Soak up the beer with King's Crown nachos.
Few things feel as dive bar-friendly as the combination of live music and nachos, a Venn diagram intersection commanded by Toronto institution Sneaky Dee’s. Downstairs, a graffiti-filled dining room specializes in intricate plates of toppings-on-every-chip nachos while a 200-person live music venue sits on the second floor, creating a formidable one-two drinking and divey dining combination just on the fringes of Toronto’s super-walkable Kensington Market neighborhood.
Today’s Sneaky Dee’s location is the second incarnation of the Toronto dive bar, the first space opened in 1987 at the intersection of Bloor Street and Bathurst. The business model at that time emphasized the 24-hour restaurant on the structure’s first floor, but a live music venue could be found in the Sneaky Dee’s basement as well. After hosting the first Toronto Fringe Festival in the bar’s basement in 1989, the decision was made to move to the intersection of College and Bathurst in 1990, the current location of Sneaky Dee’s.
With the move came access to a larger performance space, this time on the second floor, holding around 200 people. Sneaky Dee’s was almost immediately associated with the Canadian punk rock and indie music scene in Toronto, quickly gaining a reputation as a highly attractive venue to catch both local acts and touring bands just starting to find their footing.
Over time, genres have been introduced to Sneaky Dee’s, diversifying the bands and DJ sets held on the Toronto dive bar’s second floor. Today, Emo Night is a particularly popular, regular event, as are dance parties catering to the 2000s, 2010s, etc. Sneaky Dee’s is and was so ingrained in the music scene of Toronto that it snagged an appearance in Toronto comic Scott Pilgrim (though it did not sadly appear in said movie).
Sneaky Dee’s was threatened in September of 2020 when a still-unnamed developer submitted a proposal to the Toronto city council to level Sneaky Dee’s and a handful of adjacent buildings to construct a 13-story condo. With some council opposition, a community petition and a trending #SaveSneakyDees hashtag, the scare was ultimately averted as the council cited a handful of reasons to reject the proposal.
Live music and dramatic city council meetings aside, Sneaky Dee’s is also, you guessed it, a dive bar, thanks to a graffiti-laden interior that spans a deceptively cavernous space along the Toronto street corner it occupies. The location is impossible to miss thanks to intricate signage above the front door no-doubt conceived of by local artists as well as an extensive mural that runs along one exterior wall of the building. A small patio juts out onto the sidewalk in front of Sneaky Dee’s.
Inside is where the true divey appeal of Sneaky Dee’s comes through, a long bar running along one interior wall opposite a labyrinth of ancient, wooden booths that fill in the bar’s main space. Each booth has been etched, stickered, marked on and otherwise effaced in some way over the 30-plus years that Sneaky Dee’s has occupied the structure. The ceiling is painted red before giving way to a recessed space in the center of the room where a slightly cosmic mural has been painted into the ceiling. String lights can be found draped throughout the Sneaky Dee’s interior, mixing with flags, original artwork, music posters and the occasional television.
The no-doubt star of the Sneaky Dee’s menu is the array of nacho options, some of them inspired by and named after local Toronto bands. The most popular and most well-documented nacho offering at Sneaky Dee’s is the King’s Crown, an epic pile of nachos that runs on the pricey side but has been routinely touted as the best plate of nachos in Toronto. Vegan options are available for those so inclined as the portion sizes at Sneaky Dee’s have the reputation of being generous.