Canada’s 5 Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Clubs

Above: Lee's Palace in Toronto, ON

Whether you’re grabbing a beer on a patio on George Street in St. John’s or getting in the mosh pit at The Roxy in Vancouver, it’s always a bonus to have great live music to listen to while you’re enjoying a warm summer night. Canada is full of great rock ‘n’ roll clubs with rich histories, memorable stories, and hoards of next-generation indie bands ready to light up the stage. Here are a few great clubs to check out the next time you’re on a road trip down Highway 1.

Lee’s Palace – Toronto, ON

Lee’s Palace might be Canada’s most well-known music venue but many people don’t know that it used to be a bank. The building itself is over 100 years old and it became a club in 1985 when its namesake, Mr. Lee, bought the space. It’s where many, many international artists played their first shows in Toronto and/or Canada, including Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Verve, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others. Fun fact: then up-and-coming band Blue Rodeo was only the second band to hit the stage at Lee’s Palace when they played there in September 1985.

The Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, ON

When it was first built in the 1860s, The Horseshow Tavern building served as a workshop for a blacksmith. The ‘Shoe first opened as an 87-seat music joint in 1947, hosting mostly blues and folk acts up until the ‘60s. Over the years, it’s been the backdrop for too many memorable shows to name in one paragraph. Canadian icon Stompin’ Tom Connors filmed his documentary Across This Land with Stompin’ Tom Connors there in 1973. The Rolling Stones opened their “Bridges to Babylon” tour there in 1997. Billy Talent recorded an official live version of “Red Flag” there in 2006. In 2007, The ‘Shoe celebrated its 60th anniversary with 6 shows in a row by Joel Plaskett. Plaskett played one of his albums each night and was joined by other prominent musicians including Sarah Harmer and Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip).

Zaphod Beeblebrox – Ottawa, ON

Named after a character in Douglas Adams’ sci-fi novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox has steadily grown into one of Canada’s premier music venues. Last year, Zaphod’s celebrated its 20th anniversary as a pillar of Ottawa’s music scene. The Rolling Stones shot their video for “Streets of Love” there in 2005. Everyone from Ben Harper to Jewel to Alanis Morrisette has played there. In 2012, Dan Griffin from The Arkells said “Rock ‘n’ roll clubs just don’t exist like this anymore.” They also have a cocktail called the “Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster”. How awesome is that?

Broken City – Calgary, AB

Started by small business owner/music lover Zak Pashak in 2003, Broken City has swiftly become Calgary’s go-to destination for all things rock ‘n’ roll. Pashak also founded the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival which brings huge indie acts to Calgary every year. Past performers include Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene, Okkervil River, and Grizzly Bear to name a few. Monday is comedy night at Broken City where amateurs and pros alike are welcome to give the open mic a try. For something different, check out Broken City Wingo! every Tuesday with loud music, bingo (duh), hot wings and cheap tallboys.

George’s Fabulous Roadhouse – Sackville, NB

Everyone loves a rock show where you can get great food on-site without having to wander down sketchy alleys at 2 A.M. At George’s Roadhouse, you can chow down on cheeseburger platters and homestyle pie while listening to the hottest acts around like Plants and Animals, Two Hours Traffic, and PS I Love You. The Constantines even rocked so hard one night that insulation from recent renovations started falling on the band and the crow. The best part? Neither seemed unfazed and the show just kept going on.

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