Kawai’s Guide to finding the best underground art, nightlife and alternative events in another city with ZERO connections

So last year at TCAF, there was a cartoonist from abroad (who shall remain unnamed) who was like, “so where do we go to party and get drugs around here?” Since this is probably a common query for people out of town, I thought I’d share my time-tested-and-true strategies for finding the nightlife you want in a new city if you have zero contacts or friends to ask for recommendations. Also, even if you have local handlers, if they don’t like to party hard or to party hard in the way you like to party hard, they won’t be able to help you. Knowledge of where all the good parties are at is highly variegated among locals so you might as well do a little research prior to traveling.

  • Don’t waste money on travel guides. These are only good for basics like figuring out public transportation, etc. When it comes to underground art, events and nightlife, they’re pretty useless.
  • Don’t rely on travel blogs. Like travel guides, travel blogs are great for basic survival info. They also tend to have nice photos you won’t get in a travel guide. But locals don’t read travel blogs to figure out what’s going on in the city and neither should you. Also, I find the kind of people who write travel blogs usually aren’t attending the same kinds of events I’m looking for. No, I’m not interested in dropping five bucks for an espresso in this supercute cafe that has great floor tiles for Instagramming.
  • Read local blogs and publications that focus on municipal politics and culture. Not only are you accessing the best listings, you’ll learn more about the city you’re traveling to. In Toronto, we have BlogTO, Torontoist, Now Magazine and Toronto Life so I highly recommend any visitors to Toronto to read them. I try to follow a few similar publications for another city prior to visiting.
  • Look at who is being booked at the local galleries and clubs you like, then see what venues book these people in the city you’re traveling to. Even in another city, the same artists, DJs and other performers will tend to draw a similar crowd. Acts that play a small intimate venue that’s laid back, queer friendly and not a pick-up scene are not going to be booked in another city at a heteronormy club where everyone is done up and on the prowl. This also helps address any questions you might have about dress code. LGHT? Same rule applies. Look for where the acts you like are booked.
  • On a related note, this is how I find comic book stores – I see who is stocking the publishers and cartoonists I like and chances are, the rest of the store as well.

Renate Comics in Berlin ❤

  • Once you find one or two venues that appeal to you, look through their social media networks for other venues. Up and coming artists, galleries, DJs, performers, little clubs – these communities all follow each other. In this way, you can discover new events and venues.
  • If the events you enjoy are related to any subculture – say you’re a goth – try to find any social media network related to that subculture. Not only will they talk about listings, you can often read more details about specific events, community politics and so on.
  • Google Maps. This sounds random, but it’s not at all. When I find a venue with an event I like, I just zoom all the way in and see what else G-Maps picks up. Every neighbourhood has a vibe and if you like at least two places in that neighbourhood, chances are you’ll be interested in more.

If you have any research tips you’d like to share, feel free to comment!

Final note. Please do not act like a presumptive Anglo and assume that everything you can do at home is legal to do abroad. Even if it’s legal it might be extremely taboo culturally. When in Rome…