Tens of thousands of people will converge upon Canada’s largest city over the next ten days or so for one of the world’s largest film events, socializing and networking all over town. indieWIRE surveyed a group of Toronto locals and insiders about their favorites places to eat, drink, shop and chill, including some of our own tips from indieWIRE staffer (and former Torontonian) Peter Knegt. The results of our informal, subjective survey follow. We invite readers and TIFF attendees alike to discuss, dispute and react to the suggestions offered. Comments and corrections are invited at the end of this article, so go for it. We’ll take another look at it next year. But until then, here’s to a lively, productive and fun 10 days in Toronto.
Insider tips and suggestions were provided by actress Tracy Wright, filmmaker and actor Jacob Tierney, film and theatre producer Brad Horvath, TIFF staffers Jennifer MacFarlane and Kelly Thompson, Lisa Clapperton of Banger Productions, local blogger Christopher Needles, graduate student Brian Fauteux, and Michael Gorman of Toronto-based Last Gang Records.
BEST BREAKFAST: Though a bit out of Festival alley, the area just west of downtown was quite popular with a bunch of folks. The recently remodeled Gladstone Hotel and attached cafe (1214 Queen St. West), originally designed in 1889 by local architect G.M. Miller in the Romanesque Revival style offers both the setting and the grub. You can choose from less than ten breakfast/brunch items but “it doesn’t matter because they are all so damn good that you’ll have a hard time deciding which one to have.” One insider admired their “really good lattes and Americanos” and suggested taking a peak upstairs at their ongoing art shows. One insider called Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott St.) the best place for brunch: “think yummy eggs and omelettes with charming and courteous servers in a retro-style hideaway.”
And speaking of brunch, Kalendar (546 College St.) is just around the corner and offers an incredible selection on weekends between 10:30 and 3:30. Closer to the action is Fran’s (20 College St.), a Toronto staple for nearly seventy years, and was once part of a chain known chiefly for being a haunt of pianist Glenn Gould. It is now a relatively inexpensive 24-hour diner with a wide variety of general fare just south of press and industry screenings. It is also generally busy, though, particularly on late weekend mornings.
DRINKS: The Gladstone Hotel comes up again, as does its more famous down-the-street cousin, The Drake Hotel (built a year after the Gladstone in 1890) which has become a haven for industry folk during the festival. One insider raved about the patio but suggested to “avoid the lobby like the plague.” There’s also room for a bar crawl with nearby Unit (1198 Queen St. West), The Paddock (178 Bathurst St.) and Sweaty Betty’s (13 Ossington Ave.). More central, Ronnie’s Local 69 (69 Nassau St.) came up a few times. Located in the heart of Toronto’s vibrant Kensington Market, Tim Roth has been known to frequent the bar stools while recently shooting “The Incredible Hulk.” They’ve also “got a good-sized patio and great selections on the jukebox.”
The Park Hyatt rooftop patio offers a bit more swank (and a late-night opportunity to really get your schmooze on with film industry execs) and “a chance to ponder the giant engagement rung that crashed into the Royal Ontario Museum while wondering, ‘whose room should I charge these martinis to?'” Last year, the roof bar was divided between two rooms. Some patrons called one side of the divide “Los Angeles” and the other “New York.” Check out for yourself if you can guess which is which… Of course keep in mind U.S. visitors not on the company dime, the 20-30% discounts enjoyed with every purchase via the exchange rate are now gone with the collapse of the greenback (thanks Bush) so prepare to pay a princely sum at this lovely spot for cocktails.
But Park Hyatt, Four Seasons, Windsor Arms, Sutton Place and Intercontinental beware… Toronto’s new and apparently hip Hazelton Hotel has arrived. We haven’t been yet, but supposedly a crop of industry insiders are staying there and it’s tipped to be a late-night hangout to be reckoned with… The boutique hotel is located in the Yorkville area and sports One restaurant with Chef Mark McEwan (who also helms the Bymark and North 44 in the city). Maybe a successor to Sassafrass (which burned down) as a popular spot?
And while happy hour doesn’t really exist in Toronto (due to archaic liquor laws) one suggested The Black Bull (298 Queen St. West) as suitable alternative for its nice afternoon patio.
EXPENSE ACCOUNT DINNER: As for that place to go when someone else (or their company) is paying, Susur (601 King St. West) came up more then once. Named one of the fifty best restaurants in the world by London’s Restaurant Magazine, visitors can expect innovative cuisine and careful presentation. Its sister restaurant, Lee (named for the last name of chef Susur Lee), is located next door at 603 King and recieved some raves on its own. Scaramocuhe (1 Benvenuto Place), located a bit north just off Avenue Road, offers one of the city’s best views of downtown and “everything about it oozes class.”
COFFEE OR A CHEAP BITE: On the other end of the scale, The Beaconsfield (1154 Queen St. West) serves up a dinner special every weekday from 5-7. $8 will get you a pint of Amsterdam and a “delicious – yet a little bit smaller than normal – meal”. Tuesday is homemade mac and cheese and Friday (one insider’s fave) is fish and chips with curry mayo. There’s also Salad King (335 Yonge St.), a Thai food wonder that is “cheap, fast and upscale.” According to one insider, since the untimely death of Mario at La Puerto Abierto on College Street, the best coffee in the city is by far Ideal Coffee located in Kensington Market and on Ossington Street, just south of Dundas. Also recieving several mentions was Braziliano at Dundas Street West and Manning Street and Ella’s Uncle (916 Dundas St. West).
And, of course, one can’t beat those ubiquitous hot dogs on the street (personal faves are on the corner of Bay and Bloor and right by the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor and Avenue). No soaking in gross water, lots of condiments and they’ll even grill the bun–just ask. And vegetarians, go for it, they have veg dogs as well (as long as you don’t mind if it’s grilled near where the Polish sausage was minutes earlier). They’re the best in North America in one insider’s opinion. So, settle down to a dog or two by the church and sit in their conveniently located benches across from Prego (an industry favorite with its own share of celeb frequenters) and watch the schmooze fest.
CLOSE TO THE PARAMOUNT (I MEAN SCOTIABANK THEATRE): Located inconveniently south of most other venues, the recently (and unfortunately) renamed Scotiabank Theatre offers nearby Indian restaurant Trimurti (265 Queen St. West), which finds you facing “a deliciously filling Indian dinner that will definitely make you skip right passed the concession stand when you show up running late for your film”.
LATE NIGHT FOOD: Toronto is not a city where getting food after 10 is an easy proposition. The corner of Spadina and Harbord offers a small war of cheap pizza and the like, similarly a stroll down Spadina in Chinatown (between College and Queen) is a minefield of the open-but-do-I-really-want-to-eat-here? variety. More specifically, many cited aforementioned Fran’s as well as 7 West (7 Charles St. West), a 24/7 restaurant in the heart of the festival.
GAY SCENE: The city has become a case of old vs. new, east vs. west with the traditional Church Street “gaybourhood” finding itself losing more youth-oriented queer patrons to a bunch of bars opening up on Queen West. One of such bars, The Beaver (1192 Queen St. West) was mentioned numerous times and noted as “small and dirty but banging on the right night.” For the more traditional minded GLBTQs, there’s Church St. classics like mostly male Woody’s (467 Church St.) and dyke-friendly drag bar Crews & Tango’s (508 Church St.) or the just west Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.), which hosts an extremely popular (and straight girl friendly) Saturday dance night. And don’t forget male-strip club Remington’s (open only to men except Sunday night, which typically attracts a large rabble-rousing crowd of industry of both sexes), located just north of Dundas St. on Yonge.
PLACE TO CHILL OUT: John’s Italian Cafe (27 Baldwin St.) is an eatery located on the adorable Baldwin Street that makes great Italian coffees and sodas. In addition to the calm atmosphere, their pizza and pasta heavy dinner menu definitely make it worth the venture. More generally, insiders suggested Kensington Market (located just west of Spadina Ave between Dundas and College Streets), which has a weekly “Pedestrian Sunday” for patrons to parooze the cafes, shops and stands without any motorized vehicles ruining the fun. The Cloud Gardens on Richmond Street (just west of Bay Street) is an urban greenhouse cited by one Torontonian as a great place to chill, while a highly recommended (but slightly farther) excursion is the Toronto Islands, a ferry ride from the Ferry Docks located at the bottom of Bay Street. With a small amusement park, a clothing-optional beach, and bikes that you can rent, heading to the Islands is “a great way to be in the city while feeling like you aren’t”.
SHOPPING: The Yorkville are located just north of Bloor Street between Avenue Road and Bay Street has many higher end shops and boutiques. It also has the city’s only Whole Foods. Queen West offers a hipper alternative with a seemingly endless array of clothing, furniture and unique-product shops from Spadina Avenue westwards.
OTHER TORONTO TIPS: Check out the Toronto Transit Commission‘s weekly pass ($30 for adults) for an economical and environmentally friendly way of cinema and party hopping during the festival. The passes are transferable so you can share with whomever you’d like. There’s also a wide selection of museums and art galleries in the city. Besides the difficult-to-miss Royal Ontario Museum located at Avenue Road and Bloor Street, the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West) often brings unique collection and is one of Canada’s largest and most renowned galleries. Smaller but just as interesting, the Thrush Holmes Empire (1093 Queen Street West) is a great place to check out. Local artist Holmes “finally got sick of moving his art around so he decided to open a studio and art gallery in one, completely open to the public.” His work has been purchased by Sir Elton John and Halle Berry. Stop by and see him in action before it’s too late, one insider heard the space is being turned into a condo.
[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]
[Read all of indieWIRE’s Toronto International Film Festival in indieWIRE’s special Toronto ’07 section.]