The Sweeter Side
Canada’s cosmopolitan city of Toronto is dressed for business, but it’s a romantic town at heart.
Brash and capitalist on the outside, Toronto can be a bit shy about revealing its soul. But dig just a -little, and you’ll find that Canada’s largest metropolis has a mushy, sentimental core that makes it a perfect, although unexpected, stop for honeymooners.
Take Wards Island. Just a 10-minute ride on a wooden-floored ferry carries you to the dock in Toronto’s most unusual neighborhood. Tiny bright-colored cottages half-hidden by jungles of wildflowers are romantic in the traditional sense of the word: quaint and natural. Gables sport names like “Dun Roamin,” “Glen-eagles” and “Sunset Ho,” while one cryptic sign on a front door urges “Courage.” Residents, blessed with beautiful surroundings but minimal storage space, have come up with ingenious solutions: neat shelves of sports equipment on a porch, or the occasional canoe suspended between two trees.
Traditionally a refuge for the city’s bohemians, Ward’s Island is home to several bed-and-breakfasts. For a charming lunch, the Rectory Café has a latticed table on the patio. As cyclists rumble by on the nearby boardwalk and cicadas buzz in the huge maples overhead, you can linger over light salads, gourmet sandwiches (try the grilled chicken panini with rosemary and tomatoes), soups, pastas and desserts. The all-Canadian wine list includes several vintages by the glass.
For many people, fine food is the essence of romance, and Toronto is a fabulous city for gourmands. Half the city’s residents were born outside Canada, so any international cuisine you can imagine is available. GreekTown—strung along Danforth Avenue from Chester Avenue to Jones Avenue—is home to some 75 restaurants, many of them dishing up superlative souvlaki. (My Big Fat Greek Wedding was filmed largely in this neighborhood.) Other great destinations for multicultural foodies include Little India and Chinatown.
The city’s most noted restaurants include the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar (run by Toronto’s first celebrity chef) and 360, the revolving restaurant perched high above the city on the iconic CN Tower. For afternoon tea, try the cutting-edge selection at EPIC, the white-linen restaurant at The Fairmont Royal York. People have been taking tea at the hotel for generations, but the hotel’s tea -sommelier, Michael Obnowlenny, has brought tea and food pairings to a new level. If Scotch or martinis are more your style, head to the hotel’s Library Bar to sip a nightcap in veddy British surroundings reminiscent of a private club.
A restaurant that’s been making waves with the city’s food lovers is Perigee, in a recently redeveloped complex of old industrial buildings known as The Distillery Historic District. Perigee is so hip there isn’t even a menu—instead, you’ll be served in a Japanese style called omakase. Your waiter simply interviews you about your likes and dislikes, and then the chef surprises you with a series of small dishes. You can choose the five-, six- or seven-course menu, then sit back and watch chef Pat Riley and his team work their magic in the open kitchen. For the full experience, ask the sommelier to recommend a wine to complement each course.
If you like to cook as well as eat, head a short distance west of the Distillery District to the St. Lawrence Market, a Toronto institution that celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2004. Browse through the stalls and pick up a paper sack of Thai purple rice or a jar of viper’s bugloss honey (despite the unfortunate name, it’s a divine product).
The neighborhood surrounding the St. Lawrence Market is one of the only places where you can still get a strong sense of the city’s roots. Like New York, Toronto is notorious for tearing down its heritage to make room for skyscrapers and condos, but the commercial buildings along King Street East are some of the oldest in town. For an insider’s look at the neighborhood, book a walking tour with actor, playwright and historian Bruce Bell, who will direct your gaze to buildings such as the nondescript house where a radical 1960s art collective once roasted pigs on an open spit. Other attractions on the tour include elegantly restored St. Lawrence Hall. King Street East is lined with chic decor shops and art galleries.
For outdoorsy types, the neighborhood offers one particularly cool attraction: fly-casting classes in a historic ballroom. Wilson’s, a fishing supply store, runs the courses in the Crystal Ballroom atop the Le Royal Meridien King Edward hotel. During its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, the ballroom was the place to go dancing. But fashions changed, the ballroom’s fortunes declined, and the hotel closed it. The fly-casting classes—held here because of the ballroom’s vast stretches of open space—are one of the few chances visitors have to enjoy the faded glamour of this once-legendary space. Recent renovations to the rest of the hotel make it a perfect retreat for visitors fascinated by historic buildings.
Many other historic structures around town now serve as theaters. The city is home to an enormous theater scene, so you can find everything from avant-garde productions in converted warehouses to Broadway-style musicals in chandelier-lit playhouses. Many shows move from here to New York, giving those who see them first in Toronto great bragging rights.
When you’ve emerged blinking into the sunlight after a matinee, there’s still time to explore the city’s great outdoors. Rent bikes and follow the Martin Goodman Trail along Metropolitan Toronto’s waterfront, learn to sail or kayak on the same waterfront, or—in winter—rent skates and glide around the pretty rink in front of Toronto City Hall. As snowflakes fall in the gathering dusk, you’ll find it pretty hard to deny that this city of commerce has a heart of gold, after all.
Pantages Suites • Hotel & Spa, 200 Victoria St., 866-852-1777 or 416-362-1777, www.pantageshotel.com. One of the city’s newest hotels, the Pantages is sleek and boutique. Kitchenettes make it easy to chill a bottle of wine or whip up a romantic dessert for two. To disperse the last of your wedding-planning stress, switch on the Pantages’ meditation channel or pop the hotel’s custom-mixed world music disc into the CD player.
The Fairmont Royal York, 100 Front St. W., 800-257-7544 or 416-368-2511, www.fairmont.com/royalyork/. Once the largest hotel in the British Commonwealth, the Royal York is a vast stone landmark in the heart of town. Thick carpets, heavy wood furniture and superb service are among the luxuries. The Fairmont Gold floor has a separate check-in and a lounge serving cocktail-hour canapés.
The Old Mill Inn, 21 Old Mill Road, 866-653-6455 or 416-236-2641, www.oldmilltoronto.com. This mock-Tudor spot began life as a tea room in 1914. It evolved into an upscale dancehall, then a conference center. In 2001, it became a hotel with the addition of 60 rooms and suites; a new spa soon followed. With its park-like setting, the hotel is a popular spot for weddings.