Vogue’s Guide to Canada’s Cultural Capital: Toronto
After years of being described as “just like New York but smaller,” Toronto has some legitimate reasons for newfound bravado. One of the most diverse cities in the world, Canada’s cultural capital is home to an incredibly rich variety of neighborhoods and atmospheres (see Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy, Little Portugal); its annual Pride Week is one of the world’s largest, boasting upwards of a million visitors each year; and the art, fashion, and restaurant scenes—not to mention its coffee culture—is booming. Here, we take a look at the best that the city has to offer.
Since its Frank Gehry renovation in 2008, the AGO has become bold in its scope, hosting an exhibit on Michelangelo’s drawings (currently on view) to one about Patti Smith’s photographs and personal objects. The Royal Ontario Museum also features standout architecture, quite literally, jutting from its storied walls, with the Daniel Libeskind–designed deconstructivist crystal.
Wunderkind chef Grant van Gameren has dominated Toronto’s food trends lately, first with Black Hoof and now with Bar Isabel, the Spanish-spun tapas restaurant loved for its oaky, hole-in-the-wall ambiance and its spicy boquerones. Another of the city’s recent titans, Anthony Rose, holds court on Dupont Street with three hotspots, Rose and Sons, Big Crow, and Fat Pasha, which all ride the Eastern European Jewish–inspired schmaltz trend.
Come summertime, Trinity Bellwoods Park is a hipster haven of picnic blankets and contraband microbrews. Meanwhile, the city’s largest green, High Park, is a cherry blossom paradise each April. For something a bit further out of the city center, Scarborough Bluffs is thrilling with its spectacular cliffs.
Casa Loma, a Gothic Revival castle built in the early twentieth century, is a curious, fantastical must for any first-timer. For the sadcores, nearby Mount Pleasant Cemetery is an equally, if a bit eerie, step back in time, with graceful tombs dating as far back as 1876.
A Goldilocks gem of the vintage world, Toronto rivals the best for pieces that are neither pricey nor overly mass. The west end’s many outposts, 69 Vintage, Chosen, Silver Falls, I Miss You, and Penny Arcade are superb for of-the-moment essentials, while more upscale spots like Gadabout, Magwood, and Cabaret draw the line at anything post-seventies. Kensington Market, a hippie paradise of vegan cuisine, tacos, and peasant blouses is also a must.
At this chain of coffee bars, you’ll forgive baristas for answering, “Yes, we have 2 percent,” to your request for skim milk because they are just so good-looking. The city is snobbish about its caffeine, which fortunately means exceptional roasts from Sense Appeal, Fahrenheit, and the beautiful Dineen Coffee Co.
The growing Toronto International Film Festival found a permanent home few years back, which will play host to “Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibit” through 2015.
Daniel Faria, a latter-day Troy Donahue with a roster of notable Canadian artists (most notably, Douglas Coupland), exhibits in a former garage on the city’s west side. Other arbiters of cool, such as Clint Roenisch, Neubacher Shor Contemporary, and Hermann & Audrey keep things similarly interesting.
With its many outposts (a chain of boutiques, a Financial District eatery, and a cottage country inn), The Drake Hotel is at the heart of Toronto’s transformation. A worthwhile stop nearby is Gladstone Hotel, where each room is designed by local artists.
Cocktails and craft beer are more common than dance parties, and the best selections are at the Carbon Bar, Black Hoof’s Cocktail Bar, and the above-mentioned Bar Isabel. The snack-drink mix is done well at 416 Snack Bar, with its rotating menu of miniatures.
Toronto’s impending luxury deluge is not without a precedent, with Holt Renfrew holding court for years and The Room at Hudson’s Bay upping the ante with a focus on Brit-lead avant-garde (an Isabella Blow retrospective is on view through the month). Meanwhile, smaller boutiques like 119 Corbo offer an Antwerp Six–bent selection of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and Maison Martin Margiela.