Toronto is home to some pretty cool out-of-the-ordinary restaurants, bars and spaces. We’re talking beyond-mainstream venues with setting, food and drinks purposely designed to serve up a unique theme and immersive experience. Not only do these ready-made environment make for easy planning, but they can also help shift dollars you would have spent on décor to another area of the event budget.
Check out these 10 event-friendly themed venues:
Concept: A weekly one-night only social dining experience in a grand, over-the-top setting where eclectic elements spark a dynamic circus-like energy.
Details: The Saturday-night culinary activation is wonderfully food clubby in a spacious, luxe setting filled with chandeliers and other glitzy accents. A DJ spins while aerialists and professional dancers add entertainment vibrancy. Gorgeous light graphics dance off the interior of the heritage building’s glass dome that soars above the lounge-style seating and tables that fill the centre of the massive dining-socializing area. Guests use Bizarre poker chips as the currency to purchase a bounty of delicious cuisine from the many dining stations and bars lining the room’s peripheral. Chef vendors change monthly. Curtained VP areas offer group privacy.
Add On: The Market Place launches this summer with additional food-and-activity options around the pool-patio area.
Capacity: Full buyout of one seating of up to 500; private hosting areas for groups of 8 to 300
Perfect For: Social events, holiday or office parties.
Where: The Shameful Tiki Room on Queen Street West in the Parkdale neighbourhood
Concept: French Polynesia circa 1940s and ’50s inspired by South Pacific culture, climate and cuisine with a full embrace of tiki cocktail classics.
Details: Outside, only a red light stands out on the exterior’s blank façade. Inside, a lush tropical paradise awaits. A wash of red infuses the dimly-lit bar-lounge with a sultry, warm vibe. A 7-ft.-high carved tiki idol keeps a watchful eye on the space dressed in rattan and wicker. Bamboo-thatching turns the bar and booths into tiki huts. Glowing pufferfish and fishing buoy lanterns hang from the ceiling; carvings, totems, vintage posters and other tiki knick knacks fill the walls. Snacks and shareable platters deliver a taste of Polynesia. Food takes a side seat, however, to the specialty rum cocktails like mai tais, zombies, and pina coladas served in novelty drinkware, loaded with swizzle-stick skewered fruit. Size up to shareable drinks like the Volcano Bowl garnished with smoking fire.
Add Ons: Gift guests Shameful Tiki mementos like t-shirts, mugs and other fun novelties befitting a trip to the tropics.
Capacity: Full buyout, 115; back-of-house semi-private, 40.
Perfect For: Social occasions, holiday parties,
Where: Convenience on Queen West
Concept: An ultra-fab bar-restaurant with a playful, modern-day retro twist on everyone’s go-to corner store.
Details: Enter via a full-service convenience shop loaded with a curated mix of handy items, novelty toys and nostalgic candy like Popeye Candy Sticks, Milk Duds and Pop Rocks. A curtained doorway leads through to the 3,000-sq.-ft. bar and dining room where neon signage espousing throw-back sayings “Rad” and “Game Over” preside over the open-concept space. There are on-tap cocktails and a menu that elevates nostalgic comfort food like Pogos, tater tots, and mac n cheese. Instagram-perfect backdrops include a wall of rotary-dial telephones labelled “Party Line” and a stairwell of vintage TVs. Furnishings are easily re-configured for events. Roll-up garage doors lead to the patio.
Add On: Make the most of the convenience shop as a welcome station or a great source for filling up event goodie bags with a trip-down-memory-lane treats!
Capacity: Full venue buyout: 111 reception-style, 95 seated in the main space; 30 seated on patio.
Perfect For: ‘80s-‘90s-themed parties, corporate events, product launches and photo shoots.
Where: Figures on Avenue Road and Davenport in the Yorkville area
Concept: Comic books come to life amidst good food and drinks that pay tribute to all of your favourite comic-book characters and action heroes.
Details: Decoupage wall art by local artist Anthony Ricciardi covers the front-of-house lobby with Popeye and thousands of other comic-book personalities and scenes. A second door – press the big red button to open – leads inside to the speakeasy-like split-level restaurant. Two banquettes take up the ground floor with bar and table dining a few steps up including another semi-private banquette area underneath a picture of Barbie. A neon Pac-Man light installation crosses the ceiling and walls are filled with vibrant murals and picture frames starring super heroes and cartoon characters. The menu combines nostalgia with refinement, and playfully presented cocktails sport names like Poison Ivy and Donkey Kong.
Add On: The restaurant can help coordinate contents for goodie bags including cartoon book take-homes, fun tchotchkes and action figures.
Capacity: Full buyout, 75 seated, 125 reception-style; semi-private, 20
Perfect For: Social and corporate events, VIP dining, book and product launches
Small But Magical
Where: The Lockhart located on Dundas St. W in the Dufferin Grove neighbourhood.
Concept: The wizarding world filled with spell-casting references, witchy enchantments and supernatural symbols inspired by the magical world of the Harry Potter novels.
Details: Since opening, this intimate apothecary-style bar has garnered international headlines and line-ups. The décor and tricked-out vibe is clever and well done, even if you don’t “get” the subtle Potter and other-worldly references. Like the stag’s head wall etching (a Patronus) and neon heart enclosing the words “all was well” (the last line of the Potter series). Ripped-back plaster exposes expanses of brick walls. The potions and elixirs sign painted above the penny-topped bar is an apt description for the cocktail menu with sought-after concoctions like the creamy Better Beer (Butter Beer, get it?!) and The Marauder, a rum-based sipper for two or more served in a fiery cauldron. The kitchen currently only serves bar snacks, but is available to work with event menus.
Add On: A mobile custom-decorated cocktail bar caters spellbinding drinks to offsite events. The Lockhart also has connections to a talented roster of magicians and other suitably mystical strolling entertainment.
Capacity: Full buyout, 35
Perfect For: Social gatherings, themed staff and holiday parties, trivia-night teambuilding.
Where: CN Tower in the entertainment district.
Concept: The thrill of being a tourist in your own city, experiencing it from 1,815-ft in the air from within a modern-day wonder of the world and the most iconic building in Toronto’s skyline.
Details: At the top of the tower, it’s all about the sky-high panoramic views in every direction, requiring little additional set dressing other than great food and cocktails. The freshly renovated LookOut Level offers an abundance of seamless floor-to-ceiling vistas, a glass floor area and three new food kiosks cum bar stations. Even higher is the tower’s revolving 360° Restaurant, perfect for elevated dining or in combination with other on-site space for progressive events. Three meeting spaces (configurable to one room) and the Maple Leaf Cinema are available at the tower’s base.
Add On: Arrange for a thrilling Edge Walk experience as part of a once-in-a-lifetime staff reward or a breathtaking teambuilding exercise.
Capacity: LookOut Level, 700 guests; 360°, 400 seated, 600 reception-style; meeting rooms, up to 90; Maple Leaf Cinema, 140
Perfect For: Client entertaining, corporate events, meetings, annual general meetings, teambuilding.
Where: Storm Crow Manor located at Church and Wellesley
The Concept: Think an elaborate Comi-Con-like clubhouse for lovers of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and other similar genres.
Details: The Victorian mansion couldn’t be a more perfect watering-hole magnet for nerdy pursuits, or as Vancouver’s original Storm Crow location’s been dubbed, a “sports bar for geeks.” A labyrinth of themed rooms – eight in all — fill the space including the Victorian Hunting Lodge, the Mary Shelley, the Eclectic Room, and Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. Four bars, one a replica of The Shining’s, hidden passageways and Hollywood-calibre propping, decor and styling pack the space with fantastical, mind-bending curiosities and oddities. The menu continues the fantasy play with pub fare like Dracary’s Dragon Egg and Wolverine Poutine, and drinks include shareable cocktails like the cider-rum Dark Side Bowl served in a mist-filled Darth Vader helmet.
Add On: Hire one of the bar’s game masters to lead your event in simultaneous Dungeon & Dragons tournaments, board games or sci-fi trivia competition.
Capacity: Full buyout for 250; patio, 150; Mary Shelley Bar, 80; Black Lodge from Twin Peaks, 70
Perfect For: Halloween socials, fantasy-themed events, film shoots
A Supersized Playground
Where: The Rec Room on Bremmner Blvd. at Roundhouse Park
Concept: A happy place for all-ages fun with activities housed in a space that’s a cross between a swanky games room on steroids and a bright, shiny fairground.
Details: The cavernous entertainment multiplex is loaded with over 100 video arcade games, virtual reality experiences, simulator rides, shuffleboard, ping pong, pool, and other amusements and activities. Located in the historic railway Roundhouse, the venue is light-filled and striking with its industrial beam-and-girder aesthetic. There are several hosting areas for private events. There’s The Hall, a live-performance auditorium with a theatre-size screen, Three10, the onsite restaurant specializing in Canadian cuisine, and The Den and The Lofts, that are perfectly suited to meetings or can be divided into break-out rooms. Take events out to the massive patio or take over the entire building.
Add On: All that gaming action deserves rewards. Co-ordinate with the on-site events team for a curated selection of items from the Trophy Case or other commemorative merchandise.
Capacity: Full buyout, 1,400; The Hall, 426; Three10, 250; The Den, 60; The Lofts, 85; Patio, 300
Perfect For: Office parties, meetings, corporate family events, teambuilding, seminars, fundraisers.
Where: Famous Last Words Bar on Pacific Avenue in The Junction.
Concept: It’s all about cocktails, inspired by, and named after, famous novels, served amidst a cozy bibliophile’s-dream setting.
Details: No one gets shushed in this library-inspired bar while sipping “novel” cocktails. Serving drinks-only, the beverage menu is, aptly enough, a book with choices edited into three chapters: Beach Reads, Adventures and Epics. Front-of-house sports a fireplace and comfy couch surrounded by vintage bookshelf wallpaper. Scrabble-tile artwork accents a few table tops and the main bar (over 11,000 tiles!). There’s also an entire wall of books back-of-house. “Jane Austen” and “Oscar” sign the washrooms. Great stories feed creative event ideas so take advantage of the bar’s on-site team to help bring them to life. Food can be catered in.
Add On: Private book the same literary fun that draws in the bar’s loyal fans: Book trivia, book theme nights with drinks inspired by an author, cocktail-classes and mixology competitions with a literary twist.
Capacity: Full buy-out for 50; semi-private for 20 in two booths near back of house.
Perfect For: Corporate and social events, teambuilding, book clubs, product launches.
Where: The Big Chill on College St. in the Little Italy neighbourhood
Concept: An old-fashioned soda counter that takes you right back to a time of saddle shoes, sweater sets and the birth of rock ’n roll.
Details: Photo opps abound in this cute intimate corner diner which encompasses all things retro and fun! Bright and colourful, the walls pop in bubblegum pink and minty green. The checkered floor and accents are straight out of the ’50s and a neon light installation illuminates the tin ceiling. Think nostalgic ice cream treats – sundaes, milk shakes and banana splits – served at the old-time lunch counter. Only ice cream is served onsite, however, there is a set-up space and an oven for catering. The back counter is the perfect place for a food station and bar.
Add On: Invite guests to build their own sundaes or host an ice cream decorating competition.
Capacity: Full buyout, 50 guests.
Perfect For: Themed cocktail receptions, social events, office luncheons, photo shoot.