Toronto Insider > Look to the East: The Distillery District in Toronto

On 13-15 October, 2015 FIPP World Congress is taking place in Toronto, Canada. 

Originally it was 47 buildings, located on the waterfront in East Toronto, known as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, once the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in Canada. But by the end of the 19th century, the company’s growth began to slow down. It was sold in 1923, and production continued, but still, it gradually declined. By 1990, the distillery was closed and then parlayed into the Distillery District.

Toronto Distillery ()

It was the idea of a small group of developers with a crazy thought: they decided that a bunch of Victorian industrial buildings that were a national historic site could be transformed into something really different ­– with cool new designs that would excite and inspire people. 

They wanted to combine the atmosphere of European walking and patio districts with the creative energy of an area like New York’s SoHo, for example. A place where artists, entrepreneurs and businesses could work side by side. So they began restoration of the buildings in the Distillery. They hired hundreds of tradesmen and craftsmen who were skilled in working with 19th century timber, planks, stone and brick, and they repurposed original materials, blending them with modern materials and green technologies.

The result? Well, the Distillery District is a magical place, really, a window into the past ­– like taking a step back and thinking of horsedrawn carriages rustling along on cobblestone streets. It’s a romantic and dramatic fusion of old and new. Here’s what you need to know.

What to do there

Designed for walking, it’s a pedestrian village. You’ll find designer boutiques, unique cafés, artisan shops, art galleries, performance venues and restaurants in the restored red brick Victorian-era buildings. 

Take a walk

It’s fun to stroll through the streets and pop into shops. As well, lots of crafters and jewellers set up tables outside with unique items.

If you appreciate design

You’ll find beautiful things here that you won’t find anywhere else. Check out Bazant Unique Adornments: earrings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants and rings in mixed metals make for jewellery that you will fall in love with. Or go to Akroyd Furniture: It’s a small firm that designs and builds hand-crafted furniture using a variety of materials, such as local woods, steel, glass, stone and leather. 

Vintage shopping

Check out Blackbird Vintage for a great selection of vintage objects, as well as books, candles, jewellery, housewares and accessories.

Coffee time

If you get tired and need a break, head for a coffee shop like Balzac’s. Enjoy coffee, drinks and pastries at this location, opened in 2002, and housed in a circa 1895 Pump House with exquisite Victorial industrial architecture. Or maybe you prefer chocolate? Head over to Soma, a funky chocolate factory. In fact, in addition to the factory, they now have two stores. Name your favourite chocolate concoction and for sure, it will be here. Truffles, gelato, cookies, hot chocolate, it’s all here for you to enjoy.

Or maybe you need to eat something?

If you are like me, you have to eat to survive! Tappo Wine Bar offers yummy dishes, such as grilled veal chops or seafood pasta. Aside from the fantastic menu, the extensive wine list includes wine from around the world. Bonus: Tappo’s patio faces the main courtyard of the Distillery District, highlighted with two stainless steel fire pits.

Do you like bistros? Head to Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie, a modern French casual bistro. The large space is bright and airy, filled with fascinating custom details and hand-selected antiques. The menu offers classics, such as French onion soup, duck legs and steak frites, but all with a contemporary twist and Asian and Moroccan influences. It’s French food like you’ve never seen it before.

How about oysters? Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill offers amazing seafood, including fresh fish and oysters. The 28-seat long bar provides ringside oyster-shucking entertainment, while private booths for two or four are perfect for a private affair.

Do something crazy

Rent a Segway and tour the Distillery District on a Booze, Death and Cholera Tour. Have fun!

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