What Toronto can learn from the Montreal nightlife scene

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the Toronto nightlife scene thrive again as a new generation of regulars, clubs, and gatherings pop up in the city.

While the Toronto scene is growing, we’re still reviving our nightlife from past scenes that have passed away. Party groups, clubs and bars have rebuilt the city’s nightlife, but we still have plenty of room to grow.

Although Toronto has recently been hailed as Canada’s party capital, Montreal has historically had and continues to offer a diverse nightlife. If Toronto has one, Montreal has more than ten.

Toronto can learn a lot from Montreal’s well-established nightlife.

Diversity in parties and scene

A major issue that is constantly discussed in Toronto is the lack of venues and space to host events and their cost. With the rise of condos and the increasing gentrification of historic venues, the city lacks room to host.

However, with the spaces that exist in the city, there is a huge problem when it comes to providing a variety of nightlife options. In Toronto, it can be broken down into four things; A bar turned ‘club’, nightclubs, restaurants and (if you’re lucky to find one) a rave.

Toronto nightlife

Hail Mary is a popular nightclub in College St. Photo by Hector Vasquez.

Bars, gatherings and clubs such as JUICE and Pep Rally and locations along College and Dundas are at the center of Toronto nightlife. But there is a lot that we lack that was noticed by both the residents and the organizers.

What Toronto can learn from Montreal is to be more experimental with its nightlife. While, yes, access to and affordability of space is a major factor, a plethora of options allows for a more diverse nightlife.

To break it down, Montreal nightlife can be divided into different regions much like Toronto. However, the city has the potential to bring in more niche scenes and genres of music and allow them to flourish.

If you end up in Montreal’s Mile End, a staple like Datcha has become a household name; However, new bars and places are popping up flooding the Quebecois and Anglo scene.

Nouvel Etablissement is a techno bar and club in Mile End that features grunge, heavy techno and cage dancing. If you’re on the plateau, Systeme offers deep house, and Barbossa brings in a younger crowd with cheap, danceable options.

Tn Chinatown, the famous Fleur & Cadeaux restaurant comes with a vinyl bar, Sans Soleil, hidden underneath.

What really puts Montreal on the nightlife map is how it allows interdisciplinary spaces to co-exist with nightlife. Montreal has many multi-faceted spaces that serve as artist studios, dance floors, spaces for rooftop DJ sets, and more.

Groups like the Society of Arts & Technology (SAT) host major nightlife events, from art installations, terrace shows and guest DJs to Montreal collective Home Grown Harvest.

Shift Radio Collective also has an understanding of the nightlife scene, frequenting European-style DJ sets.

Warehouses also dominate the nightlife, with Expose Noir hosting art events from 8 to 24 hours in post-industrial warehouse venues such as the old factory in Griffintown when hosting the Fonderie Darling.

Toronto has some of its own warehouse space, mostly on and around Dupont Street, but most of it is underutilized or primarily serves as art spaces.

Groups control the city

Toronto is in the midst of a rebirth and is in the process of regaining its lost relationship with party groups. Montreal, however, is not letting it go.

Queer groups are taking over Montreal, with DJ Mossy Mugler’s Hauterageous events, DJ Sisi Superstars Unikorn’s parties, and artists like Isabella Lovestory and NYC-artist Club Eat dominating the nightlife for a while.

Party groups like Moonshine have also seen growth, with their location tag SMS reaching Toronto as well.

While Toronto is making its own mark, with BIPOC queer groups at the forefront of the underground scene, we can learn a lot from how Montreal groups celebrate.

From summer outdoor raves to more accessible venues, groups can easily thrive and grow in Montreal. The city has been a hub for experimental electronic music, with artists and DJs like Mimi Virus, Syana, and XS to name a few.

Toronto nightlife

The view inside the MAV near King’s and Bathurst. Photo by Hector Vasquez.

What makes these groups stand out from the Toronto scene is the lack of original perfection that they deliver in the best possible way. In many ways, a lot of the collections are very clean and structured, which can make them hard to digest and easy to go mainstream.

Montreal’s eccentric party scene emphasizes the need for safe spaces but does not forget that the eccentric rave scene is messy, fun, exaggerated, and experimental.

Toronto is slowly catching a glimpse of this with younger cohorts emerging, but it still has a lot of rebuilding and growth ahead of it.

Many collectives pay and operate within constraints to improve Toronto’s nightlife.

The City of Toronto itself, along with condo developers and other stakeholders, must work to protect historic places, provide more affordable spaces and strive to make the cost of living in Toronto more bearable.

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