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Eat, drink and shop like a local in Toronto.
Canada’s largest city, Toronto, grows ever denser and more international by the year, and the city’s creative classes have established stylish outposts all their own. All it takes is a day spent walking around the Queen West neighborhood (a buzzy, thriving art and design district, anchored along a three-mile stretch of Queen Street) to see proof. This area of row houses and former factories is reminiscent of London’s East End or parts of Brooklyn, and where you’d want to move if you were a young artist or in an indie rock band. But for visitors, it’s also a unique area of Toronto to experience some of the best shopping, eating and drinking in the city. Here, an ideal way to spend a day walking through Queen West.
The gentrification that’s cleaned up the area is best seen in this 19-room hotel, a former flophouse on a gritty stretch that was largely forgotten until the Drake opened. The revitalized building is now the funky hub where creatives, dreamers and yes, partiers, gather at all hours of the day and night. On the main floor, a bar and dining room host live music acts in the evening, but in the morning, it’s a great place to start the day with breakfast at the cafe. Options range from delicious healthy bowls (with almond milk, goji berries and chia seeds) to classics like bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese.
After breakfast, check out the namesake store of the Drake, a nontraditional gift shop that sells an assortment of unusual souvenirs, original antiques, local art, and items imported from across the globe. Inspired by old-fashioned general stores and flea markets, the shop is designed with reclaimed wood, recycled light fixtures, and Mid-century Modern furniture. The ever-changing inventory may include anything from anchor-shaped wine stops and colorful patterned socks to binocular-shaped necklace pendants and Mountie-themed cocktail napkins.
If you’re in the market for menswear, stop in at Park & Province, where nattily dressed gents head for their dose of effortless cool. They carry the goods that bring them in, like Levis and New Balance, and keep them coming back for more with labels that few have heard of but immediately like, such as hip accessories line Miansai and French swimwear company Cuisse de Grenouille.
Known as one of Toronto’s best design shops for those on the hunt for minimal, sophisticated home items, Old Faithful carries everything from pour-over coffee kettles (that are so well-designed that they can almost double as decorative art pieces) to groovy “moon lamps” designed in-house. They also carry a well-edited selection of food and design-themed books and magazines.
For a fine example of the modern Toronto restaurant scene, check out Union, located on an up-and-coming street in the heart of Queen West, which serves up culinary Canadiana in a Parisian-bistro-inspired locavore restaurant. European-trained chef Teo Paul sources in-season ingredients from Ontario farmers and small-scale producers, crafting them into a daily-changing menu that includes favorites such as elk sliders, steak hache a cheval (freshly ground Scotch Mountain beef topped with a fried egg), and smoked duck breast with crabapple and beets. The modern space channels an arty vibe with its full-wall mural, exposed brick, and contemporary globe lighting.
Before heading out to other parts of Toronto, take a look at how Queen West locals unwind, with a drink here, on the Ossington strip (just off Queen Street West). An upscale bar and lounge, Reposado specializes in fine tequilas and mezcals. The stained glass and backlit bar gives the chic room a little bit of nighttime drama.