Rogers Centre: Baseball Gameday GuideThe Rogers Centre sits in the heart of Toronto's primary tourist district, beside the famed CN Tower, a couple blocks from the Air Canada Centre and sandwiched between the waterfront and the entertainment district. Whether or not the Blue Jays are in town, the neighborhood is lively, and the addition of Ripley's Aquarium of Canada only increases the area's popularity. But the Dome—as it's still known locally—no longer dominates the downtown skyline as it once did. Toronto's ongoing condo boom has dwarfed the stadium and hyper-densified the surrounding neighborhoods, which are safe and family-friendly at all hours of the day.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in every direction from the Rogers Centre—some tourist traps, but with local favorites mixed in. As a rule, the farther you get away from the stadium, the more atmosphere and character you'll find. There's also much to do besides baseball. The theatre district is just a couple blocks north, Harbourfront is steps away, Toronto's east-end beaches are a short bike ride and even the trendy Queen St. West neighborhood isn't far.
Despite the area's economic boom, the Rogers Centre remains something of a relic of a bygone era. When it opened in 1989 as the first stadium with a retractable roof, then named the SkyDome, it was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world. Today, it's derided as a white elephant—cold and cavernous amid the proliferation of romantic outdoor ballparks. The criticisms are fair, but on a sunny afternoon with the roof open, it's actually not a bad place to watch a game. And there's never a rain delay.
Arrive at least 2 hours before first pitch for a weekday game, 2½ on Friday or weekend games, and settle down in one spot. Here are our picks for places to start your Jays game day.
WHERE TO GET A BEER
Loose Moose | With more than 50 draft taps, including 30 local craft brews, the Loose Moose is the place for a pregame beer. Make sure to try one of the rotating selections from Toronto's own baseball-themed brewmasters, Left Field Brewery, whose Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale, Maris* Pale Ale, 6-4-3 Double I.P.A. and Resin Bag American I.P.A. are all among the best beers in the city.
WHERE TO GO WITH A GROUP
Real Sports Bar | Voted by ESPN as the best sports bar in North America, Real Sports is a bit of a sensory overload but also a must-see for any sports junkie. The 25,000-square-foot cathedral to sports media includes an insanely huge, 39-foot HD big screen and 199 other moderately sized HD screens sprinkled throughout. It's not so much a bar as it is a grotesque man cave, but the food is not only good for a sports bar; it's good, period. Be forewarned: reservations are a must.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD SPOT
TALLBOYS Craft Beer House | There isn't much in the way of "neighborhood" bars around the Rogers Centre, but if you're determined to find a place where everybody knows your name, try TALLBOYS Craft Beer House. It serves the largest selection of Ontario craft beer in the world, and is home to a regular "Jays Days" feature night, when the bar broadcasts away games on a big screen and hosts Blue Jays' trivia between innings. Their fan-favourite Koreatown Burger goes for $13. Another good neighborhood spot to try is Opera Bob's Public House. Neither bar is especially close to the Centre, but the park is still easily accessible by public transit. Patrons and staff alike are diehard Jays' fans at both spots.
WHERE TO GET ROWDY
Hoops Sports Bar & Grill | On game days, this is where you'll find the predrinking Jays' fans and the college-age crowd. Just a short walk from the ballpark, Hoops offers cheap beer, pub fare and sports on a seemingly infinite number of screens.
WHERE TO HAVE A SIT-DOWN MEAL
Wvrst | Looking for a different take on the ballpark hotdog? How about a traditional German sausage hall? Wvrst isn't fine dining—patrons sit at communal beer hall-style tables—but the sausages are delicious, hence the nightly lines. You can try a traditional bratwurst or experiment with duck, elk, rabbit and even kangaroo sausages. Vegetarian options are also available, and you can pair either with a local or German brew.
Amsterdam BrewHouse | When local Toronto brewery Amsterdam opened its lakeside brewery-restaurant last summer it immediately became one of the city's best patios. With a capacity of 360 on a massive wraparound patio that includes both seated dining and Muskoka-chair lounging, Amsterdam BrewHouse offers great views of Lake Ontario with some of the city's best homegrown brews on tap. It's also just a five-minute walk from the Rogers Centre.
CAN YOU TAILGATE AT THE ROGERS CENTRE?
There's no tailgating allowed at the Rogers Centre, but the Blue Jays do try to simulate a tailgating atmosphere with officially sanctioned "Fan Festivals" on Friday-night home games in June, July and August.
- CN Tower
- Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
- Hockey Hall of Fame
- Steamwhistle Brewery
- Air Canada Centre
The Rogers Centre is derided as one of the worst ballparks in the big leagues, but it's more of a Jekyll-and-Hyde experience. If it's a nice day, with the roof open and a full house, it can be as raucous and exhilarating as any major-league park. But when it's half empty and the roof is closed, it can be a cold and cavernous place to watch a ball game.
WHERE TO SIT
All seats at Rogers Centre have clear views of the field; there are no sections with limited sightlines. If it's a nice day, the roof is open and you want a view of the CN Tower, sit on the third-base/left-field side of the field. If you'd prefer to watch the sunset, sit on the first-base/right-field side.
Rogers Centre Seating Chart
King Club's Top Sirloin Sandwich | At the Budweiser King Club (Section 122) they will carve you a sirloin sandwich that is easily the best food option in the ballpark. The "Top Sirloin" goes for $11 and is topped with "Budweiser-smoked" BBQ sauce and horseradish aioli.
BEST LOCAL VENDOR
Tim Hortons | Unlike most MLB stadiums, Rogers Centre hasn't really moved beyond the standard ballpark fare to highlight local brands. They do sell coffee from Tim Hortons, however, which is a famously Canadian company.
BEST BEER IN THE ROGERS CENTRE
T.O. Brew House | There is no craft or local beer sold at the Rogers Centre, so wherever you go in the stadium you'll pretty much find the same corporate brands: Budweiser, Labatt, Stella Artois and the like. There are about 25 different big-name brands, however, with the best selection at the T.O. Brew House in the 200-level outfield, beginning at section 244.
WHERE TO EAT HEALTHY
Muddy York Market | A cafeteria-style "fresh market," the Muddy York is located in Section 109 and includes unconventional ballpark fare such as gyros, souvlaki, sushi, stir-fry and salads. You can get a pesto pasta salad for $6.25 or a Tuscan Garden Burger for $10.25. The market also sells single pieces of fruit and individual cartons of milk.
BEST STADIUM BAR
Bar 12 | Named for the jersey number worn by Roberto Alomar, the only player inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame as a Blue Jay and the only uniform number the franchise has retired, Bar 12 is located on the second level, by Section 215, and includes Alomar memorabilia throughout, plus a great view from the outfield. The nearby Bacardi Club ranks a close second.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE WHILE YOU'RE HERE
Unfortunately there isn't much in the way of exhibitions at the Rogers Centre. You would think there would be something to honor the back-to-back World Series years, but no. The closest you'll get is sitting in the left-field seats and dreaming of what it would have been like when Joe Carter hit the World Series walk-off home run in 1993.
Rogers Centre Tours
BLUE JAYS GAMES ON A BUDGET
Neither the Rogers Centre nor the surrounding neighborhoods are particularly accommodating to the budget-conscious baseball fan. But if you're resourceful and creative, you'll be able to stretch your dollar. Grab a hot dog from a street vendor outside the park and smuggle in some peanuts from a nearby convenience store. Finding cheap beer is a problem inside the park.
WHERE TO GET A CHEAP BEER BEFORE THE GAME
St. Louis Bar & Grill | There certainly isn't any cheap beer inside the Rogers Centre, so your best bet is probably across the street on Bremner Blvd. at St. Louis Bar & Grill. Depending on the day, you can usually get discounted pitchers with the purchase of food.
BEST CHEAP BITES AROUND ROGERS CENTRE
Hot dog vendors | Street meat is kind of a rite of passage in Toronto. Though the city has been criticized for bogging down attempts to diversify its street-food offerings with cumbersome red tape, hot dog and sausage vendors continue to thrive. They're easy to find outside the ballpark and you'll be able to scarf a hot dog or sausage for no more than a few bucks.
BEST CHEAP BLUE JAYS TICKETS
You can usually get fairly cheap 500-level tickets at the ticket window on game day. Tickets in the nosebleeds go for $11 for non-premium games and $14 for premium games (weekend games and any match-up against the Yankees or Red Sox).
ROGERS CENTRE WITH KIDS
In general, the Blue Jays don't go out of their way to accommodate kids on a daily basis, but every Saturday is Jr. Jays Day, when kids 14 and under receive discounted tickets and get to run the bases after the game. They even let one lucky youngster serve as the PA announcer for an inning.
WHERE TO GO BEFORE THE GAME WITH KIDS
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada | Since opening next to the CN Tower in 2013, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada has quickly become one of the premier kids' destinations in Toronto. Just steps away from the Rogers Centre, it's Canada's largest indoor aquarium, with more than 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater creatures. The Rogers Centre is also near Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, which often offers inexpensive activities for kids. If you have the time, a picnic on Toronto Island is a great way to spend the day. The ferry terminal is within walking distance from the stadium.
BEST FOOD FOR KIDS
It isn't cheap, but several concession stands sell a souvenir baseball helmet filled with ice cream for $7.
WHERE TO GET AUTOGRAPHS
As players' parking is underground, the best way to get autographs on game day is to arrive at the ballpark when the gates open—usually 2 hours before the first pitch—and see if you can entice players to the front-row seats around the dugout after batting practice. Particularly on weekends, players often linger around the left-field seats and sign autographs before the game. One player will also sign autographs outside the stadium during the aforementioned Fan Festivals on Friday-night home games in June, July and August.
NEED A BREAK DURING THE GAME?
There are no playgrounds or dedicated children's entertainment during games at the Rogers Centre, but if the kids are looking to let off some steam, they can try running up the giant concrete ramps that lead from section to section. At Saturday home games, kids aged 14 and under get to run the bases after the game.
WHERE TO BUY GEAR FOR THE KIDS
The Jays' Shop at Gate 5 has the best options for kids' gear.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A BLUE JAYS GAME
The area around the Rogers Centre, particularly north of the stadium in the entertainment and theater districts, will be busy after the game, win or lose. The subway and train stations will be packed, and traffic will be bad. So some fans wander off on foot and wait out the rush in a bar or restaurant.
WHERE TO KEEP THE PARTY GOING
The Ballroom | Eat. Drink. Bowl. That's the Ballroom's motto. The nightclub/bowling alley is the first of its kind downtown, drawing a lively crowd of revelers with its 10-pin lanes, live music and party atmosphere. It's about a 15-minute walk from the stadium, on John Street.
WHERE TO GET A POSTGAME MEAL
Wayne Gretzky's | The Great One was born and raised in Brantford, Ont., not far from Toronto. He may have made his name in hockey, but he grew up loving baseball almost as much. His namesake sports bar, just up the street from the Rogers Centre on Blue Jays Way, entices many fans for postgame food and drink. The restaurant stays open until 1 a.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. When the weather is nice, head up to the rooftop patio, where you might spot a Blue Jay or two.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO NEARBY?
Take your pick: sports bars, fine dining, hipster hangouts, nightclubs, live music, dive bars, theatres, strip clubs. You can find pretty much anything you're looking for within walking distance or a short cab or subway ride from the stadium.
Born and raised in Toronto, Brendan Kennedy has been covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star since 2012. His favourite players growing up were Kelly Gruber and Juan Guzman. Today, his favorite local beer is Left Field Brewery's Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale. Follow him on Twitter @BKennedyStar.