The Annex is a special spot for many non-native Torontonians: the Toronto hub that sits right at the top of the Golden Horseshoe is home to thousands of students from the University of Toronto and Ryerson, and for many, it is the first place where one becomes acquainted with the eclectic vibrancy of the city. Walking through the Annex is a bit of a jarring experience; like something out of a Dickens or a Hugo novel. Where else in the city can successful multimillionaires (Rachel McAdams and Galen Weston both own historic homes in the area) coexist with near-broke students who regularly check under the couch cushions for laundry quarters? Somehow, the bourgeois makes friends with the bohemian, which gives this area a unique charm that feels elevated, quaint, and aspirational, while also being kind on the wallet.
There are a slew of patios and open concept restaurants throughout the Annex – many of which are open year round. All of them possess a quirky charm – which makes it really difficult to decide which patio takes the crown above all. However, the best rooftop patio in the city definitely belongs to Pauper’s Pub. If you’re willing to do the five staircase cardio workout all the way up to the top of the building, you’re in for a real treat. Not only are the staff welcoming and accommodating, but the view of Toronto from so high up, and with little traffic – will leave you speechless. As well, heat-lamps in the winter are a godsend.
If you can get a seat at the Toronto famous Insomnia Restaurant & Lounge, you are ready to have your mind blown at how humble eggs and bacon can be a life-changing experience.
While The Brunswick House is usually the destination for many frat boys and sorority girls to get wasted for the first time, the dilapidated charm can wear off really fast. Take your party up a step, literally, at the Dance Cave, located just above the iconic Lee’s Palace. It may look a little seedy from the outside, but inside is a vibrant atmosphere, serviced by a staff of hip misfits that truly love what they do. If the cheap drinks and practically non-existent cover charge is not enough to get you through the door, I would highly recommend going for the themes nights: especially 90’s nights on Fridays. There truly seems to be something for everyone at Dance Cave: I have seen celebrity dental surgeons party with liberal arts majors. Optometrists with organic soap-makers. Who knows? You might just end up making out with your future husband to your favorite Gin Blossoms song.
I am utterly heartbroken that Honest Ed’s will be disappearing on December 31st, 2016. How else am I going to find my way home without those garish lights illuminating the city? While it is still here, I am going to revel in buying discount Bounce sheets, Sharpie pens, a crew neck sweater, a stuffed cat, pajamas, a faucet spigot, a tea kettle, blank VHS tapes, and all of the ramen noodles that I can possibly carry at the same place, likely for under ten dollars for the lot. Fun fact: the best eyeliner I have ever used came from the 99 cent bin at Honest Ed’s.
Best Under $20 Fun:
The Bata Shoe Museum, located right at the corner of Bloor Street West is a bit of a gem that you may not have had the time to explore quite yet. The Royal Ontario Museum, while a stunning piece of iconoclastic architecture and prime tourist attraction, is usually out of many Annexers limited budget. Why not go see a Victorian actresses’ pair of clogs, or Shaquille O’Neil’s basketball shoe, or Justin Bieber’s house slippers? Podophobics may have trouble wrapping their heads around this one, but at least you’ll have plenty to talk about at your dinner party that night.
Once you’ve finished Instagramming your beautiful sangria at Future Bistro, it is time to take a stroll and enjoy the foliage during this balmy September weather. But where do you go? The trouble with the Annex is that despite all of the patios, it is difficult to find a place that is actually outdoors. If you have a token at hand though, I highly recommend taking the two stop trip from Spadina station over to Christie, and leisurely stroll through the beautiful, newly cleaned up Christie Pits Park.
Mirvish Village is like never-never land: there are fairy lights to guide you there, everyone seems to march to the beat of their own drum, and the streets are pedestrian friendly. The houses in the area look like they may have been constructed by Tim Burton – asymmetrical windows for the heck of it, crumbling bricks, climbing vines, so many black cats. Where do you go for respite from the aggressive whimsy? Ah, yes, shopping. Mirvish Village has plenty to offer in the way of shopping – whether it’s old movies, ancient comic books, or a sweet pair of mom jeans. A place that I always have amazing luck at is Coal Miner’s Daughter in the Annex, which specializes in independent Canadian clothing and jewellery designers. You will have all of your friends wondering how the heck you managed to look so stylish.
Best Live Venue:
The Lab is a hidden live music / stand-up comedy gem in Toronto. It literally feels like a hole in the wall, since you have to wander behind Future Bistro, through the Mirvish alleyway to find it. But once you do, you can expect to find a cheap pint, reasonably priced food, and a population of students seeking a night of fun. Whether the headlining bill is a jazz flautist or a three person improve comedy troupe, the Lab is a fun place to kick back and let the weirdness envelop you.