The Dakota Tavern is Ossington Avenue's infamous subterranean saloon, an open concept rock bar with glowing skulls mounted on the wall, barn doors leading nowhere, and high-backed whiskey barrel stools surrounding the old oak bar. The Dakota has one of the best beer lists in the area (whenever you offer 500ml bottles of Beau's Dark Helmet for $10, I'm sold), a tuned-in crowd, and an always evolving live band list that rocks more often than not. Bonus points: the house band blows the barn doors open every Sunday evening, making the Dakota Toronto's best weekender.
A Local's Guide to Toronto
Toronto, eh? Old Hog Town is an always-changing dreamscape of travel delights. Best Asian food this side of... er... Asia? Toronto. Keen on a show at one of the world's greatest music venues? Toronto (bonus points if Neil Young is in town). Want to get your libation on? You get the point. There's something for everyone in this town, whether you're keen on whetting your whistle in the Distillery District or getting your mustache and plaid on in Ossington.
I don't know of many places where you can grab a coffee, read a magazine, pull a pint, flip a tractor tire, swing a sledgehammer, and finish off with an organic wheatgrass and kale smoothie, but then I don't know many other places like the Academy. There are no Cowardly Lions here—this place is billed as a hybrid CrossFit/functional lifestyle outfitter, and every employee I met could kick my ass. This is an atmospheric place in the heart of Hipsterville, well worth a visit if you're wandering one of Toronto's coolest neighborhoods and in need of a quick fitness fix—and a great cup of Joe—before hitting your next destination.
The CN Tower’s latest attraction, EdgeWalk, takes thrill seekers to new heights. The first of its kind in North America, EdgeWalk is the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk encircling the top of the CN Tower’s main pod, 356 metres, (1168 feet, 116 stories) above the ground. The half-hour experience, which includes re-admission into the CN Tower’s other attractions (Look Out, Glass Floor, Sky Pod Levels, movie and ride) costs $175.
For those of you who want to test your adventurous limits, this is one vertical challenge you won't forget!
After seeing the CN Tower from many vantage points in the city, I can honestly say there is no view of the city like this -- or experience for that matter. Just do it! The staff take great care of you and ease you into the "leaning out" process. I can guarantee even if you're scared, afterwards, it's something you won't stop talking about!
The Thompson Toronto’s rooftop lounge and pool both offer a broad view of the skyline and Lake Ontario. The lobby welcomes with modern furnishings. The Counter, a 24-hour diner, serves poutine, the Canadian greasy-spoon favorite made of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. —Charlene Rooke
From $179. 550 Wellington St. W., (416) 640-7778, thompsonhotels.com. This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. Photo by Michael Weber.
I went to Toronto for the first time in the fall of 2010. I expected it to be colder, but I wasn't exactly thrilled that Toronto's fall was like New York's winter. So I was happy to spend a good amount of time indoors in galleries and museums. AGO was one of them, and as a huge Frank Gehry fan I was even happier to spend an almost ridiculous amount of time staring at the AGO building.
Eventually, I walked towards the back and into the glorious Galleria Italia. All empty on a weekday, the play of wood and light was simply beautiful. It will make you smile, adore the sun, and just stay.
At Bar Chef, owner Frankie Solarik’s mad-scientist bartenders wear porkpie hats that recall a classic speakeasy. But they mix modern potions. They inject their martinis with green olive–flavored foam and serve punch bowls such as the Jimmy Cliff, which combines thyme-infused rum, lime, vanilla syrup, and ginger beer.
472 Queen St. W., (416) 868-4800, barcheftoronto.com. This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. Photo courtesy of Bar Chef.
Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, but his dramatic 2008 renovation and expansion of this Beaux-Arts museum was his first Canadian commission. He first discovered art on childhood visits to its vast collection, which spans the world. Now the museum features a restaurant, Frank, in his honor. —Charlene Rooke
Art Gallery of Ontario. 317 Dundas St. W., (416) 979- 6648. Photo by P. Spiro/Alamy.
One of the things I liked about Toronto is the different neighborhoods and that each of them had its own open market. I was also pleasantly surprised at the abundance of street art.
The photo above was taken on one of the surrounding streets near Kensington Market. The house isn't a museum or a shop or anything. The painting was just there for any passersby to enjoy.
If anyone comes to Toronto looking for some good, healthy Southeast-Asian food, go no further then Hue's Kitchen (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/hues-kitchen-toronto). Ok - the decor is cheesy, and the menus are a bit tattered, but the curry tasted exactly like Thailands’. So if you have $10 and a craving for curry, give this place a chance.
Toronto’s international film festival, held every September, drew half a million attendees last year. Dozens of movies have been shot here. But the cinema isn’t the only reason to visit “Hollywood North” this fall. Modern buildings by architects Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind stand out against the city’s Victorian brick architecture. Boutiques crowd Kensington Market and King and Queen streets. And you can play outside: September temperatures average 70 degrees, and parks make up 18 percent of city land. —Charlene Rooke
This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. Photo by Paul Lapid.
The Junction has its fair share of furniture shops but one of my favourites is Metropolis Living.
Owned by siblings and veteran vintage collectors Phil Freire and Maggie Gattesco, the store feels like a museum of cool props.
I'm a big fan of the big metal letters which you'll find scattered around the store. There's tons of cool finds. Even if you don't buy anything, you'll leave feeling inspired.
Photo: Adam C. Freire via Toronto Life.
It's one of the most beautifully decorated places in the city. It's away from the tourist fray in the East End, but if you're lucky to have your cuppa here, you'll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the skyline from Riverdale Park.
This is a neighborhood place where writers, artists, and other locals come to hang out. The owners and staff are, quite simply, so lovely and loyal to their clientele—plus, they make some mean coffee!
Bring a book and cozy up for the afternoon.
Also, there are quite a few star sightings here. Daniel Radcliffe filmed here in the summer. Bon Iver and Jim Cuddy have been known to come by the shop.
(Note: Rooster just opened their second location on King street, just east of Sherbourne near the Distillery District.)
Photo courtesy of Rooster Coffeehouse.
Crooners, rockers, and wanna be disco divas from far and wide come to Queen West’s favourite karaoke in the Gladstone Melody Bar hosted by the indomitable Peter Styles. Voted Best Karaoke Bar by NOW Magazine for eight years. (via The Gladstone Hotel).
All I will say is that Peter Styles is a rock star. There is always a birthday party happening here. It's a fun time on a Saturday night. We know: love is a battlefield.
Photo: Gladstone Hotel
The famed Drake Hotel's motto is that they are a "hotbed of culture." This extends to their General Store but the items in here are anything but general.
There's lots of curiosities here like those fun scratch maps, New York vs. Paris postcard sets, and bird bingo. There's also lots of Canadiana kitch and Shared tees for the ladies and gents.
If you're looking for the perfect present for someone who is difficult to shop for, this is your place.
There are three locations in the city, including their recently renovated store beside the hotel.
If you ask someone in Toronto where to get great poutine in Toronto, there's going to be a debate. It doesn't matter if it originated in Quebec, Torontonians love their cheese curd, gravy and fries mash-up.
So where to go? Some will say Smoke's Poutinerie (I approve); others will say Poutini's House of Poutine (great name with the subtitle of "Om Nom Nom" on their sign but I'm not overly impressed).
My pick is The Lakeview. Located in the heart of new nightlife central spot, Ossington and Dundas, you can get a few different options of poutine here. My go-to is the pulled pork poutine. The gravy is thick. The fries are hot. And the pulled pork is plentiful. The best part? It's open 24-7.
Photo credit: http://thedailymenh.com/
Arranged by era, I Miss You vintage is a well organized, easy-to-shop treasure trove of great pieces. If you want high end vintage, this is the place to get it. They recently added an extension for bags and accessories.
There are some true finds here --Gucci, Chanel, YSL, J Brand...all of the brand name designers. I'm not saying it's super cheap here but I do think there is good value to be found. Service is very knowledge and friendly.
Photo: Blog TO
This location is now the new flagship hotel for the brand. Local design firm Yabu Pushelberg aimed for surprises around every corner with the design of the hotel. From the 50 foot fenced ceilings (the fence pattern is also replicated in its carpeting) to the dandelion displays throughout the hotel, the experience for the guest elicits a "wow" response. Alyssa Coe's dandelions are echoed throughout the hotel, which symbolize your wishes coming true.
The Four Seasons now is home to the largest luxury day spa in the city (and of the brand), with a 30,000 square foot space that includes a pool, a wrap around patio, 17 different treatment rooms and hair/nail salon. With the addition of Daniel Boulud's restaurants, Cafe Boulud and dbar, Four Seasons has really raised the standard for luxury hotels in Toronto.
In the Junction, an emerging design neighborhood, Russet & Empire specializes in cheeky riffs on old-school Canadian icons. Porcelain cups from Toronto designer Rob Southcott (shown) stack to form a totem pole, while National Design Collective produces laser-cut coasters of Toronto’s street plan. You’ll also find nostalgic gear from Red Canoe, including bags featuring the retro logo of the Canadian Broadcasting Company. —Charlene Rooke
Photo by Stefan Siwinski.
As stated on their website, Monkey's Paw is Toronto's most idiosyncratic secondhand bookshop, specializing in uncommon and out-of-print books, ephemera, and images.
On one visit, I was able to find an old Boy Scout handbook from the 1940s. This is also a great place to find an old typewriter. If you like odd books or want a good story from owner Stephen Fowler, this is your place.
And the source of the store’s name? The W. W. Jacobs tale with an ominous moral: be careful what you wish for.
Image courtesy of The Monkey's Paw.
Home to the largest white squirrel population in the world is our beloved park, Trinity Bellwoods. It was formerly the site of the college, now situated at the University of Toronto (and my alma matter!).
Year round, this is a fantastic place to visit. Whether you want to run, play tennis, some croquet (and you can get the equipment at the local Trinity Tuck Shop open seasonally -- http://trinitytuckshop.tumblr.com/) or picnic, you can do it here.
Tons of events are held here too including Nuit Blanche and the Art Crawl in September.
PS There's a coffee shop called White Squirrel across the street. There's also a fish and chip shop called Chippy's and Nadege, a french pastry shop that also sells sandwiches and has a sweet patio view of the park.
This event was meant to liven up an institution that many would consider a relic - figuratively and literally.
I like to call it "drinking with the dinos."
Some of Toronto's popular food trucks and food purveryors come out to feed the masses with some music in the background. Though you can't drink in the exhibition space, there is a bar in the mezzanine level.
Though it's a seasonal event, I love the idea and hope they reintroduce it next year.
Photo: Laura C.T. on Yelp
The Tour Guys take you on a guided tour of Toronto's Graffiti Alley. As you wind through the alley as well as other points of graffiti in back areas of downtown, you'll get an overview of the history and language of graffiti. It's a great insight into a subculture in our beloved T Dot. There are a lot of talented artists here. Our group also discovered a shop called Bomb Shelter that sells the aerosol paint cans.
If you're lucky, the guides may even show you where the remains of Banksy's art is.
Tours run from the spring to mid September, but you can enjoy the alley at any time of year.
Known as the greenest hostel in North America, it's also one of the most unique hostel stays I've had.
Planet Traveler is a smorgasboard of everything a traveler would want in an accommodation:
-comfortable and roomy beds
-clean rooms with plenty of plugs for your lap top
-social and funky common area
-incredible rooftop patio with great views of the city's skyline
-located near the best neighbourhood and market in Toronto, Kensington Market
-affordable whether you're looking for a dorm room or a private room
I would stay here again, even as a local!
Sugar Beach is a great chill-out and picnic spot. There's a big Loblaws (grocery store) across the street to get your picnic goods, as well as an LCBO in the vicinity if you need a liquid lunch.
From the official website:
"Canada’s Sugar Beach is a whimsical new park that transformed a surface parking lot in a former industrial area into Toronto’s second urban beach at the water’s edge.
"Located at the foot of Lower Jarvis Street adjacent to the Redpath Sugar Factory, the 8500 square metre (2 acre) park is the first public space visitors see as they travel along Queens Quay from the central waterfront. The park’s brightly coloured pink beach umbrellas and iconic candy-striped rock outcroppings welcome visitors to the new waterfront neighbourhood of East Bayfront."
Photo by Rina Pitucci/Flickr.
Ici is a tiny and charming 24-seat neighborhood bistro. Reservations are an absolute must, but try to get the later seating. We got the early seating and were a bit rushed when the time came for the next reservation to be seated. The dishes were creative and well executed, and the plates were colorful and beautiful.
If you can finangle your way to The Thompson's Rooftop (usually reserved for guests and residents of the hotel), you'll find one of the most picturesque views of the city's skyline.
It's worth the $15 mojito. Bring your bathing suit, too. In the summer time, the pool is open.
If you ask any fashion editor or blogger what the best vintage shop is in Toronto, chances are they're going to tell you that it's Courage My Love in Kensington Market.
It's hard not to miss this shop, which has been in business since 1975. If you look up, you'll see these mannequins on the top of the roof, which have been there for the longest time.
You can buy beads to make your own jewelry here as well as find some fun accessories. (I've also scored a Banana Republic trench coat for $30.)
And just in case you need some incense, they have that too!