Toronto has its share of bars that are a little rough around the edges, but sometimes that’s what you’re looking for from a night on the town.
Some people might want to find somewhere grimy to have a cheap drink, while others might be looking for somewhere obscure with dim lighting where they can dance the night away in anonymity.
Of course, that doesn’t mean one is looking for the worst drinking hole in the city, that’s something else. The sketchy bar is a place that isn’t a particularly classy establishment, but still has something different to offer.
The city has more than enough run down taverns with fraying pool tables, but sometimes certain places present a bit more.
Toronto’s reigning king of cheap drink is Bistro 422, a tiny basement bar near Kensington Market near the intersection of Bathurst Street and College Street. Here you will find the cheapest pitchers of domestic beer in town, clocking in under $10.
They also offer a home brew beer that is even cheaper, but is best avoided if the drinker wishes to keep their stomach lining intact.
The Kensington-College Street area actually has quite a concentration of bars with cheap drinks. Toby’s Famous Eatery and the Crown and Tiger both offer a selection of deals on draft and bottled beer, while Sneaky Dee’s is a local favourite, offering mountains of greasy nachos late into the night.
Kensington Market itself has more to offer, with a number of sweaty hipster dance bars like The Boat, Augusta House and Graffiti’s Bar and Grill.
For those looking to escape their comfort zone, The Bovine Sex Club on Queen Street West can be a great place to check out. It’s Toronto’s version of the gritty rock and roll club, and don’t be put off by its ridiculous name.
Scrap metal and rusty bicycles greet you at the entrance to this music hot spot, which regularly features live bands playing edgy rock, punk, and metal.
As a bonus, they also have JÃ¤germeister on tap. Tattoo Rock Parlour is a similar but somewhat more expensive bar located across the street.
For a taste of more traditional rock and roll, there are a variety of pubs and clubs where the jukebox and live music steers clear of hipsterdom and gravitates more towards Lynyrd Skynyrd and ACDC. Out on Queen Street East, The Duke Live is a rock-and-roll bar trying to move beyond its infamous past, and features regular cover and rock tribute bands.
Hard Luck on Dundas Street West is a hole-in-the-wall rock club, although that one may lean slightly more towards the hip demographic.
Looking for a bar to pick up? Toronto has that as well. For students and the younger set, The Brunswick House is a favourite place to mingle in seedy surroundings.
Known affectionately as “The Brunny,” this old Annex establishment may not be as sleazy as in its heyday, but still features cheap drinks and bumping Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Chick’N’Deli, northeast of downtown on Mount Pleasant Road, is an infamous pick up bar for the more mature set. The dance floor here sticks mainly to classic rock anthems, and they are also known for their delicious chicken wings.
Sometimes, the point of a night out dedicated to sketchy bar is to explore the unknown. There are plenty of shadier neighbourhoods (albeit not particularly dangerous) in the city where a visitor could wander the street and see where the wind blows them.
Occasionally this might lead to a diamond in the rough. For example, while the west-end area near the intersection of Bloor Street and Lansdowne Avenue might be a trendy neighbourhood in the future, the reality is that its still a little rough around the edges.
However, in between thrift stores and strip clubs one can find some genuinely interesting places. Cirro’s is one such bar, a real beer drinker’s heaven, with over 100 varieties available from Belgian whites to Sri Lankan stout.
The eastern side of Toronto features further districts where appropriately sketchy bars can be found. While The Danforth is known for being a centre of fabulous Greek restaurants, the further east you travel the less touristy the street becomes.
East of Coxwell Avenue locals flock to the grungy but non-descript bars that line this street, one of the city’s main east-west arteries. Sports bars and taverns are the norm here, with great names like TKO’s the Sports Pub, Wise Guys Deluxe Bar and Grille, and Groove Bar and Grill. Take a walk down the street without any particular itinerary and make your own sketchy bar crawl.
Dundas Street West is another good area to investigate if a bar crawl is in order. A mix of restaurants, hole-in-the-wall bars, grungy taverns and Portuguese sports clubs are the most common establishments as you most west from the downtown core.
Out past Ossington Avenue through Dufferin Street and beyond, travellers can stop at popular spots like Lula Lounge and The Henhouse, or explore less familiar places like the New Leaf Sports Bar and Imperial Bar & Grill.
Totally Toronto can help you find a place to spend your evening, whatever it is you are looking for!