“It sucks that we don’t have a bar to go but it’s very difficult to sustain a lesbian venue in any major city today,” promoter Tania Morano admits over coffee at a Church Street Starbucks. Like Toronto’s gay village itself and the gay men’s bar scene, in this city and around the world, the lesbian bar scene has been steadily shrinking. We can blame this on a wide variety of well-known societal, economic and geographic changes. Queer acceptance, the internet, changing queer focuses and the gentrification of the gay village are just a few. Now women wander from space to space like nocturnal nomads foraging for entertainment. And though there are lesbian parties happening somewhere every weekend of the month, finding them is a challenge.
“We don’t have to worry about there being not enough parties,” Morano says. “It’s just difficult because we don’t have a hub to talk about where they are at and when they are happening.”
Here’s a list of current parties to start you off.
Back To Church
When: The second Friday of the month
Where: Church on Church, 504 Church St
What: Now in its third year, this party has had Toronto’s hottest lesbian DJs — DJ Delicious, DJ KLR, DJ Sticky Cuts, Arts&Crafts, Annalyze and DJ Lilly Russner — grace the decks of this intimate, one-room club. Event organizer Anushki Bodhinayake was quick to get into the space when it transformed from George’s Play to Church On Church. One of the major complaints from women is that there are too few places in the Village that cater to them. This spot can’t be more central, or inviting. With a relaxed atmosphere and intimate dancefloor, this spot now has a large stage where you can jump up and show yourself off.
When: The third Saturday of every month
Where: The Round, 152 Augusta Ave, Kensington Market
What: If you haven’t heard of Cherry Bomb, then you probably have never gone out. The city’s longest-running lesbian monthly first breathed life into Toronto’s fledgling queer west scene in 2007 by bringing women (and their gay friends) out to Andy Pool Hall on College Street. When Andy Pool Hall closed, event creators DJ Denise Benson and DJ Cozmic Cat moved the event to The Round (home of Business Women’s Special, another mixed queer party attracting more men than women). They attract upward of 400 people monthly who are treated to electro, throwback classics, house, disco, drum & bass, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, rock and pop. Special events like Pride and New Year’s bring out guest performers like Fawn Big Canoe. If you arrive early you can even warm up by playing group games like Twister.
When: First Friday of the month
Where: Club 120, 120 Church St
What: Main DJ/promoter KRL (who also guest DJs at Back To Church) is most known for her house, electro and EDM beats, but she likes to mix up this party by bringing in guest DJs who spin hip-hop and dance hall. DJ Recklezz likes to play “more down dirty and ratchety music where [women] can dance with someone and feel each other up.” Club 120 is home to many queer parties, including Sodom, because of its intimate dancefloor, overhanging second floor balcony, great sound, club lighting and affordable drinks. All the ingredients needed to attract a younger crowd.
When: Dates vary
Where: Venues vary, but always Pride and New Year’s
What: Now in its eighth year, this party was started by Anna Maria and business partner Tania Morano when there was a huge need for more lesbian events. Slacks had closed and women were restless. Their first event was a Toronto Pride weekend festival of five parties. Since then, they have gone on to produce rowdy gatherings at various (usually but not always straight) locations. “We’re bringing new things to people and keeping it fresh and hot,” Morano says. “Each new venue is an interesting experience but you don’t want to bring your party to a venue that’s like a bro fest.” The last event was held at Smith on Church Street with DJ Femmebot spinning disco, jackin’ style house music on the second floor and DJ Foxxtrot putting out top 40, hip-hop and hits on the third floor. Morano adds, “The landscape is changing. A lot of lesbians parties also attract gay men ’cause they don’t want that sausage fest and they want grimy dirty hip-hop instead of the typical house [music.] They love it and the women love them [but] you are going to get some [women] who are upset about it. Hopefully those women who are upset can see past the three guys that are having a great time and can enjoy the night.”
Where: 725 Queen St E
When: Last Saturday of every month
Where: Many different locations including out east at Wayla.
What: With their last regular location closed, Toastr is now moving the party around to a different venue each month. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase other venues in the city that a lot of people wouldn’t normally go to,” says Tania Morano, who also heads up this event. Now in its fourth year, Toastr gets crispy with house, tech, dancehall, hip-hop, twerk and funk music spun by DJ Sticky Cuts. Events like New Year’s or Pride are extra special. Past DJs like Deko-ze, Ticky Ty and Neil Macleod (who each have their own followings) help to create a changing sound and a diverse crowd. Guest musicians like master violinist Sammy V, who entertained at their Boxing Day party at the Gladstone, was a treat. “What is interesting about the time when we started Toastr was that it was around the time that everyone was starting to move parties to other places, off Church Street,” Morano says. “A lot of it was a venue issue. There was nowhere to throw parties anymore. We still have that problem.”
(FYI: Toastr takes its name from lesbian comic culture. When a lesbian converts or sleeps with a straight woman, she is given a toaster as a consolation prize.)
Yes Yes Y’all
When: Second last Friday of every month
Where: Nest, 423 College St
What: Though not officially a lesbian party, this queer hip-hop monthly bash has moved venues a few times in its six years, but the crowd always follows. With its strong female DJ/promoter presence (Aneeela Q, Sammy Rawal, Ila Byela, Yes Yes Jill alongside L Rock) this diverse crowd — a healthy mix of men and women both gay and straight — unites through music. Playing everything from hip-hop, dancehall, R&B, soca, trap and reggae. But look around: lesbians dominate. Expect guest and up and coming performers to be showcased at every event. DJ Yung Bambi and special performers Keita Juma, Progress and Cake Da Killa have all performed here recently. And no lie, this event is always packed, so get there early. No joke.
When: Every fourth Friday of the month
Where: Boutique Bar, 506 Church St
What: “I wanted a name that was kinda dirty that wouldn’t be too complicated to say,” says DJ Recklezz. (Her professional name is a nickname from her childhood with a lesbian tongue twist.) Considered the lesbian scene’s newest rising star, Recklezz (AKA Casey Summers) gets around. Her newest creation is this monthly in the heart of the Village. Boutique is a beautiful martini bar that won Now Toronto’s best martini bar award in 2014. But get there soon — it’s quickly outgrowing its space and may need to relocate.
“We make do with what we have,” Recklezz says. “We will continue to find spots to make that happen. Whether Church Street were to completely die out or not. We will stay strong regardless if there are lesbian bars or not.”
Other notable lesbian hangouts on any given night include:
Check out our feature article asking Where have all the Toronto lesbians gone?)
(Editor’s note, March 30, 2016: An earlier version of this story stated that the Church Street Starbucks used to be a lesbian bar called Togethers. The bar was called Together and it was located at 457 Church Street, now the home of the Black Eagle.
The same version of this story stated there are cheap drinks at Toastr before 11:30. This is not true.
Tania Morano’s name was also misspelled.)