There isn’t anything quite like live music.
If done right, it can be one of the best reasons to go out. There’s such a unique energy to it that is almost impossible to do on an album.
But who wants to drive or take the train to Toronto on a Friday night? Not us, that’s for sure. But don’t worry, if you live in Kitchener-Waterloo, you don’t have to. There are lots of top-notch venues in both cities, no matter what you listen to.
So with that in mind, we thought we’d put together five of our favourites (you’re welcome). Let’s get right into it, shall we?
1. Maxwell’s Concerts and Events – Waterloo
Photo courtesy of the venue
Location: 35 University Avenue East in Waterloo, just a short walk from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.
Size: Big. It fits up to 700 people, but with the way their space is set up, they can adapt it for almost any crowd size depending on what’s happening that night. Sometimes they are able to sell out the entire facility.
Food and Drink: There are two large bars, and many of their events are also catered, many nights from Morty’s Pub.
Atmosphere: Loud and electrifying. With a large student crowd and easy access to alcohol, that’s probably not too surprising. But this ain’t Phil’s. For the most part, the venue is clean, safe and just looks really good.
What they’re known for: Just about everything. They’ve brought in some of the very best Canadian artists, like Matthew Good, Monster Truck and The Trews. But they also do a lot more, like host local artists, tribute bands, and comedy nights, just to name a few. Every week there is something going on here, no matter what it is.
Long story short: Maxwell’s is at its best when it’s loud and the music is rockin’. And it’s probably the best on this list for having the most well-known bands. But even if you’re going to see a local artist or are trying out one of their other events, it’s always a party at Maxwell’s. If you live near either of the Universities and haven’t been here yet, you really are missing out.
An event you can’t miss this summer: The Lazys on Saturday, June 24. They’re like a 21st Century ACDC, which is pretty damn cool. Watch their music video for Shake It Like Your Mean It below and then get your tickets to the show here if you’re interested (which we know you will be).
Bonus: Check out their Year 1 compilation video below if you really want to get a good look at the place before you try it!
2. Starlight Social Club – Uptown Waterloo
Location: 47 King Street North in Uptown Waterloo. It’s a nice halfway point between the Universities and the rest of Uptown.
Size: Around 200 people (Starlight didn’t get back to us with this information by the time we published this article, so that is a very loose guess. We’ll update this if we hear back from them).
Food and Drink: No food – just drinks (but they’re priced fairly reasonably).
Atmosphere: Very comfortable. It feels like a party in a giant living room.
What they’re known for: Being a hybrid between a live music venue and a dance club. And most of the time, it works really well.
Long story short: If you want to dance, Starlight’s got you. If you want to discover and enjoy great live music instead, Starlight’s got you covered there too. It’s a great venue that has been in Uptown Waterloo for over a decade now, and for good reason.
An event you can’t miss this summer: The Skints on Tuesday, June 27. They have a reggae/ska/dub sound that’s all their own and you just can’t help but bob your head. If you want to make it to that show, be sure to get your tickets here.
3. The Jazz Room – Uptown Waterloo
Location: 59 King St. North in Uptown Waterloo. It’s actually a bit hidden inside the Heuther Hotel.
Size: Relatively small. The space can technically hold up to 160 people, but most nights the venue draws in around 80 people.
Food and Drink: Full service from the Heuther Hotel’s own restaurant. You can see the full list of menu options here.
Atmosphere: Sizzling and very cool. It’s a seated venue with low lighting for people who just want to enjoy the (often mind-blowing) music.
What they’re known for: Jazz, jazz and jazz. It says it right there in their name. And yet somehow, every evening and every artist has a completely different feel, so the performances often still have a new-ness about them.
Long story short: The Jazz Room is probably the most niche venue on this list, but it’s on here because it’s one of the most unique experiences in the city. It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you want to relax and watch some talented musicians show off, this is the place for you.
An event you can’t miss this summer: Turboprop on Saturday, June 17. Words that come to mind to describe them include: Electrifying. Unique. Captivating. Chaotic. But honestly, you’re just going to listen to them for yourself to really understand how awesome they are. Get your tickets to their show here.
4. The Boathouse – Victoria Park in Downtown Kitchener
Location: 57 Jubilee Drive in downtown Kitchener, right in the heart of Victoria Park.
Size: 90 people inside, and another 90 on the patio, which understandably gets most of the attention in the summer.
Food and Drink: Full in-house restaurant (which pairs very well with the music and location). Check out their full menu on their website here. Their House-Baked Pretzel is out-of-this-world.
Atmosphere: Charming and bright. Being right beside the Lake in Victoria Park doesn’t hurt either.
What they’re known for: Good music, good food and an even better view. The Boathouse does everything from classic rock to folk and just about everything in between, but the music, no matter what it is, always seems to fit the cozy venue.
Long story short: The Boathouse is undoubtedly at the top of this list when it comes to the view. Because of that and the food, it would be a stellar restaurant if that was all there was to it, but thankfully there’s tons of quality artists and music too. Unlike the Jazz Room, The Boathouse does a bit of everything and has something for just about every music lover. It’s all good stuff, no matter what it sounds like.
An event you can’t miss this summer: Jon Knight and Soulstack on Friday, June 30. It won’t be the first time at The Boathouse for these Kitchener-based rockers. Here’s one of their slower tunes, That’s How I Got to Memphis, from last year’s performance at the venue. If you want to see them in June for yourself, be sure to arrive around 8 pm or 8:30 pm. And while you’re at it, why not try the food too? (Spoiler alert: it’s very good) More details about their performance here.
5. Rhapsody Barrel Bar – Downtown Kitchener
Location: 179 King Street West in downtown Kitchener, just a short walk from City Hall and the Charles Street bus terminal.
Size: It holds just over 200 people.
Food and Drink: Full-service restaurant with a big drink list. See what they have to offer here.
Atmosphere: Upbeat and fun. The restaurant itself has a great vibe, but the music and performances often ratchet that up to a whole other level. Once the performance starts, that’s all you’ll want to focus on.
What they’re known for: A unique experience. With extensive drink options, unique menu choices and quality musical performances almost every day of the week, Rhapsody often steals the spotlight in downtown Kitchener.
Long story short: Rhapsody is the newest venue on this list, but with the awesome atmosphere and events almost every day, we just couldn’t leave it out. This one is worth a few return trips.
An event you can’t miss this summer: Orangeman on Friday, June 9. These guys are ridiculous, as we’re sure you can tell by the orange jumpsuits they wear. But the cover songs they do are an absolute blast and their personalities are somehow even more electric. Naturally, they’re a perfect fit for Rhapsody. Take a look at their performance at Casino Ramo from a few years ago, and then be sure to get tickets to their upcoming show here.
Did we miss your favourite spot? Let us know what your favourite venues in Kitchener-Waterloo are in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And if you want to see more great articles like this, be sure to subscribe!