Toronto Tailor-made for Shoestring Budgets

Having lived in London and spent time in many of the World’s largest cities, I can honestly say that I have found nowhere as accessible as Toronto for quality cheap or next to nothing entertainment.
This list is by no means exhaustive and I will add as I learn more.
Knock yourself Out!

Theatre & Comedy
National Theatre of the World – look out for NTOW’s Baram and Sniekus who practice their particular brand of improvised comedy all over Toronto but can often be found on Friday evenings at the John Candy Theatre (Second City training theatre) on Peter Street – Pwyc

Shakespeare in the Ruff puts on amazing Shakespeare adaptations every summer in Withrow Park

Same goes for Canadian Stage’s High Park Shakespeare Productions running June 26 through to September 1.

Jazz & Blues
The following primarily operate on a tip- jar payment system so essentially pwyc
Gate 403

The Rex Hotel

The Winchester Kitchen

The Monarch Pub at the Eaton Chelsea pub has music – jazz and blues every night. No cover
See website for details

Want to play a board game, do a jigsaw, play pinball on a vintage machine, draw something?
Unlike many of other “Board Game cafes” 3030 does not charge a cover for you to exercise your creativity – help yourself on first-come first-serve basis. Just buy a drink or two and your evening’s entertainment is sorted for the price of that drink

For $7 return take a Ferry over to Toronto Islands.
Ward and Algonquin Island for boardwalk cute cottage community and gardens, Hanlan’s Point for beaches and shady dappled trails. Centre Island for Amusement Park/Bike hire, pier, busy kid friendly beaches etc.
TIP: The best way to avoid the enormous queues in the summer and if there are a few of you likely to be visiting the Islands a couple of times a year. Buy a string of 10 tickets for $63 and march straight through the lines and onto the ferry.

Summerlicious and Winterlicious foodie events ensure that the most cash strapped amongst us can enjoy a slap-up meal in a host of Toronto’s more high-end restaurant.
lunch is best value with a fixed price
menu for generally $25 for 2/3 courses and dinner more expensive at $35/$40.

Visit the AGO for free on Wednesday evenings after 5pm

Visit the ROM at a reduced price on Friday nights after 4pm

Ripleys Aquarium
If you live in town and you love Aquariums then the most cost effective way of visiting again and again is to buy an annual membership for $100
Whilst this is hardly “shoestring ” speak; when you consider that the cost of an individual ticket is almost $40 – you do the math…..
Subscribe to their newsletter too as they frequently have deals for students…

Hart House offers free tours of their eclectic art collection – check website

Go for an Art Gallery crawl along Tecumseth Street or Queen Street West – many gallery owners are happy to show interested parties around the work they are profiling in their spaces.

Last but not least sign up for Groupon, Buytopia, Yipit and Travel zoo to get huge discounts and deals on local restaurants , museums and experiences ( and of course products)

Over and Out



Cool Jazz – Hot City

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With over 40 decent music venues (not counting live pub music) you’d be hard pushed to find a city anywhere in the world that has such a vibrant and diverse music scene as Toronto

The following focuses purely on the Jazz/Blues scene and includes two mainstream “Ronnie Scott” type dinner-jazz  set-ups for the mainly international acts; venues that schedule feature jazz/blues almost every night of the week and those that consistently schedule jazz/blues on one or two particular nights of the week.
And yes it’s official:  it really is possible to visit one or more Jazz/Blues clubs in Toronto every single day of the week

Starting with the dinner jazz clubs:

#1 Jazz Bistro
As the newest addition to the Toronto jazz scene, the reborn Jazz Bistro is at the high end of the club spectrum.
Swanky New York meets elegant under-stated Toronto decor – huge chandelier, standard black and red jazz colour scheme with glitzy gold webbed table settings and a shiny red Steinway stage centrepiece. On three floors the open concept design ensures that diners on the second floor balcony also get a view of the stage.
Fabulous food and always a great line up of both local and international performers.
Appropriate attire a must here with cover for Nightly Entertainment

#2 Hugh’s Room
The novel (in Toronto at least) concept of a dinner/music venue or “Room” where diners could sit in a concert hall setting at intimate  formally dressed and candlelit  tables,  enjoying great music and performances was the brainchild of brothers Hugh and Richard Carson in the late 1990’s. Sadly Hugh never got to see the realization of their dream but his name and reputation as a music lover and bon vivant live on through his brother’s creation of Hugh’s Room which opened in 2001.
Dinner reservations and performance ticket requests have to be completed on line

#3 The Rex

Every Day of the week  
The Rex is the “rufty-tufty” workhorse that has dominated Toronto’s Jazz landscape for over 40 years. Showcasing around 19 bands a week it definitely earns its slogan –
“More Great Jazz than anywhere else, all the time!”
The casual atmosphere, good pub scram (some of the best nachos in town), beer and always exciting mix of incredible music talent (Harry Conick Jr. Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis have all played here) make it the perfect place to just walk in off the street and hang out anytime of the week. Generally cost involves a donation to the tip jar and a drink, though some performances do attract a cover charge.

#4 Gate 403
Every night of the week
A tad smarter than The Rex Hotel and a little out of downtown is the iconic Gate 403 Bar & Grill in trendy Roncesvalles.
A natty blend of upmarket pub (be warned – the food exceeds expectation) and shabby chic piano bar, the venue is known for its daily menu of live jazz and blues. There is the “pub” end (just walk in) and the more intimate “candlelit cavern end” for which a reservation is needed. The actual performance space is quirkily sited in the centre of these two areas.

#5 The Reservoir Lounge
Tuesday through Saturday
Their tagline “Cool jazz. Hot Swing. Great people. Smart Cocktails. Good eats”.
Says it all: tucked away in the cellar of a stone building in Toronto’s historic Front Street area (Wellington Street), the Reservoir Lounge is a mix of Paris Jazz cavern and supper club, hosting a different genre of jazz 5 nights a week. Cocktail and dress-up friendly (but casual is okay too) with excellent house- made pizza.
Best for jazz on Tuesday and Saturdays when the lounge hosts jazz pianist Tyler Yarema and his cohorts – almost permanent fixtures on stage here for at least the last 5 years.
Claim to fame – it launched the career of Michael Bublé

#6 The Monarch Pub in Delta Chelsea

Jazz Wednesdays and Delta Blues Thursdays
Inside the Downtown Delta Chelsea Hotel, it turns out that the Monarch Pub is a haven of excellent live jazz and blues performances. Initially it presents as just a Hotel Pub but venture past the huge TV screens; past the bar populated by the Business overnighters and head towards the stage, the pocket sized dance floor and the surprisingly restful pastel coloured lounge area. Be prepared for an evening (9-1am) of great music with an eclectic crowd of jazz/blues groupies who trickle in from 10 pm onwards to support the regular acts and to practice their  dance moves. Surprisingly good food and a hotel standard drinks/cocktail menu available.

#7 The Homesmith Bar at the Old Mill

Friday/Saturday evening
This is performance so close-up and personal it’s like watching a live band in your own living room.
The room design is a shout to cosy and intimate with a whisper of the masculine refinement of a private Gentleman’s club. A respectable sized bar and a tiny performance area dominated by a grand piano leads you through to the long narrow stone lined lounge stuffed with inviting armchairs, playing footsy with rug covered flagstone floors and large coffee tables.
Performance range from solo to group with a particular speciality being the Jazz Party idea hosted by a specific Performer with others simply turning up and joining in.
See website for Reservation details

#8 Orbit Room


Founded by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, this minuscule quirky venue in vibrant Little Italy schedules a mix of Rock, Blues and Jazz several nights a week. Especially  worth a visit on Friday nights when the ex backing band of the legendary and much missed Jeff Healy – now called the Dave Murphy band – set the planets spinning with their inspired mix of Jazz, Blues and Rock.

#9 Cherry Street Restaurant

Varying nights of the week
The Cherry Street Restaurant is a bit of a Toronto anomaly in terms location in the Portland’s area. Originally built in 1907 as a branch of the Dominion Bank, it transitioned to a restaurant in the 1940’s – a reminder of Toronto Docklands more vibrant history. It is now nicely positioned in the “flight path” of the gaggles of cyclists and skaters that zoom past on their way to the Martin Goodman cycle path that skirts Lake Ontario
Nicely refurbished in 2010 to incorporate an intimate performance space (with great acoustics), some exposed  brick walls and the Bank’s original art deco exterior. A little bit different from your average jazz venue – the music programme varies from week to week but always features artists like the incomparable Alex Samaras and Sophia Perlman – who also pop up at other clubs all over the city – plus other superb mainstays of the Toronto jazz scene.

#10 The Pilot Tavern

Saturday afternoon
This gets onto their list because of its Saturday afternoon jazz status.
Need a break from shopping or dining in Toronto’s mink mile?  Make it a musical break. From 3.30-6.30 you can listen to jazz in this fun and happening Yorkville bar/restaurant. Check out the riveted metal decor (pilot: plane connection maybe?) and its rooftop patio

Tailor-Made Toronto – Girl’s Day Out

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Read this in conjunction with posts on Girls Morning Out and Girls Afternoon out (Eating!)


Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Look out
for the “always significant” temporary exhibitions – currently “Revealing the Renaissance” exhibit with priceless 700 year ol works of art – some never before seen outside of Florence!. Go up to the Cedar Lounge on floor 2 for a delicious espresso and house-made pastries. If you are a member then there is the gracious relaxing “Grange” – the member’s lounge strewn with sofas and armchairs and looking over the park.

Ontario Museum (ROM); great static exhibition of home decor through the ages.
Gardiner Museum; (do a spot of pottery creation in the Pottery studio in the basement).
The Textile Museum and Bata shoe Museum.
The Tiff Bell Lightbox always has some amazing movie related exhibitions, plus a host of unusual film screenings. You can also ask for a guided tour as the architectural nature of the building itself vis a vis it’s purpose is interesting. It also houses an “Oliver and Bonacini” cafe.

Walk along far Queen Street West to look in all the smaller lesser -known galleries, the best being Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art . See and href=””> for a list of all the galleries in this area.
Also some cute galleries on Dundas Street West opposite the AGO and in the Distillery District, and on Tecumseth street north of King Street West.
You can have a tour of the University of Toronto’s art collection at Hart House – check for tour dates and times.

At the AGO, create some life drawing masterpieces in one of the galleries in the museum – be prepared for onlooking museum visitors who will stop to admire ( or sneer at ) your work or book to do a spot of yoga amongst the Henry Moore sculptures.

Spadina House and Gardens – if you are a “Downton Abbey” fan this 120 yr. heritage home of “The Austins” definitely worth a visit right now as “Downton Abbey” days are being programmed into the visiting schedule,
It is also right next to Casa Loma so you can make a whole day of it.

Casa Loma
Torontos Victorian Gothic Castle – great for an afternoon’s tour / sit on the raised stone patio and view the Toronto skyline below whilst sipping tea/coffee from the basement restaurant. Subscribe to their website – they always have cool events befitting a castle ( Ghost Hunting/Dracula plays/ music/feasts etcetera.

Take a Ferry from Queens Quay over to Toronto Islands; the largest car free community in North America; less than a 10 minute ferry ride but a whole world away from the bustle of the city. Stroll around the maze of cutesy cottages and gardens set out amidst the dense thicket of trees that makes up the corner of Ward Island; have a snack at the cheerful outdoor “Island Cafe” opposite the Ward Island Ferry point; have lunch on the tree shrouded patio just off the boardwalk at “The Rectory”.
Take your swimsuit and visit one of the many beaches. Hire a bike or canopied 4-wheeler and ride around all three islands, play frisbee golf, canoe, or kayak.
Or just stroll the boardwalk or lush island paths.

Visit the aforementioned “Distillery District” for cobbled meanderings amongst artsy shops/cafes/galleries and restaurants

Explore the tiny zoo at Riverdale, amongst all the cute Victorian houses and the stunning Victorian gothic Neocropolis building.
Walk the trails of Toronto’s Ravines or its largest park – High Park with the tiny zoo, fishing lake, picnic spots, historic Colborne House, allotments, ornamental gardens and waterfalls – best pie in the city at “The Grenadier Cafe” – sit on the tree shaded deck outside in the summer.

Spoil yourselves by having a day/half day by the pool on one of the upper levels of the Fours Seasons Hotel!
The Shangri-La’s Caudalie Miraj Hammam Spa is a treat but you have to have a treatment in order to use the Hammam and lounging room.
The Aveda spa in the Intercontinental on Front street gives you unlimited use of the gym, pool and steam room/sauna
Spend a day/ afternoon at the custom made Elmwood day spa.

Check out and subscribe to email updates for great deals on the many shows hitting Toronto; the third largest theatre city in the world!
If you are planning your day out in the summer look out for the following outdoor performances.

“Dream in HighPark” – Canadian Stage

“The Withrow Players”.
“The Humber River Shakespeare company” who perform in heritage properties like Casa Loma or Montgomerys Inn.

Look out for “Cirque de Soleil” listings as one of the troupes has a permanent home in Toronto

Anywhere the “National Theatre of the World” (aka comedians Sniekus & Baram) are playing.
“The Comedy Club” (Eglinton.
“The Second City” on Mercer street downtown always puts on a pithy and hilarious show which they change around 3 times a year.

“The Rex Hotel” downtown Queen Street west for great music anytime (around 4 acts a day)
“Gate 403” in Roncevailles in the west end

The stone walled cavern that is “the “Reservoir Lounge” with jazz every night of the week
“Hugh’s Room” for something a little more formal (we’re talking tablecloths)
“The Monarch Pub” at the Delta Chelsea Hotel downtown which benefits from having a dance floor for the uninhibited amongst us
“Orbit Room” on College – teeny tiny but good vibe, nosh and oh yeah music.

More classic:
“The Royal Conservatory” – Koerner hall.
The Ballet or Opera at the “Four Seasons for the Performing Arts”,
Look out for Toronto Symphony Orchestra performances at “The Roy Thompson Hall”.

Want to finish the day in style? Look out for the soon to be written “Tailor-made Toronto – Get Dressed Up” blog.

Over and Out