ordering a veal and lamb döner, washing it down with Munich Gold. As a little insider’s tip, Joel instructs us to head into the washrooms where you are faced with the decision of whether to press the red or the blue button to turn your bathroom visit into a dance party.
Otto’s Berlin Döner
256 Augusta Ave
Without a doubt, the best meet-up spot in the summer goes to Trinity Bellwoods. Encompassing the blocks between Dundas West and Queen West, this park is bustling with energy at any hour. From dog walkers to slack-liners, yogis and pot-smokers, Trinity Bellwoods is where you want to be. Joel leads us hazily through the park, soaking up the final day’s rays and observing the action around us. The summer months offer something extra special to the neighbourhood foodies. Every Tuesday from May to October, the park turns into a farmers’ market. Held by the northwest entrance of the park from 3pm to 7pm, rain or shine, the Trinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market welcomes local famers, wineries and artisans to sell their fresh, seasonal produce to park-dwellers.
Trinity Bellwoods Park
790 Queen St W
Trinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market
Dundas & Shaw at the northwest entrance of Trinity Bellwoods
Ossington Avenue has quickly become one of the hottest destinations for trendy, upscale dining in the city. When the weekend hits, Ossington is flooded with locals and out-of-towners alike, waiting for a seat at their favourite restaurant. Whether it’s buck-a-shuck oysters at Böehmer, grilled lamb chops at Mamakas, or the burnt toffee ice cream at Bang Bang, there’s an eatery for everyone. There’s even a barbershop that turns into a speakeasy when night falls. Dubbed the ‘Gift Shop’, most don’t know about this hidden gem, but if you follow the neon red, flashing ‘Bar-ber’, you’ll find yourself tucked away at the back of a store, sipping on mezcal and talking to the barman known only as ‘H’.
89 Ossington Ave
At the bottom of Ossington Avenue lies a bar that goes by the ambiguous name of Apt. 200. The concept came from its sister bar of the same name, located in Montreal. Modelled on the idea that you’re hanging in the apartment of a close friend, Apt. 200 offers a cosy, intimate vibe with arcade games, a pool table and atmospheric lighting, along with a menu of creative cocktails. On the weekends, Apt. 200 plays host to the hottest names in hip-hop, making this a favourite amongst Toronto’s urban community. With our bellies full from dinner, and the drinking already begun at the Gift Shop, we opt to stop here for a tipple, sipping on a ‘Cosmo TO’, made with hibiscus vodka, Cointreau, lime and cranberry before heading out to dance the rest of the night away.
1034 Queen St W
Given Joel can offer immediate access, CODA nightclub is the final stop for our night and we walk through the doors like VIPs. CODA is located in the heart of the Annex and holds the title of Toronto’s number one destination for underground house and techno. Co-owned by Joel and his business partner Stephan Philion, CODA has played host to some of the world’s most renowned DJs, including Sasha, Richie Hawtin, Sven Väth, Dixon and many more. Tonight, it’s the UK’s Billy Kenny who is getting the dance floor rowdy. With a packed house, the energy is truly electric! As the ominous lighting dances across the glistening faces of partiers, it’s clear that everyone is here for the sole love of music.
794 Bathurst St