With socialising and networking with colleagues a big part of the Congress experience, here is Time Out’s guide to help delegates make the most of their time in TRON-toh, by Jessica Davey-Quantick.
With more than 140 languages spoken inside the city, no matter who you are or where you’re from you’re going to find something to love about Toronto. Whether you’re looking for a trendy bar, a chic hole-in-the-wall restaurant, exhibitions by up-and-coming artists or places to experience some of Canada’s vibrant heritage, Toronto’s got you covered.
And when you’re in Toronto you’re never far from the banks of Lake Ontario: a jaunt through the city can take you from downtown commotion to serene wilderness all in one day. And don’t worry about the weather; while it’s true that in Canada Halloween costumes are traditionally designed to be worn over a snowsuit, autumn in Toronto is a gorgeous blend of colours, sights and sounds.
Our guide will take you all over the city, with our top picks of where to eat, where to drink, where to let your hair down and what to see. Still need more? We’ve rounded up some of the weirdest things that truly set Toronto apart, so there’s never a dull moment. So welcome to Toronto: you’re going to be very busy!
How do you say Toronto?
Toronto has had many a facelift in its nearly 300-year life. It started out in 1787 as the Town of York, before being renamed Toronto in 1834, which comes from the Mohawk word for ‘trees standing in water’. But how do you say it? Don’t be distracted by that sneaky second ‘T’: locals tend to drop it, pronouncing Toronto more like TRON-oh or TRON-toh, with a soft T. You may even hear the nasal ‘Tarana’ but that’s mostly coming from Canadians outside Toronto, mocking the accent. They’re just jealous.
Bars and pubs
Don’t be confused if you can’t find this hidden gem: that’s kind of the point. The outside looks like a convenience store, with the signage from the space’s previous incarnation as Nazare Snack Bar more visible than its actual name, written on a chalkboard in the window. This is the spot if you want live jazz, pickled eggs and community-bar shenanigans like when they invite patrons to bring vinyl records to play on the bar’s turntable – and the whole bar will vote on whether or not to play the B side after hearing the A. The place is seriously small, so you’ll be packed in with the 30-plus other patrons, so it’s easy to make friends!
1149 Dundas St West. (+1) 647 435 0103
The Loveless Cafe
This sneaky hideaway is so local, it doesn’t even have a sign. This cosy pub offers a secluded patio, friendly service and a comfy decor. The staff are incredible friendly – the kind of people who will recommend a drink, charge your iPhone and chat about politics with you all without missing a beat. This is a great option if you’re flying solo and but don’t want to bask in your alone time: no one is lonely at The Loveless…
1430 Dundas St West. (+1) 647 346 2404
The Queen and Beaver
We can think of no better way to get in touch with Toronto’s Upper Canada heritage than a pint at The Queen and Beaver Public House. This is a grown-up pub for grown-ups: you won’t be rubbing elbows with students here. With a menu designed to reimagine traditional British faire with a seasonal Canadian twist, they also have a range of cask beers from local purveyors, a classy wine list and ciders on offer.
35 Elm St. www.queenandbeaverpub.ca (+1) 647 347 2712
Snakes and Lagers
Fancy a game of chance? Snakes and Lagers is the place to go: with an unorthodox bar menu (they have a drink that tastes like a creamsicle… And deep-fried pickles!) what they’re really known for is their huge board game selection. Pick a game or let their game concierge recommend one for you. It’s also a good choice if you want to meet people: there is no such thing as ‘stranger danger’ when you need just one more person to make your game of Cards Against Humanity extra awesome.
488 College St. www.snakesandlagers.com (+1) 647 748 4004
Part restaurant, part bar, part art gallery, the Vic, as it’s known to locals, is an Annex staple, filled to the brim with the eclectic mix of people Mirvish Village is known for. They may come for the leafy garden patio, but they stay for the craft ale, micro brew and tasty food. They host trivia nights, poetry readings, book launches, art shows, you name it so there’s always something fun going on at the Vic.
581 Markham St, Mirvish Village. www.victorycafe.ca (+1) 416 516 5787
There’s something deeply humorous about venturing into the heart of hippy vegan territory for a seriously good piece of cow. The Burgenator, tucked into Kensington Market, is all about fresh food made well: which you can see because this tiny space includes an open kitchen where you can watch the staff mix and make your burger fresh. They also have no qualms about deep-frying a piece of cheese and sticking it on a bun. Yes, oh god, yes.
269 Augusta Avenue. www.theburgernator.com (+1) 647 748 0990
The newest trendy darling in a city full of trendy darlings, Fat Pasha holds up if for no other reasons than what it manages to do to a chickpea. Fat Pasha is all about good food, shared: this is a family style Israeli eatery. The menu designations (“eat something” and “eat some more”) should give you an idea of what you’re getting into, if their liberal use of pita bread did not. And if all else fails, tuck in to one of their arak cocktails.
414 Dupont St. www.fatpasha.com (+1) 647 342 0356
This is a little piece of Mexico in the middle of Toronto, with a slamming backyard patio to match. There’s a communal atmosphere about it all, which is good because you’re going to want to steal bites from your neighbours’ plates: they’re known for their tacos, for good reason. Their Baja fish tacos are out of this world, with the beef cheek not far behind. Come hungry. And don’t make eye contact with the alligator hanging from the ceiling.
1330 Queen St West. www.grandelectrictoronto.com (+1) 416 627 3457
Lahore Tikka House
Gerard Street is packed with South East Asian restaurants, but this is where you go if you want to feel like you’re taking a bite out of Pakistan. This isn’t Indian food: this is Pakistani food, done right (and also halal). From the outside in, it’s held on to that authentic vibe that keeps expats and immigrants rubbing elbows with everyone else to get a taste of their lamb biriyani. No, it’s not fancy: it’s just really, really good.
1365 Gerrard St East. http://lahoretikkahouse.com (+1) 416 406 1668
Fancy trends may come and go, but Scaramouche’s coconut cream pie is forever. This upscale eatery somehow combines classic elegance with a comfortable feel, maybe because they’ve been doing it for 30 years and have become a staple of the fine dining landscape in Toronto. Mixing contemporary European favourites with excellent views of the city, they might not be trendy, but they don’t have to be. This is always a solid, impressive choice: it’s fine dining that makes you want to lick the plate.
One Benvenuto Place. www.scaramoucherestaurant.com (+1) 416 961 8011
Eat like a Canadian
Let’s get some Canada inside you, shall we? Try one of these Canadian taste sensations!
The beaver is a proud and noble animal (and also Canada’s national mascot!) and so we wouldn’t dream of actually eating its tail… but we will name a pastry after it. Long, flat pieces of dough shaped like – you guessed it – a beaver tail, are deep-fried and coated in everything from sugar and whipping cream to maple syrup or Nutella. Dream big kids.
This is a tart. Stuffed with a buttery, caramelly, decadent centre, that is sometimes also loaded with raisins. Think somewhere between pecan pie and treacle tart, then jack the sweetness up about 200 per cent and you’ll get the picture.
Fun fact: when Tim Horton’s opens up restaurants overseas, they train employees in this lingo. A double double is a coffee with two milk, two sugars and while we suppose you could acquire one at any coffee shop, go full Canada and get one from Tim Horton’s: the ubiquitous chain of coffee shops that are so wrapped up in the Canadian identity their sappy commercials basically define our nationalism. And also make us cry. Because that kid is playing hockey with his dad and it’s so freaking beautiful.
Named after a town in British Columbia, these are a layer of coconut and chocolate, topped with a layer of vanilla pudding frosting and covered in chocolate. You will get diabetes. You will not care.
This is the unholy offspring of French fries, cheese curd and gravy. It tastes like bad choices and judgment and is a Canadian staple. You can get it at everything from fancy restaurants (where they will inevitably try to use artisanal cheese and bespoke sauces), but our favourite way? From the back of a ‘chip truck’, one of the many roving food trucks where the gravy is brown, the fries are hot and the cheese is squeaky.
Clubs and music venues
Crews and Tangos
This is the Queen (yes, we did that) of Toronto drag bars. It’s everything you want in a gay club: fantastic music and a dance floor that’s sticky with good tunes and glitter. The Victorian house hosts regular drag shows and has a charmingly seedy vibe about it. And don’t be scared off by its location in the heart of Toronto’s happening-est gaybourhood: that charming seediness extends to a ‘come as you are’ atmosphere that includes everything from guest list to dress code!
508 Church St. www.crewsandtangos.com (+1) 647 349 7469
As the owners put it, the Everleigh is “Not quite a nightclub and not just a bar”: it’s sandwiched somewhere in between, in a hipster-drenched flood of Canadiana. There are geese on the ceiling. The bathrooms are Muskoka themed. But the drinks are good, the staff are great, and the crowd is a young-professional group grooving to music that sometimes dips towards the early 2000s. Be warned though: despite their friendly-Canadian theme, they like their guest lists and dress codes at the Everleigh.
580 King St West. www.theeverleigh.ca (+1) 647 907 6673
Parts and Labour
Upstairs, it’s a low-key restaurant and pub-style atmosphere. Downstairs, it’s the coolest basement in town. The Shop, as the basement party space is known, hosts touring bands and hot new DJs in a DIY atmosphere that’s… OK, so it sort of feels like someone’s mom should be coming down with snacks. But in a really, really good way!
1566 Queen St West. www.partsandlabour.ca (+1) 416 588 7750
This is a three-story behemoth on the Toronto nightlife field, known for hosting the likes of Justin Timberlake, Black Eyed Peas, Kid Rock, Nelly Furtado and more. But what do we love it for? Their theme nights! Check out their calendar and hit up one of their burlesque shows, come to dance, or rock the stage at hip hop karaoke. Toronto’s hip hop scene is more than just Drake (we promise).
783 College St. www.revivalbar.com (+1) 416 535 7888
This place is all about the nachos. Seriously. Get the nachos. It’s a poor-man’s delight, full of greasy food, cheap drinks and walls of graffiti but it’s also seen the start of some of Canada’s biggest indie rock bands (alumni include Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Fucked Up and Fiest). The music space upstairs only holds 200 people but you never know: you may be getting up close and personal with tomorrow’s big star.
431 College St. www.sneaky-dees.com (+1) 416 603 3090
Sights and attractions
A visit to Toronto wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the CN Tower. It was the world’s tallest freestanding structure and the world’s tallest tower for 34 years and attracts more than two million visitors each year. They’re not just looking at it though: attractions include the Glass Floor, the Look Out, the 360 Restaurant, and the EdgeWalk, the world’s highest full circle hands free walk around the CN Tower’s main pod, 116 stories above the ground.
301 Front St W. www.cntower.ca (+1) 416 868 6937
The National Ballet of Canada, under artistic director Karen Kain, produces some amazing shows, but why stop at just watching? Join the core and try a class in ballet, jazz and contemporary dance from absolute beginner to advanced. They offer drop-in classes all week long. But the Toronto dance landscape doesn’t stop on toe: Culture Shock Toronto offers drop in classes in all urban dance styles, including Toronto’s latest obsession: waacking.
The beating heart of Toronto’s eclectic hippy community is Kensington Market, an area roughly bordered by College Street, Spadina Avenue, Dundas Street West and Bathhurst Street. Designated a National Historic Site of Canada, it’s one of Toronto’s major public markets and a weird and wonderful jumble of historic Victorian buildings, bohemian restaurants, vintage shops, record stores and pubs, all strewn together with street vendors international food stands. This is where you’ll find a Hungarian Thai fusion restaurant next to an anarchist bookstore, across the street from a vegan bakery.
St Lawrence Market
Toronto’s other major public market, St Lawrence Market has been going strong since 1803. Today, the market is made up of three buildings: The South Market is where you’ll find 120 specialty vendors selling fruit, veg, meat, fish baked goods and more, as well as the Market Gallery exhibition space. The North Market is known for its Saturday Farmer’s Market, and Sunday antique market, while St Lawrence Hall houses retail businesses. A great place to pick up locally made treats.
92-95 Front St East. www.stlawrencemarket.com (+1) 416 392 7219
If you’re looking for a show, look no further than Mirvish Productions. Canada’s largest commercial theatre production company, with five theatres in Toronto within their purview, including the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre, one of the oldest legitimate theatres in North America. But don’t go for the real estate: in October they’ve got productions of Kinky Boots, Motown the Musical and Upside Downton. Not your thing? Toronto is also home to loads of independent theatre: if you’re looking for a taste of up-and-coming Canadian playwrights, check out Tarragon: An Enemy of the People takes the stage in October.
The King of Kensington
Wander Kensington and you might catch a glimpse of Al Waxman, or at least his statue. The Canadian actor and director was involved in more than 1,000 productions, but is most famously known for his roles in Cagney and Lacey and King of Kensington. The statue was erected after his death, with an inscription at the bottom that reads, “There’s a lot to do down the road, there’s always more. Trust your gut instincts. In small matters trust your mind, but in the important decisions of life – trust your heart.”
Museums and galleries
Art Gallery of Ontario
The AGO is a work of art, holding works of art. In its latest renovation, Toronto-born global starchitect Frank Gehry redesigned the space with sculptural elements. But the collection itself is magnificent: it includes more than 80,000 works of arts, including the largest collection of Canadian art, across mediums.
317 Dundas St West. www.ago.net (+1) 416 979 6648
Bata Shoe Museum
Yes, a museum about shoes. Dedicated to footwear from around the world, the collection includes more than 13,000 items on display, with shoes from the ancient world to the present day. Turning 20 this year, the shoebox-shaped building was designed by renowned architect Raymond Moriyama, and includes three changing exhibitions and one semi-permanent exhibition.
327 Bloor St West. www.batashoemuseum.ca (+1) 416 979 7799
Look up, look waaaay up, and see the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Museum, going strong after 70 years on the air. Snag an insight into the Canadian psyche and our creepy obsession with children’s programming involving puppets. Casey and Finnegan’s tree house from Mr Dressup is on display, but alas, no sign of the puppets themselves. We can only assume they’ve been struggling to escape that tickle trunk since the mid-’80s.
250 Front St West. www.cbc.ca/museum (+1) 416 205 3311
Hockey Hall of Fame
Come bask in the warm glow of the Stanley Cup and Canada’s singular sporting obsession, in a city whose team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are deep into the longest dry spell in National Hockey League history (they haven’t won the cup since 1967). Despite that, hockey is a quintessential Canadian experience, and Toronto fans are die-hard: we assume they console themselves by watching the soothing hypnosis of the Zamboni (the little truck that resurfaces the ice), sure that this year, at last, will be the year.
30 Yonge St. www.hhof.com. (+1) 416 360 7765
Royal Ontario Museum
Among the world’s leading museums of natural history and world cultures, the ROM has been a cultural staple in Toronto since 1912. Alongside its standing galleries and exhibitions, they also host a revolving door of special exhibitions. Currently open is Pompeii, but don’t miss their dinosaurs…
100 Queens Park. www.rom.on.ca. (+1) 416 586 8000
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCCA) is on the move. Renovations are currently underway, where MOCCA will occupy the first two-and-a-half floors of the iconic Tower Automotive Building, a 1919 industrial heritage building at 158 Sterling Road. But you don’t have to miss out on your contemporary art fix: they’re hosting roving exhibitions until construction is complete next year. They’ll be curating an exhibition at the Toronto Sculpture Garden this month.
Weird and wonderful
Ever wonder how you’d fair in a post-apocalyptic world where disputes are settled in a bloody arena? No? Well clearly you haven’t experienced archery tag, a team-based archery combat game. Don’t worry, no one actually has to volunteer as tribute: the game uses foam-tipped arrows, and combines elements of paintball, archery, and your most vivid flashbacks to elementary school dodgeball.
77 Birchmount Road. www.archerydistrict.com (+1) 647 955 3111
Canadians may in fact be lumberjacks (and we’re ok). Try your hand at axe throwing at the Backyard Axe Throwing League (BATL). They offer group bookings, where they’ll teach you the basics before starting a group tournament to determine who is the Axe Throwing Champion. Extra points if you don’t chop off your own foot.
Toronto East: 33 Villiers St; Toronto West: 213 Sterling Road. www.batlgrounds.com (+1) 647 703 6410
Toronto may be a young city compared to the rest of the world, but its 300 year history is drenched with blood, horror and terror: or at least that’s what the storytellers at the Haunted Walk would have us believe. These guided walking tours take you from the old military town of York and haunted theatres to public hangings, hidden graveyards and more. They offer special themed tours in October as well.
305A-56 The Esplanade. www.hauntedwalk.com/toronto-tours (+1) 416 238 1473
Grab a paddle and head to SPiN, Toronto’s first ping pong pub! Based on the New York Club, the space includes 12 ping pong tables, two bars and a full food and cocktail menu: but it’s really all about the ping. They offer nightly events, tournaments and private instruction from professional players should you need a little reminder of how this is done.
461 King St West. http://toronto.wearespin.com (+1) 416 599 7746
You know what most tourism is missing? Scavenging! Urban Capers offers puzzle adventures to add a little more competition to your casual meander through Toronto neighbourhoods, with themes like Haunted Toronto, Murder at the ROM, and Kensington and Chinatown Caper. Working in teams of two to six, you get a clue sheet with riddles and puzzles that guide you around Toronto. At the end of the game, the team with the most correct answers wins. Prebooking is essential.
www.urbancapers.com. (+1) 647 852 6444
See it before it’s gone: Honest Ed’s
Honest Ed’s is a landmark discount store, opened in 1948 by Ed Mirvish who ran it personally for 60 years. It’s a weird throwback full of random stuff and covered in hand-painted signs and pithy slogans. It’s such a part of the landscape it’s featured prominently in many television shows and movies, including both the comic and movie versions of Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Alas, it’s scheduled to close on 31 December 2016: although its iconic sign, featuring 23,000 light bulbs, will stay up.
581 Bloor St West. (+1) 416 537 2111
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