With monikers like Hogtown and Toronto the Good, it’s a surprise to see this city from either Lake Ontario or from the air. It’s majestic. Toronto is a city that has grown with a population of just under 3 million and now the 4th largest in North America. The former nickname was due to the fact that in the mid 1800s, it was the 2nd largest pork packing center on this continent.  The latter refers to the then Mayor William Howland, also in the mid 1800s, who championed many causes for the poor. Insisted that Sundays were for prayers and sobriety and not a store was opened. How things have changed. The new name is more like  “a city that works”,  a patchwork quilt of many cultures with a 100 languages and the largest ethnicity in North America. Far from quaint, there are now parts of the city that have obvious names like, Little Italy since there are more Italians here than anywhere else outside of Italy.  Greek Town, Portugal Town, three China Towns with the best Chinese food  this side of Hong Kong since we were able to snag the top chefs. And these are only a few of the communities that makes this one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Hog Town

Where to stay.

If you’re looking for luxury, something not too big, nor too small, but with great service and tremendous location, it’s The Hazelton Hotel.  The 5 star luxurious hotel has it all.  The discreet entrance isn’t an indication of the deluxe accommodations that lurks inside.  To start with, how wrong can you go when the Toronto design team and now internationally applauded, Yabu Puselberg, did the interiors.  And who could possible resist a dog friendly hotel which will groom and walk Rover.  With their Bespoke Services, you can be assured that in this uber fashion-forward area, Yorkville, it would be a pleasure to have had your luggage delayed( read lost) and have the savvy staff search for the top end of  the most famous fashion designers whose boutiques are on Bloor Street, just two street south of the hotel.  Worst scenario is while awaiting your new wardrobe, just stand on the balcony of the many rooms that have these perches and see the sprawling grouping of new condos, all chic and sleek.  And even have a peek at a few movie idols who have decided to purchase these often double digit million dollar pads and be staying at The Hazelton until they are move-in ready. From the marble bathrooms and their cuddly robes and the Valmont products used in the very private spa to the Silver Screen Room where you could entertain your old and new friends with a film of your choice, there’s nothing that’s been omitted. Ah, but  I digress.  Check out the art collection. That alone deserves their high rating. The Hazelton has even another aspect.  ONE, the ultimate dining experience in their attached restaurant, (more below)

Hazelton Hotel

The Hazelton

1. Among the group of 5 star hotels that have shot up like mushrooms, is the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  When fashion maven, Diane Vreeland, said the new black is pink, to paraphrase, here the new black is black.  But it’s far from being dark and depressing. From the black walls to lighter hues, Trump has all the advantages of being smart, sophisticated and located in the heart of the financial and entertainment area. The color scheme is carried throughout the 261 room hotel interspersed with touches of taupe and injections of lucite and leather.  Although always busy, Stock, the restaurant on the 31st floor is like a bee hive after 5PM.  And the two story Quartz Crystal Spa is the perfect space to revive.

325 Bay Street, reservations 1855 888 7867   email Toronto.info@trumphotels.com

Trump Towers Toronto

Trump International Hotel

2. Surely it will come as no surprise that a Shangri-La Hotel has opened.  It’s located between the Financial district and the entertainment theaters. And always wanting to be that bit different, this 220 room hotel is one of the 10 tallest building in Canada. During digging the foundation many artifacts from Toronto’s early times were discovered.  One of the great advantages is that there’s a view of the various  city skylines from all the rooms. The Lounge Bar is a perfect remedy for a rumbling stomach until dinner.  Their afternoon tea and, being Hong Kong owned, the Dim Sum is dandy mid afternoon treats.

188 University St.  SLTO@Shangri-La.com

Shangri La Hotel

Shangri La Hotel

3.  A city that relishes luxury, couldn’t go without a Ritz Carlton Hotel, this one with 267 elegantly designed rooms. Naturally,  guests expect and get ‘ritzy’ service.  It’s such an exquisite space, you may never want to leave the premises with their plethora of restaurants from TOCA and it’s all Canadian take on local and naturally raised offerings to the other eatery,DEQ, with a great view of Simcoe Park and the CN Tower while you dine on light lunch in the Mediterranean mode. Brunch, another place to ‘nosh; is what it says..and best on Sundays after 11.30. One of the city’s top meeting places is the Ritz Bar.  Also included in this illustrious ‘menu; is the Urban Sanctuary & Spa wit high standards as always at any Ritz Carlton Hotel.

181 Wellington St. West   416 585 2500

Ritz Toronto

Ritz Carlton Hotel

4. Certainly, one must mention Four Seasons Hotels since Toronto is where it was founded and now has a new flagship hotel. Unfortunately, locals are greatly disappointed since the now torn down previous and well loved Four Seasons, was one of the city’s most favored, even though it was crying for re decoration.  But familiarity is comfortable.  The premise for all Four Seasons Hotels globally is that it offers only the best.  If there is one fault it’s finding the discreet reception desk, hidden away in a niche, albeit luxurious.  (seems to be a signature for Yabu Pushelberg, the team which also decorated most of the hotel). The color palette is easy on the eye,  and has  interesting art throughout. And for relaxation, there’s the Spa on the 9th floor with 17 spacious treatment rooms and a full offering for being indulged. Enticing is the indoor pool and outdoor terrace. On the 8th floor, is the  large fitness centre for hotel guests only and for the mega wealthy condo owners who live in the hotel’s attached condos.

Four Seasons

Four Seasons

5. The exotic all- glass facade makes Thompson Toronto,  trump many of the other newbies which have sprung up. The 102 room hotel can only be described a ultra sleek and certainly the centre of attraction in King West Village.  There’s a persistent feeling of elegance and luxury, perfect for the Boomers with deep pockets and a lust for deluxe everything.  The custom made 400 thread count linens plus the Dean & Deluca amenities add to the love affair with luxury.  Check out the Yoga Studio and the Screening Room.

550  Wellington Street West       416 6400 7778 /1888 550 83368

Thomson Hotel

Thomson Toronto

Where to Eat

1. The Four Seasons Hotel Cafe Boulud, is where those wanting privacy could ask for a table behind a large pillar, however strange that may seem. Also, attracting many still reminiscing about the old bar,(get over it Torontoians) is dBar, on the main floor  which offers light meals.

60 Yorkville Ave.   Tel. 416 964 0411.

Cafe Boloud

Café Boulud

2. If there’s one place in Yorkville at Hazelton Hotel,  to view the fashionistas and movie stars, it’s the aptly named, ONE, part of The McEwan Group, and under the keen eye of Chef Mark McEwan. Try for the  outdoor patio, weather permitting, where the large umbrellas keep diners out of the hot weather sun. Gotta watch those  skin sun spots! When the season becomes coolish then very cold, the interior is  welcoming with the suede  and leather undeniably, sexy walls and seating arrangements and the adjacent bar is always a busy venue. The ever changing, alway delicious menu is a clue to the seasons since Chef Mark loves local produce.

3. Go west young visitors and you’ll find a mix of some of the newest and interesting cuisines.  Ossington Street, once a no-no for upwardly mobile Boomers, is now all the rage.  Foxley, where they don’t take reservations but have a unique idea for keeping the clients happy and always returning.  Their suggestion is to leave your cell number, cross the street to a bar for a cocktail and they’ll call when your table is ready.  And Foxley has a fine international wine list so don’t overdo while waiting for the call. Chef Tom Thai is one of the city’s most creative chefs using spices and herbs very creatively.

Arctic Char Ceviche - Foxley

Arctic Char Ceviche – Foxley

207 Ossington Ave.   416 534 8520

4. Nota Bene, is not far from  the financial centre,  on  quirky Queen Street West  and  adds ‘savoir faire’ to the somewhat mixed grouping of shops. Awards flow in on a regular basis where the food is as great as the award winning interior decoration. The service is superb with a talented and clever staff who remember faces of the loyal regulars and the food is never hit and miss.

180 Queen Street West   Tel 416 977 6400, info@notabenerestaurant.com

Nota Bene Burger

Nota Bene Burger

5. Further west on Queen Street, is Noce, located in an area that was rough around the edges but is emerging as very trendy with local fashion designer boutiques and terrific art galleries.  Sophisticated  classic Italian menu says it all.  The Italian owners never seem to sleep since they are always keeping close attention to the presentation and service making sure that the choices are the best this side of Italy with wine suggestions.  Noce will be memorable, not only for the food, but also for the service and friendly staff. There’s a fine wine cellar, but it tends to be pricey.

875 Queen Street West   416 504 3463

Noce

Noce

6. Hollywood celebs love, Trattoria Sotto Sotto, not in the hub of Bloor Street  but not far from Yorkville area. It’s a favorite among foodies. Although it’s a dark, downstairs grotto-like venue, Sotto Sotto, certainly has a great following. It’s an intimate and romantic hideaway. Food aficionados think this is one of the best restaurants in Toronto.

116A  Ave. Rd.   416 962 0011

Trattoria Sotto Sotto

Trattoria Sotto Sotto

7.  I’d be remiss if I omitted Holt Renfrew’s, Holt’s Cafe.  Located in this top- end fashion department store for both men and women, there’s no better place for the chic lunch crowd.  Here’s the problem.  You have to pass through the hi-end most sought after designer racks and then the ‘every named shoe you ever wanted’ department. If you want to see what’s the latest in fashion, at Holt’s Cafe the clientele is so fashion-forward, fashion loving, fashion inspired, that even Anna Wintour would approve. Choices to sit for this crowd are options from perched on high stools at the bar, to  tables, banquettes or low-sofas.  The many open faced sandwiches on European tartine  flown in from Paris, is the triumph for the midday munch.  But the menu is varied with great salads, and always changing menu. Also, ever changing is the wall decoration and placement of tables.

Holts Cafe

Holt’s Cafe

8. Love Chinese?  If you miss Hong Kong then head directly to Lee Wah Heen at the Metropolitan Hotel.  The dim sum is not only delicious but a work of art. And the rest of the menu is mouth watering.  Pricey but worth every penny (well, really dime, since cents are now out of commission).

Lai Wah Heen

Lai Wah Heen

Where to Shop

1. Just a stroll down Bloor Street, is enough to make the fashionista’s heart beat faster.  From Louis Vuitton and Chanel, Escada and Gucci, there’s a nice mingling of high end fashion shops.  With the expensive rents, only those could survive the competition.  Also on Bloor, is Holt Renfrew, once the only place to shop.  The designer and their private labels should be a first stop just to see what is the newest trend.  Not to be left out is the amazing shoe department which has to be passed when going to the above mentioned, Holt’s Cafe.  But, further south, nearer City Hall, is The Bay, one of the oldest established department stores in Canada.  But don’t let that get in your mind’s way. Up on the 3rd is , down a marble walkway is…drum beat please….The Room…and what a room. Wow.  Hanging from the perfectly designed racks in this stunning venue are labels which go from the famous Lanvin,Sonia Rykiel, and Balenciago to the newest European fashion stars from London, Paris and Milan and snapped up immediately when they arrive on the floor.  And if you buy enough or look  like their advertisements, you’ll may get invited into the living room/dining room area where there are four exclusive dressing rooms and a makeup centre.  There are 8 other dressing rooms that are private  and very well serviced by a most knowledgeable group of salespeople…both male and female.

176 Yonge Street,   416 861 9111 and ask for The Room

2. However, on Yorkville Ave., across from The Hazelton, is 119 Corbo.  Swanky and small, it has one of the best of the seaon’s selections by unexpected designers  like Ann Demeulemeester, Haider Ackermann, Rick Owens, Isabel Marant, Margiela, R13, Celine..well you get the idea. The shoes and bags, belts and scaves, are also amazing and the accessories that make it all work.

119 Yorkville Ave.416 928 0954

3. Not far and not to be forgotten for men, is Harry Rosen, four floors of major apparel for the opposite sex.  From casual chic to formal, from imports and Canadian made, this has to be the first stop for males.

Harry Rosen

4.  And of course, as mentioned, Holt Renfrew has an equally  fine selection from the most glorious ties for those who are still wearing them, the the fine shirts, jackets, trousers, suits.  Also, many imports and designer labels.

5. Go west young men and women and you’ll be in the midst of new young designers and their often trendy, unusual but terrific designs.

What to see.

1. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is on a par with any international museum.  A few years ago, the facade looked like a penal institute. But then the renonwn Toronto born and raised here, architect Frank Gehry, (yes, he’s from Toronto), gave it a most awesome new look from outside to the amazing spiral staircase using Douglas Fir  wood throughout mixing so splendidly with the glass walkway and use of blue titanium and adding 97,000 square feet.  The permanent collection includes a gift from the Thompson family of 2000 art pieces.  there have been  exhibits from Picasso to Frida Kahlo and many more including photography.  Henry Moore loved this city so gifted the AGO which now has the largest collection of his maquettes.  And for a nibble while there, head directly to Frank, on the entrance street floor but to get the full impact of the structure, don’t  accept a seat in the red room.

AGO

AGO

2. Either love it or hate it, the new addition to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is still so controversial after it opened its glass doors a  few years.  Called The Crystal and designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, this angular, pointed, building which hangs over the street is attached to the very formal 1912  built edifice.  I love it.  However, it does have interior space limitation for exhibits.  At the original ROM space, you’ll find everything from Diamonds to Dinosaurs.  Also, make reservations to have a meal at beautifully decorated,C5. It’s open day and also evenings. There’s a separate entrance to this reputed eatery.

100 Queens Park   416 586 8000

3. Nobody does it better than Bata Shoes.  Headquartered in Toronto, this famous shoe brand, under the watchful eye of the president Sonja Bata, has a most unique shoe museum, the only one in North America dedicated to shoes.  Starting from 4,500 BC to the recent Roger Vivier exhibit, there’s always a surprise when they have a new showing (or is that shoeing?).  The architect, Raymond Moriyama, has said  the shape of the building is like an open shoe box. It’s a must -go- to venue and so easy to get there.

327 Bloor Street West   416 979 7799

4. Following in the small museum-like venue is The Textile Museum of Canada. Their exhibits are from the exotic, rare textiles and tapestries to the Finnish designed fabric of Merimekko. 50 Centre Street, Info@textilemuseum.ca 5. The ‘hot’ old,new area of Ossington Ave. not only has some of the best, young and innovative chefs in the plethora of restaurants that have suddenly burst forth, but also  risk taking gallery owners who show emerging and mid career local  artists.  Angell Gallery with 4,000 square foot space, also has a room dedicated to video art.

12 Ossington Ave.   416 530 0444

Ossingtorn

6. Representing contemporary artists from around the globe and some of the world’s famous photographers,  Stephen Bulger Gallery, is a joy to visit with the knowledgeable staff ready and willing to offer  the information you may want.

1026 Queen Street West    r416 504 0576

7. Front row centre, please .If you’re a movie buff,one of the most important visits would the  5 story, Bell Lighthouse which houses TIFF  aka, Toronto International Film Festival. This has become the most important film festival, even more so than Cannes.  “It’s not an industry festival but for the people”.  The outstanding building offers documentaries, older films, library, film lab, research center, 5 theaters, 2 gallery spaces and year round cinemas.  But come the first Thursday night after Labour Day, unless you have pre-purchased your tickets well ahead of this date, the Toronto International Film Festival, housed at the various venues throughout the city, especially the Bell Lighthouse, forget about getting in or having to stand in line for a ticket.  The Red Carpet isn’t there but the stars are. Brad, Angelina, George and the A list of stars and directors, do show annually.

350 King Street West, The Entertainment District  416 599 8433.

8. So you love markets?  Toronto has two which shows off the ethnicity of the city. Kensington Market,is a multi cultured neighborhood with narrow one-way streets and  designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. During the 20th century, European Jews populated the district, then came people from the Azores, followed by Caribbeans, East Asians and Vietnamese. Now the largest ethnic group is Chinese.   Here you’ll find eclectic shops, many have become quite upscale with new cafes and restaurant.  Happily, there are still the friendly cheese, meat, food stores with immense variety. The market borders on College Street in the north, Spadina Ave. on the east, Dundas Street West on the south and Bathurst on the west.

Kensington Market

Kensington Market

9. Then there’s the famed, St. Lawrence Market, which has two buildings, the north market which has a weekly farmer’s market and antique market and the south building with restaurants and shops selling every food from deli, meat, fish,  bakery goods and crafts from around the world.  The busiest day is Saturday morning, when the farmers arrive with their fresh fruit, vegetables. You name it, they have it when it comes to edibles.  Be there early on Saturday for the busy, chatty, food loving regulars.  The south market is open during the week. Located at Front Street East and Jarvis Street.

10. The Distillery Area, up until a few years ago, was a dingy, vacant area where once it was the home of the Gooderham & Worts Company. In the 1800s this area was Canada’s largest alcoholic  distillers.   A few years ago, a few gutsy people got together and made it into one of the most interesting aspects of Toronto.  The pedestrian-only restored brick streets surrounded by Victoria-like buildings is on a 13 acred area, now a unique village. Along with over 70 establishment, there’s  a superb theatre, (The Soul Pepper Theatre), which has outstanding productions by noted and established actors, art galleries, unique cafes and restaurants, a very contemporary home ware shop and smart designer boutiques.  Come the good weather, there’s a variety of terrific outdoor events and live music heard throughout. The location near the water front, is almost at the end of Parliament Street.  Look for Mill Street, Trinity Street, Distillery Lane.

For more information 416 364 1177.

Distillery Area Toronto

Distillery Area Toronto

 

Award winning journalist, Barbara Kingstone, is a Toronto based writer who wouldn’t live anywhere else in North America.  She’s also the publisher/editor of  WWW.INDULGEDTRAVELER.COM.

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