What to see, eat and do in Toronto
Canada’s largest city and fourth-largest metropolitan area in North America, Toronto welcomed more than 27.5 million annual visitors prior to the pandemic, making it Canada’s top tourism destination according to Destination Toronto, the city’s tourism marketing arm.
While travel recovers, Canadian tourists outnumber them, with traffic from the United States only just returning and overseas visitors still sparse, according to the agency. Summer is usually high season; This could be the last year that Toronto can be used in warm weather before the city is flooded again.
More than 5,100 restaurants across the province of Ontario have closed during the pandemic, according to Restaurants Canada, a national trade organization. But this omnivorous city’s food scene has revived. In May, Michelin chose Toronto as the first Canadian city to have its own travel guide.
“The liveliness and diversity is still intact”, said Scott Beck, President and Chief Executive of Destination Toronto. “Everything that makes our food scene in North America so unique is still there. The diversity in art and culture is still there.”
And yes, cannabis stores have mushroomed during the pandemic, but “they’re a non-event,” said Mr. Beck. “Cannabis is legal across the country. Toronto is not Amsterdam.”
to eat and drink
The hippest restaurants usually open on Toronto’s bohemian fringes. But tempting restaurants have now sprung up in the center of downtown. “Weekend warriors’ demand for social dining and entertainment is coming back,” said Hanif Harji, general manager of Scale Hospitality, which operates 14 restaurants. “The streets are bustling with activity again”
Mr. Harji’s Bar Chica, open since April, is tucked away behind an unassuming door next to a condominium tower on King Street West. On a recent Thursday night, the high-ceilinged room throbbed with what felt like pre-Covid energy. Chef Ted Corrado tweaks traditional tapas with Canadian ingredients; Think British Columbia shrimp ceviche or Canadian beef chimichurris with Ontario ramps (tapas range from CA$9-24, or about $7-18). In August, Mr. Harji will open Miss Likklemore’s, a Caribbean eatery in the King West Village. In the fall, Scale and Montreal chef Antonio Park open The AP, a fine dining restaurant on the Eataly outpost in Yorkville.
Also in Yorkville, Chef Rob Rossi’s Ligurian menu at Osteria Giulia draws well-dressed locals who feast on traditional flatbreads, salumi and pasta (entrees ranging from CA$32 to CA$75). Open since October, it remains the neighborhood’s hottest table. Around the corner, Adrak employs a team of chefs, each specializing in a regional Indian cooking style; The unconventional menu includes smoked salmon with Pommery mustard (entrees from CA$29 to CA$60).
Toronto offers endless options for all types of Asian food. A new spot that’s getting a lot of talk is Cà Phê Rang, opened south of Chinatown by veterans of French mainstay Le Select Bistro. A deceptively simple menu offers extravagantly flavored surprises like halloumi banh mi, shiitake escabeche spring rolls, and homemade praline peanut dipping sauce (appetizers from CA$15 to CA$20).
On the north edge of Yorkville, Mimi Chinese travels back to the future in a neon-lit room with red velvet banquettes and waiters wearing ribbons. The menu spans the provinces of southern China, from Guangdong-inspired raw yellowtail kingfish to Shaanxi charred cabbage. It opened in October and remains a tough ticket (starters from $26 to $88 Canadian).
Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn-born open-air food market, will debut its first international edition on July 23 at Toronto’s Queen’s Quay waterfront. It runs on eight Saturdays and showcases local vendors. In the Westside Annex district, the new Superfresh night market will feature food and drink vendors “Asian-run and owned” in a 4,000-square-meter hall “in the style of an alleyway in Asia,” according to organizers.
With commercial rents rising, condominiums springing up everywhere and space scarce, nightlife has yet to catch up with gastronomy. “We get a lot of restaurants, which is great. The challenge is finding a place to dance,” said Michael Nyarkoh, Community Marketing Manager at the new Ace Hotel Toronto.
Back to the stage
The 127-year-old Massey Hall, which closed three years ago for refurbishment, reopened in November with red velvet seating, beautifully restored stained glass windows, full accessibility and a crystal-clear sound system. His return had a special meaning for this music-loving city. “Massey Hall was built a year after Carnegie Hall and the Toronto dream for a band is to play there,” said Kevin Drew, co-founder of Toronto band Broken Social Scene, who had their first gig in April who played Massey Hall. The $146 million restoration “did an incredible job of preserving the spirits and warmth,” he said. Canadian music kings from Oscar Peterson to Rush have played at the venue, whose packed list for 2022 includes soul legend Mavis Staples and alternative country star Orville Peck.
Toronto’s live theater scene, one of the largest on the continent, is coming back to life after the pandemic shut down. For the first time since 2019, the Toronto Fringe Festival, which ends July 17, has brought live performances back. In grand Broadway-style houses, sparkling openings include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in May; Jesus Christ Superstar (opened August 10) and Singin’ in the Rain (September 23). Hamilton returns in February. Tickets cost between 99 and 260 Canadian dollars.
Fascinating work on indie stages includes suburban drama Detroit at the East End Coal Mine Theater (through August 7); the world premiere of Erin Shields’ Shakespearean prequel “Queen Goneril” at Soulpepper (opens August 25); and the Kafka-inspired “Cockroach” in Tarragon (opens September 13). Tickets in these theaters cost between 25 and 60 Canadian dollars.
art and pictures
After nearly two years of online shows and stop-start openings, Toronto’s museums have returned with powerful lineups. In June, the Art Gallery of Ontario presented the comprehensive exhibition “Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire” (until October 10) with 200 works from four centuries and three continents. More intimate shows by Canadian artists Ken Lum and Ed Pien explore personal stories through imagery and text. A few blocks north, the Royal Ontario Museum is opening the Harry Potter-related Fantastic Beasts: Natural Wonders, exploring what the museum calls “the intersection of natural history and pop culture” (through January 2, 2023).
A few blocks west, the Bata Shoe Museum presents Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks, featuring high-tech designs like Nike’s self-lacing MAGS and a Zaha Hadid/Rem Koolhaas collaboration (until October 2023). The fabulous Gardiner Museum, one of the few ceramic museums in North America, is showing “Sharif Bey: Colonial Ruptures” featuring African-inspired icons by the Syracuse-based artist (until August 28). And the four-year-old Museum of Contemporary Art in a converted West End car factory offers two stunning shows: Land of Dream, haunting portraits of New York-based Shirin Neshat, and Summer, the first solo exhibition by Felix Gonzalez- Torres, a co-founder of the pioneering queer collective General Idea, who died in 1996 (both through July 31).
New hotels in handful
This is proving to be an excellent year for hotel openings. Canada’s first Ace Hotel will open this summer on a quiet cul-de-sac between busy Queen and King streets. Toronto’s Shim-Sutcliffe Architects have designed a curving modernist facade whose soaring concrete interiors house Alder, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant by Toronto celebrity chef Patrick Kriss (rates start at CAD$349 per night).
With the closure of a huge department store in Hudson’s Bay in March, the intersection of Yonge and Bloor streets has felt desolate. Sentiment should brighten this month with Toronto’s first W Hotel on the Northeast side. Once a dour Marriott, the 254-room W tweaks its brutalist concrete building with wild colors and lush greenery. On tap: An airy, street-level lobby cafe, a 5,000-square-foot tapas-and-champagne bar, and a massive rooftop lounge seemingly inspired by Yves St. Laurent’s Marrakech mansion (rates start at CAD$475 per night ).
Former Starwood Chairman Barry Sternlicht’s 1 Hotel brand made its Toronto debut last August on the western edge of the Entertainment District. The 112-room hotel, with its promise of “sustainable luxury” and its 3,000 plants, was the sole Canadian contender on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2022 Hot List (rates starting at CAD$530 per night).
The 19-room Drake Hotel on Queen Street West isn’t exactly new — it opened in 1890 and was renovated in 2004 — but its modern 42-room wing has just opened in a sleek, compact building next door. This is the kind of property with a full-time art curator, color-saturated interiors by the innovative design agency, and live music downstairs. The window restaurant offers a great view of the sidewalk (rates start at CAD$379 per night).
On the site of the former Pilkington Glass Factory near the Entertainment District, Robert De Niro-backed brand Nobu will open its first mixed-use development in 2023, featuring a hotel, 650 apartments and a Nobu restaurant. Toronto architect Stephen Teeple has likened his perforated black building design to a tuning fork.