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The New York Times spends 36 Hours in Toronto
july 27, 2012
there’s something happening in toronto. while so many cities lament the global economic crisis and the dulling effects of globalization, boutiques and restaurants seem to open every week in toronto, and immigrant neighborhoods still feel linguistically, gastronomically, gloriously, distinct. the cultural diversity and urbanity seem limitless. but it’s hardly an urban jungle. toronto is filled with lush, insistent greenery and an abundance of parks. it’s hard to imagine a better city to explore in summer.
4 p.m. 1. TO MARKET, TO MARKET
Toronto is full of food havens, but the market everyone talks about is Kensington, actually a series of cool coffeehouses, organic fruit stands and bars on the edge of Chinatown, a bustling sea of shops filled with Mandarin and Cantonese speakers. Start there, and make your way to the market. Check out the books and high-end kitchen paraphernalia at Good Egg (267 Augusta Avenue; 416-593-4663; goodegg.ca), then try a vegan muffin at Urban Herbivore (64 Oxford Street; 416-927-1231; fressenrestaurant.com; 2.44 Canadian dollars, about the same in United States currency), or a coffee at the Sublime Cafe (219 Augusta Avenue; 416-732-0431; thesublimecafe.com), which doubles as a vintage soul record shop. From there, wander into Bellevue Park. At the edge is the gorgeous Byzantine Revival Kiever Synagogue (25 Bellevue Avenue; 416-593-9702; kievershul.com), built in 1927 by Ukrainian Jews, evidence that the area was once a center for Jewish immigrants.
7 p.m. 2. APERITIF
Quench your thirst with an Augusta Ale (5.50 dollars) at Thirsty & Miserable (197 Baldwin Street; 647-607-0134,), which opened in February on the site of a former punk bar. It still feels pretty punk, with red walls and punk-hero photos on the walls. Or have a Duggans No. 9 pale ale (6.75 dollars) around the corner at Embassy Bar (223 Augusta Avenue; 416-591-1132), where the atmosphere is low-key and the red vinyl booths are filled with those who love the random D.J.-spun auditory mix, from the Cure to old ’60s to reggae.
8:30 p.m. 3. NOURISH
Queen Street West has recently witnessed an explosion of restaurants, all serving excellent food and all trending toward a rustic-hipster design, with filament lights and hardwood floors. The most avant-garde is the modern Canadian locavore cuisine at Ursa (924 Queen Street West; 416-536-8963; ursa-restaurant.com). The dining room — dark stained wood and sexy intimacy — serves dishes like exotic mushrooms with a sherry broth (13 dollars) and whey-brined Niagara pork loin with kale, lentils and sunchoke purée (24 dollars); tofu is made on site. One partner at Ursa comes from popular Terroni (720 Queen Street West, 416-504-1992; terroni.com), known for thin-crust whole-wheat pizzas and homemade raviolis; the black-stained back deck is filled with model types.
11:30 p.m. 4. BOUNCE AND DRINK
Toronto’s indie music scene thrives after 11 p.m. At Poetry Jazz Café (244 Augusta Avenue; 416-599-5299; poetryjazzcafe.com), the draws are a secluded back patio, live jazz bands and D.J.’s. At the Dakota Tavern, a subterranean honky-tonk haven (249 Ossington Avenue; 416-850-4579; thedakotatavern.com), you can hear everything from country to new folk (cover is usually between 5 and 10 dollars).
10 a.m. 5. EYE OPENERS
Brunch is an urban sport in Toronto, and it can be impossible to find a seat. Try the Beaver (1192 Queen Street West; 416-537-2768; beavertoronto.ca), if only for the French 75 cocktails (cucumber, lemon, gin and prosecco, 6.75 dollars), the Bloody Caesar (like a bloody mary, but with clam juice) and the mustachioed waiter out of “Portlandia.” Or make the trip up to College Street for the grilled Canadian Cheddar cheese challah sandwich with a fried egg and homemade ketchup at the garage-sale chic Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott Street; 416-324-1375; auntiesanduncles.ca, breakfast for two comes to about 25 dollars).
Noon 6. INSIDE AND OUT
While the Royal Ontario Museum, with its sharp-angled Daniel Libeskind addition, is a crowd pleaser, the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West; 416-979-6648; ago.net; 25 dollars) truly impresses, with a shell designed by the Toronto-born Frank Gehry. This summer, a blockbuster Picasso exhibition features treasures from the Musée National Picasso in Paris. Leave time to have a coffee in the atrium at the end of the exhibition; the light, and the light wood, can’t fail to uplift.
2 p.m. 7. GREEN BREAK
The lush Trinity Bellwoods Park, between Queen Street West and Dundas Street West, is filled with well-dressed residents, dogs, children and yoga practitioners. Take a breather here, then walk over a block to the exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (952 Queen Street West; 416-395-0067; mocca.ca), a huge warehouse-style gallery space excellent for large-form photography.
3 p.m. 8. SHOP FOR IT
Ossington Street and its environs offer amazing trawling. I Miss You (63 Ossington Avenue; 416-916-7021) has 1980s Chanel gowns (tags on!) for 800 dollars, Peggy Olson-esque late-1950s smart-silk dresses (85 dollars), bags of all shapes and prices, and more. Penny Arcade Vintage (1177 Dundas Street West; 647-346-1386; pennyarcadevintage.com) mines both old and new, like fab undergarments and ’50s-style swimwear by the local designer Minnow (140 dollars). More local design is found at nearby Parkdale’s shops. Made You Look (1273 Queen Street West; 416-516-9595; madeyoulook.ca) offers a range of Canadian-designed jewelry.
The Future Of Frances Watson (1390 Queen Street West; 416-531-8892; thefutureoffranceswatson.blogspot.com) peddles vintage-inspired strapless one-piece bathers by Insight (160 dollars) and raw, high-waisted Japanese denim from 130 dollars.
6 p.m. 9. BELLE BREWS
Head back to Ossington to the four-month-old Bellwoods Brewery (124 Ossington Avenue; 416-535-4586; bellwoodsbrewery.com). The former garage has been whitewashed and fitted with hardwood accents, including the long bar, rough-hewn tables and a small mezzanine. With only 40 indoor seats, it’s intimate, despite very high ceilings (the beer is brewed on site). Try the Farmhouse Saison (7.50 dollars) and plates of the addictive pickled vegetables: rhubarb, carrot, sprouts (5 dollars).
9 p.m. 10. EAT FRESH
Tom Thai practiced fusion at several Toronto mainstays before opening his own shop. The tiny dining room at Foxley Bistro (207 Ossington Avenue; 416-534-8520) produces some of the best fusion cuisine in the city, at pleasing prices. Try the series of wildly different ceviches meant for sharing — sea bream with yuzu and shizo (15 dollars), wild Arctic char with apples and ginger (15 dollars) — and the fragrant oven-steamed sea bass with Asian greens and white truffle oil (22 dollars).
11:30 p.m. 11. SIP AND SAVOR
Little Portugal’s main drag, Dundas Street West, remains Portuguese by day. The pharmacist speaks in her native tongue; the old women might be in Porto. By evening the district is filled with tipplers from all over the city. To the west of Ossington Avenue are Communist’s Daughter and the Red Light, coolio dives. But the year-old Cocktail Bar (923 Dundas Street West; 416-792-7511; theblackhoof.com), slightly to the east, is for grown-ups, with its dreamily lighted interior, tin ceiling, subway-tiled walls and bold cocktail list (try the summery Lavender Hound, with lavender-infused gin, lemon and grapefruit juice, 9 dollars). The owner is Jen Agg, the 36-year-old owner of Black Hoof, a celebration-of-meat restaurant and the month-old, seafood-focused Hoof Raw Bar, both conveniently across the street.
10 a.m. 12. WAKE UP
A coffee and a homemade berry scone are the smart choices at Ella’s Uncle (916 Dundas Street West, 416-703-8881, ellasuncle.com), a tiny Little Portugal spot with superb espressos. Or try to wait it out for a space at the reclaimed-wood tables at The County General (936 Queen Street West, 416-531-4477, thecountygeneral.ca) for a messy-delicious croque monsieur (15 dollars).
Noon 13. WALK IT OFF
From the Beaches in the east to High Park in the west, your outdoor options are plentiful. But this morning, do as the locals do: take a boat to the outlying islands. From the Ferry (9 Queen Quay West; 416-397-2628; toronto.ca/parks/island; departures every 30 minutes, from 8 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.; 7 dollars) take in the Toronto skyline. On the beach, you can rent bikes or play volleyball, if you’re not simply idling.
IF YOU GO
The 12-room Hotel Ocho (195 Spadina Avenue; 416-593-0885; hotelocho.com; from 171 dollars), a former textile factory dating from 1902 in the heart of Chinatown, was built with the local cutting-edge design team Design38. The downstairs bar, lounge, restaurant and coffee shop draws locals.
The 37-room Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West; 416-531-4635; gladstonehotel.com, from 165 dollars) is as much art destination as sleeping quarters: the first two floors are filled with exhibitions, and each room was designed by an artist. The Sunday bluegrass brunch is packed with children.