Our love for Toronto is an early romance that has us rearranging our schedules to be there. There are so many undiscovered places in a city like this. And we can’t get enough.
This month, Classfare is exploring Canada. And not just its natural beauty, but its urban civility. One of the best examples of these elements coming together is Toronto. It is both the financial center of a geographically vast country and a melting pot of culture and art. It is the friendly version of New York. Though Toronto is usually not (especially with a west coast U.S. bias) considered as a destination place, we recommend it as such wholeheartedly.
Every culture and food type is represented in Toronto, and it inhabitants aren’t so fast-paced (nor are they assholes). Positioned near the Atlantic on Lake Ontario, a hub for historic commercial activity, the city broods with all the things everyone loves about a metropolis. Restaurants, museums, shopping, architecture, and just downright great people (not to mention, the winter season includes an ice skating rink in the center of the biggest part of the city that rivals Rockefeller Square). For those fortunate enough to find themselves with a few days in Canada’s most diverse of cities, we’ve assembled a few recommendations.
Once you arrive in the city, you are immersed in a juxtaposition of history and at the same time gentrification and modernness. So start at the ROM (the Royal Ontario Museum) which is positioned in the center of the city. It’s an angular, glass building perched on the top of the old brick of the past, and it’s the best place to experience art in Toronto. The meandering building is an exploration of art over the centuries, accentuated by design and space.
Outside its glass walls lies a city that deserves a spirit of wandering no matter the weather. Canada is notorious for harsh winters, and Toronto is no exception. However, the city is well equipped to handle the elements. Though the city is at its most vibrant in the summer, each season brings year-round inspiration. In the winter, the open patios of Yorkville and the brewery district turn into the underground city in the financial district. Upon surfacing, this vibrancy is also highlighted in the winter by cozy bars and hidden gems (minus 10°F be damned). One would be remiss if he or she didn’t stop for a late night drink at the Drake, a Classfare favorite of Ace Hotel-y aesthetic with a distinctly dressed up feel. This place is a perfect mix of all types of folks wandering in to have a warm-up whiskey in an environment worthy of any boutique hotel. Equally worthy is the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt, with its history of celebrities, dignitaries, and a bartender who has been serving perfectly crafted cocktails since 1959. The dark walls hold secrets that only a bartender of his stature could take to the grave. Go here in the summer. There are few places in which $15 can buy you one of the best drinks (and views) in the entire city.
Every great city typically has a skyline worthy of a slowing in time, and Toronto’s is no different. Best experienced from the ferry to the Toronto islands, the 20 minute ride will show you a view of the fourth largest city in North America from a uniquely beautiful vantage point. This short boat ride will allow one to connect to the settlement of the city through the harshly cold waters and perfectly distilled, salty air. This experience is one that most consider too touristy, but we disagree, primarily because a new perspective is something to which one should always adhere (and take to heart).
Though the city begs for exploration of its prolific skylines, buildings, Fifth Avenue-like shopping, and national landmarks, the city also hides a local scene that is subtle and compelling. Such are the back alleys of Yorkville — which hold some of the best shopping boutiques and culinary perfection (not to mention Hemingway’s, one of the best non-pretentious bars in a pretentious place) — or the insanely delicious pockets of ethnic neighborhoods, like Koreatown. There really is something for every explorer.
Through the lens of the U.S., Toronto is easy to digest. It is distinctly western in its approach, but has a feel that is much more open, harkening back to Ellis Island, a representation of culture and ideas alike. It is a normal occurrence to hear Romanian, Farsi, or Mandarin. And the nature of how it all crescendoes in harmony is something to be marveled. The city is warm, inviting, and distinctly cool. Toronto has everything one could want in urban and historic execution. A place where you can sneak into a quiet restaurant after a day around a city of almost 3 million is a place we want to be.