Toronto is often considered a city where getting food after 10 p.m. isn't an easy proposition. But things have definitely seen major improvements in recent years. Other than those hot dogs, many cited Chinatown (Spadina between Queen Street and College Street) and its myriad of options, specifically the Vietnamese soup at Pho Hung (350 Spadina Avenue); and Rol San (323 Spadina Avenue): "Great food ton's of space and open late. It was oddly full of Russian prostitutes (and the odd Russian "wiseguy") the last time we were there at 4:00 am but that just added to the late night experience. Also if you head there during the day they have great dim sum."
There's also the 24-hour diner at Thompson Hotel (550 Wellington Street West), which is sure to be immensely popular during the festival; The Lakeview (1132 Dundas Street West), which is hugely popular with late night crowds that almost every insider listed, though one wasn't enthusiastic. "The food there sucks," one warned, "but it's 24 hours and has very nice booths."
Many also stated Bar Isabel (797 College... "Share a whole octopus till two in the morning or fend off your hangover with their signature horse meat tartar."), OddSeoul (90 Ossington.. late night snack bar, Korean Fusion tapas style), Reggie's (571 King Street West), where "deep fried mac'n'cheese sticks with chipotle dipping sauce are magic"; Sneaky Dee's (431 College Street), with "the best nachos in the city"; aforementioned Poutini's House of Poutine (1112 Queen Street West), Vinny Massimo's Pizza (1130 Queen St. W), which had one insider wonder "why anyone still goes to the Pizza Pizza next door when they can have a fresh Massimo's margherita slice covered in garlicky olive oil that is one of Toronto's great mysteries," Vesta Lunch (474 Dupont Street), one of the few, and probably last, truly 24 hour greasy spoon diners in the city, and a much more expensive option is The Black Hoof (938 Dundas St. W), which is a "meat lover's dream" and open quite late.
Finally, if you want a particularly familiar taste, one suggested the McDonalds at Yonge and Grosvenor "purely for the entertainment" (in that it basically becomes a mix of gay bar after-party and homeless shelter around 2:30am).
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 (Queer) West. In fact, Church Street barely got a mention from any of our insiders. "The West bars are more hopping than Church Street," one insider said, noting a bunch of weekly or monthly events like Big Primpin at Wrongbar (1279 Queen Street West), Her at La Perla every second Friday of the month (783 Queen St. W, Upstairs) and Business Woman's Special at Augusta House (152 Augusta).
The Henhouse (1532 Dundas Street West) and noted The Beaver are the everyday staples for Queer West Toronto. The latter was mentioned by every insider and noted as "small and dirty but banging on the right night."
Queen West (and this writer) will also host the fourth annual STIFF @ TIFF queer event at Wrongbar on Tuesday the 10th, which will run from 10pm to 4am and be hosted by the compiler of this guide. Extended liquor license (4am), so please reconsider early press & industry screenings.
For the more traditional LGBTs (or LGBTTs, as it's correctly regarded in Canada - adding an additional "T" for "Two-Spirited" to reflect its First Nations community), there's Church St. "You can get both cock and tails pretty much anywhere on Church Street," joked one insider. Really, you can just wander up and down the street between Carlton and just north of Wellesley and you'll find a wide selection of similarly old school gay bars. Try classics like mostly male Woody's (467 Church Street), Crews & Tangos (508 Church Street) and/or the just west Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.), which hosts a popular (and straight girl friendly) Saturday dance night. And don't forget male-strip club Remington's , located just north of Dundas St. on Yonge. Though stripper fans take note, there's a new kid in town: Flash (463 Church Street) opened last year next to Woody's (and "I've heard" its the better bet of the two).
Perhaps the best advice for Toronto's queer scene comes from the heterosexual brother of the compiler of this guide. "Wherever I'm taken," he writes.
PLACE TO CHILL OUT:
Insiders suggested Kensington Market (located just west of Spadina Ave between Dundas and College Streets), which is great to roam around through, particularly on weekends. Specifically noted was Last Temptation (12 Kensington Avenue). "Located at the very bottom of Kensington Avenue, it is hidden away from Kensington's exhaustingly cliquey hotspots," the insider wrote. "And it has cheap everything and they always play great music (usually full albums start to finish)."
But the most recommended (though highly time-consuming) excursion is the Toronto Islands, a ferry ride from the Ferry Docks located at the bottom of Bay Street. With a small amusement park, bikes that you can rent, and a clothing-optional beach, heading to the Islands is "a great way to be in the city while feeling like you aren't." You can also grab a lovely dinner at The Rectory Cafe (rectorycafe.com), which has a gorgeous patio facing Lake Ontario.
Also noted was huge, hipster-friendly Trinity Bellwoods Park (between Queen and Dundas just west of Bathurst), which on a nice day can often look like one massive American Apparel ad.
If you need a boost from someone else to chill out, a short walk from AMC Dundas is Tuina Massage Therapy (122 Dundas Street West). Said one: "TIFF is stressful and wreaks havoc on your shoulders. Why not get a quick inexpensive massage by a Master?"
One insider refused to answer this question, joking: "Honestly do these people even have any spare time during the festival? And if they do then tell them to get the f**k out of my way!"
The Yorkville area 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. But since the festival's moved south, it might not be quite as easy to find time to make it up there.
But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Much closer Queen West and surrounding areas offers a hipper alternative with a seemingly endless array of clothing, furniture and unique-product shops from Spadina Avenue westwards. One insider noted Sydney's (682 Queen Street West), with its "well-edited selection of designer brands makes it the top menswear destination in the city. Jil Sander, Marni, Dries Van Noten, and Rick Owens round out the high end and Kin (designed by Sydney himself and all made in Canada) will become your wardrobe staples."
Toronto also has one of the few North American Top Shops, attached to The Bay (corner of Queen and Yonge). There's also Carte Blanche (758 Queen Street West), Girl Friday (740 Queen Street West), Courage My Love (14 Kensington Avenue), Robber (863 Queen Street West), Vintage '69 (1100 Queen Street West), "one of the best second hand stores in the city. Everything is hand picked by the owner and doesn't smell like your grandma's closet," and The Future of Frances Watson (1390 Queen West), which - disclaimer - is owned by one of the insiders polled here (though others noted it too!). A quick plug:
"The store is becoming a destination spot for men looking to find the perfect pair of raw denim and has a great selection of shirting and leather accessories as well. For women, they have rounded collar, silk dresses and other goods that are made in the in-house studio and you'll also find your perfect high waisted jean and drapey t-shirts..."
More eccentric options include The Drake General Store (three locations: 1144 Queen Street West, 1011 Yonge Street, 82A Bathurst St.) "It's a great place to buy your third cousin twice removed a bar mitzvah gift or stock up on kitschy Canadian souvenirs," one insider joked.
Other major shopping areas include the Times Square-imitation that is Dundas and Yonge Street, centered around the giant Eaton Centre (noted previously for its Danish style food court), a mall that offers pretty much every chain you can consider, including an Apple Store. It's only a 15 minute walk northeast of TIFF Bell Lightbox.
OTHER TORONTO TIPS:
"Cabs are f**king expensive," one insider complained, "but the public transit system is awful too, so good luck."
That pessimism aside, the Toronto Transit Commission's weekly pass ($38.50 for adults.. up from $30 just two years ago) for a somewhat economical but definitely environmentally friendly way of cinema and party hopping during the festival. The passes are transferable so you can share with whomever you'd like.
But your best bet is the Bixi bike share program. For TIFF, it's pretty ideal, as stations are located all around festival central. Basically, you pay $5 for a day pass are given a code which unlocks one of the bikes on the rack (similar to programs in London, Montreal and Boston). Then all you have to do is return it to another rack (it doesn't have to be the same one) when you're done. It's perhaps better explained by the instructions listed on the rack itself, which are hard to miss downtown. More info here.
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. And if one's up for exercise after too many hours sitting in a movie theatre, one insider suggested "leap-frogging the lambs beside the CBC building on Wellington Street." If you have time to that, though, you're a lucky lamb.
Check out this interactive map that displays the entire guide, and have a great TIFF 2013!