Sometimes I find myself disliking Toronto because of how consumed it is by a good instagram aesthetic. I see people lining up all the way down the street so they can snap a pic of their charcoal icecream. I catch people waiting hours for Toronto's best brunch. Rooftop pools and fancy bars overrun with selfies. And attending the Distillery District Christmas Market last year, I couldn't help but notice how much of the decoration was catered to capturing the perfect Instagram selfie, instead of representing the spirit of Christmas.
All I really ever see are lines, but this doesn't surprise me. Toronto is a young city. A millennial city. It's metropolitan and new places are constantly closing and opening up. Trends are curated so that they align with what's happening in other megacities around the world. And following suit to the high school fantasy of being cool, we play along.
But every now and then, I'll still come across a part of the city that is isolated from the millennial madness. Kensington Market is certainly one of those places. It's quirky and edgy, decorated with graffiti, street art, cannabis markets, fully bohemian and 100% unique. It's really one of those places where all kinds of people are accepted.
I really thought Kensington Market couldn't get any better, and then I discovered the Poetry Jazz Cafe. I don't go to bars nearly as often as I used to, but when I do, I'm actively seeking out live music. It just sets a purpose in the night and makes it feel like an intimate concert. And that's exactly what my night here felt like.
The Poetry Jazz Cafe, owned by Sean Pascalle, is on Augusta Avenue and recognized by it's exterior, a graffiti portrait of Miles Davis greets you on the front door. Once you step inside, the living room-esque couch/waiting room area already welcomes you with the feeling of lounging at home in the late evening. Cover to get inside is $10, drinks are reasonably priced, but the staff is tremendously friendly. And what you're really paying for is to get inside to enjoy precisely what the bar's name suggests: some poetic jazz.
With performances lined up at the place each night (except Monday's when they're closed), there's always something worth seeing. I managed to catch Jordan John Band, an exuberant group playing soulful classics with their dashing lead singer Jordan John. Below is a video clip from the night's performance:
The atmosphere indoors is raw and real. It's exactly the sort of underground place you'd expect that legends like Charles Bradley and Billie Holiday to play at. The bar, with it's somewhat retro and eclectic decor, has a genuinely cool vibe. But unlike the places that are all over everyone's instagram accounts, this place is unpretentious. It exists for the intention of playing good music for the people that want to hear good music. They showcase local artists and celebrate the promise of their talent while inviting an interested audience. Jazz is experimental and dynamic. It moves you and takes you on a journey. It's a highly stimulant experience. That's what it should be about.
On the Poetry Jazz Cafe website, they published a manifesto that is critical but true, and probably what drew me to pay the place a visit in the first place. they write:
"It's real. Tons of trust-funded, private schooled millennials are opening bars in the city every minute. Selling hipster gimmicks & snacks, with no vision, no community service and no soul. Poetry urges you to support local musicians by supporting the venues that feature live music, poetry, art, and charity initiatives."