A few hints before you head out for the evening. The drinking age in Ontario is currently 19, and most establishments enforce the law. Expect long queues on Friday and Saturday after 10pm at downtown clubs. Bars and pubs are open daily from 11am to 2am. During such special events as the Toronto International Film Festival, the North By Northeast Music Festival (NXNE), and Pride, a number of downtown bars are allowed to stay open until 4am. If you're out at closing time, you'll find the subway shut down, but late-night buses run along Yonge and Bloor streets. Major routes on streets such as College, Queen, and King operate all night.
Pop & Rock Music Venues -- Toronto is known for possessing one of the most active live-music scenes in North America. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster (tel. 416/870-8000; www.ticketmaster.ca). In addition to the previously mentioned Roy Thomson Hall and Massey Hall, these are the major pop and rock music venues. Ticket prices vary widely depending on both the venue and the act.
Comedy Clubs -- Toronto must be one heck of a funny place. How else to explain why a disproportionate number of comedians, including Jim Carrey and Mike Myers, hail from here. The annual Just for Laughs festival delivers laughs every July, and the city's comedy clubs are thriving.
Dance Clubs -- Dance clubs come and go at an alarming pace in Toronto, and most of the big-box clubs are in fact on the outskirts of town. Be sure to check out the club listings in the free weeklies Now (www.nowtoronto.com) and The Grid (www.thegridto.com), or at www.torontolife.com, to keep up with the currently cool (or hot) spots. Those listed have survived the ultra-competitive scene by presenting a consistent music policy and lively atmosphere. Most clubs don't have rigid dress codes, though "no jeans" rules are not uncommon. And remember, it's always easier to get in earlier rather than later in the evening, when lines start to form. Several primarily gay and lesbian clubs attract a sizable hetero contingent; one notable destination is El Convento Rico.
The current highly competitive night scene encompasses a flock of attractive bistros with diverse cuisine. You can enjoy cocktails, a reasonably priced meal, and in some, a game of pool in comfortable, aesthetically pleasing surroundings. Compared to dance clubs, the bars and lounges in Toronto are a pretty stable bunch.
The Gay & Lesbian Scene
Toronto's gay and lesbian community is one of the largest of any city in North America, so the nightlife scene is diverse. It remains largely concentrated in the Gay Village, around Church and Wellesley streets, but popular new locales have recently opened in Parkdale. The free weekly newspaper Xtra! (www.xtra.ca) lists events, seminars, and performances, geared to the gay and lesbian community; also check out Gay Toronto (www.gaytoronto.com) for listings. Some mostly-straight nightspots, such as the Melody Bar, have one night a week that's gay night.
Starbucks has certainly staked out plenty of territory in Toronto, but there are two Canadian chains that are just as popular: the Second Cup, which charges less for a latte, and the donut-and-coffee destination Tim Horton's (also known as Tim Ho's). Another chain with fewer locales is Timothy's. There's a growing barista movement in Toronto where the joe is strictly a daytime commodity -- and often offers truly top brew.