Novellahoods: The Annex

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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.

Best Patio:

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.

Best Brunch:

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.

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Best Party:

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.

Best Deals:

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.

bata shoe museum

Best Outdoors:

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.

Best Shop:

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.

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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.

Novellahoods: The Junction

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There is something nostalgic about the Junction. The collective quietness, the eclectic heritage buildings, and the way the new pays homage to the old keeps this sect of Toronto in the forefront of our eyes; as we watch the downtown fill up with soaring concrete and glass houses, the Junction manages to keep its authenticity in our ever-changing city. That is not to say, however, that the Junction has not been and is not going through gentrification; on the contrary, with DuKe’s latest building project coming up just east of Dundas Street West and Keele, the area is going through some major changes. But through DuKe’s mandate of strengthening neighbourhoods, the project is set to add a modern flair to the Junction, while preserving the neighbourhood’s identity. Whether it is keeping the old structures in tact, promoting the local chefs and coffee makers, or maintaining the green space within the Junction, the neighbourhood knows who it is.

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Food

I stumbled upon Indie Ale House by accident.  After a long day of odd events, I cycled to the Junction to meet a friend I rarely see and we ended up at the Indie, a favourite spot of hers. And boy, was I not disappointed. The Indie Ale House Breakfast Porter touched my lips and changed my life, for since then, every Porter I have tried, I have compared to that beauty. Something I love about this place is that they concoct their own Ales in house, and whether it is their flagship beers like my beloved Porter and the Broken Hipster, Rare Releases and One Hit Wonders, or their collaboration beers, this is the spot for beer lovers. Couple that with their artistry with food, and their attention to flavour and quality, the Indie has been and will remain my main squeeze for food in the Junction.

Coffee

Situated in the heart of the Junction, Kaffebar is a place for coffee purveyors from all walks. The cozy shop is the perfect meeting ground for like-minded caffeine lovers to discuss music and movies, lit and life. Whether you opt for a pastry, a double shot slushie, or a classic cappuccino, know that your drink will be made with the utmost care.

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Shop

The one stop shop for fashion as well as furtniture is Door Number Two Vintage, an amazing two level museum vintage haven. Whether you are searching for a teak and glass corner cabinet for your records, a tweed love seat for your cottage, or a rabbit fur jacket, Door Number Two will have what you are searching for. My favourite part? The wildly unique assortment of light fixture, lamps, and shades that line the walls of the store.

Bar

You know that hole in the wall bar that every neighbourhood has, the one where you can head over to and it’s like everything is ok? Well, The Hole In The Wall took its job very seriously, and aptly named itself so. THITW has all the makings of a hole in the wall, from their support of craft beers, to their from scratch menu, to their support of local artists and musicians; this is the place that you can walk in and feel like you just entered your own home.

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Outdoors

A massive part of the Junction and its identity is the West Toronto Railpath, a car-free path that leads residents across the Junction and up to the top of Roncesvalles and Parkdale. Running from Cariboo Avenue to Dundas Street West, the path will ultimately re-connect Roncesvalles, Parkdale, Liberty, Trinity-Niagara, and Bellwoods to the Junction. The aim of the railpath is to give the people of West Toronto greater accessibility to each other. Whether you are cycling, roller-blading, running, or walking, the railpath maintains the old greenspace of the Junction while pushing boundaries for the urban dweller’s commute.

Novellahoods: A tour of the Upper Beaches

After over three years of living in Toronto, I feel like I’m pretty savvy when it comes to getting around the heart of the city. But being a west-ender, I’ve never really had many opportunities to cross over to the far-eastern side of Toronto. This whole time, the DVP has seemed to me like the Great Wall of China. What the hell is on the other side? I imagined tumbleweeds. Or maybe factories, or subdivisions for as far as they eye could see. It was all very mysterious.

But last night I finally got the chance to explore the Great Unknown that lies beyond the Don Valley: the neighbourbood of the Upper Beaches. ~TRUMPET SOUNDS~

Streetcar Developments hosted the tour — they’re the guys who build snazzy living spaces all over the city, condominiums that promote a tight-knit community amongst residents and within their neighbourhoods. It’s a really nice company who does really nice work, and their most recent project, The Southwood, is going to continue that track record right in the heart of the Upper Beaches.

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Our tour began at the sales office for The Southwood, where some bubbly was poured and we were introduced to the concept for the condominium, which will be ready for occupancy in spring 2017. Chatting with one of the Streetcar reps, I found out that they’re building on the Upper Beaches turf because the neighbourhood is gaining a lot of momentum — especially amongst the city’s young professionals.

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RoFo? Is that u?

After downing my champagne and deciding to start saving up for one of The Southwood’s south-facing one-bedrooms (SO. PRETTY.), our tour led us out of the sales office and we headed east down Kingston Road, the main street where all the magic happens.

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Yellow House was our next stop, a charming little gallery-slash-framing studio owned and operated by an OCAD grad. Within seconds of talking to her I realized there’s a huge artistic presence in this pocket of the city, and gazing at the walls of her gallery I took in some pretty incredible work. I made a mental note to take my next artistic excursion out this way.

Up next was The Art of Cheese. This place really gave me a feel of how tight-knit the Upper Beaches community is. The owner, Bill Miller (a.k.a. “The Grand Fromage”) is a retiree who opened this tiny shop as his passion project, and he could talk for literally hours about the magic of cheese. After feeding us some beautiful San De Oro cheese and local red wine (I nearly died of happiness in this moment) he divulged all the secrets of his craft. Like, the mind-blowing fact that cheese is supposed to be eaten at room temperature — if it’s too cold, you’re only tasting 40% of its flavour. (WHAAAAT.)

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The Grand Fromage in his element

After being charmed by Bill and his cheese (and his fromage-shaped foam hat), we headed to our next stop: Collected Joy. This beautiful odds-and-ends boutique is owned by Sharon Smyl, a former marketing director who worked with Minto Group and Starbucks. She lives right around the corner from the shop, and most of the brands she carries are local.

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I adored Collected Joy. Sharon kept describing things as “exquisite” and I was just in awe of her style. Maybe I’ll get her to design my new condo at The Southwood. One day…

Second-last stop was at The Stone Pizza, where my fellow media people and I had an impromptu pizza photo shoot. The pies were, as Sharon would say, exquisite. Who would have thought to put apple slices on a pizza? And who would have thought it would taste SO GOOD?

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Finally, we found ourselves at The Beech Tree restaurant and bar. This cosy, beautifully decorated spot is like the “Cheers” of the Upper Beach. The owner, like a lot of the shop owners in the area, used to work at a desk crunching numbers all day and abandoned that job to pursue his passion. The Beech Tree blew me away — literally everything is made in-house. Not one ingredient enters the store in a bottle or package. The mayonnaise, the syrups, everything is handcrafted from scratch in their little kitchen. Swoon. Oh, and the gnocchi can attest to the quality. I was almost reduced to tears while eating this. In a very good way.

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(I couldn’t get a good photo of the gnocchi because it was dim and my photography skills are not on point)

On the walk to our ride home, we were pleasantly surprised by one final Upper Beaches experience. Farmacia Juice Bar‘s tiny cooler-on-wheels rolled up to the sidewalk and served up some scrumptious house-made juices, smoothies and freezies. As if I hadn’t fallen in love with the neighbourhood already, the owner told us that a few weeks prior, when their cart was stolen, the community banded together to find it and bring it back. It’s like the whole Upper Beaches ‘hood is #squadgoals.

So, my dear west-of-the-DVP-ers, here is my advice to you: if you’re getting bored of downtown and want to make a little escape from the city without going too far, go to the Upper Beaches. It’s not as swanky-snotty as the — er, Lower Beaches? — but it’s equally as beautiful and full of boutiques that will steal your heart. I’d live here. And maybe one day I will. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a charming small town that’s hidden in a huge city?

Novellahoods: Amanda’s Guide to Dundas and Ossington

This Novellahood is my hood. Ossington is a strip of pure hipster madness, which has its ups and downs (the pretentiousness is real, but so are interesting bar concepts and cool boutiques), but if there’s one thing you can count on here, it’s that you’ll never experience a dull moment in this corner of the city. Spend a day, spend a night, and have a blasty-blast with the help of my personal guide to Dundas and Ossington!

CAFFEINATE: Sam James Coffee Bar

As a connoisseur of mochas, I can attest that Sam James’ mocha is the absolute best in the whole wide city. The recipe (which I won’t disclose here) is so simple, but so genius. TRY IT. Hot or iced. Of course, everything else they make here is perfect, too, from the lattes to the conversation.

Sam James' iced mocha — image via @samjamescoffeebar on Instagram
Sam James’ iced mocha — image via @samjamescoffeebar on Instagram

EAT: The Lakeview

This diner has been here for so long I’m pretty sure it qualifies as a historic site. I love this place because it has that classic diner feel without being too gritty, the food is good and nicely priced, and they have MAD drink specials ($4 mimosas, all day, every day!). They’re also open 24 hours, so feel free to come here for a burger in the middle of a drunken night.

PLAY: Get Well

If any of my friends ever have a birthday, it is celebrated here. Why? Because Get Well is not only a bar, but it’s also an arcade and has an in-house North of Brooklyn Pizzeria. Most of the vintage arcade games are free to play, so you can challenge yourself to a game of Dig Dug with a drink in one hand and a slice of pepperoni pizza in the other.

Photo via whyilovetoronto.tumblr.com
Get Well — image via whyilovetoronto.tumblr.com

SHOP: Red Canoe

Being inside this Canadiana shop feels like chanting Oh Canada and drinking maple syrup while riding a moose that’s wearing a Mountie uniform. Check it out if you want to bring home some cool, all-Canadian stuff.

WATCH: Lower Ossington Theatre

‘Tis the season for play-watching, and this theatre has all your nostalgia planned out for the summer: buy your tickets to Rocket Man: The Music of Elton John, Always Abba, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Mary Poppins and other gems.

SHOP: Victoire Boutique

The shop window displays are always so cute, it’s nearly impossible not to step inside this tiny shop. They sell the perfect blend of girly-girl and hip, and the clothes never lack in both imagination and sophistication. Find your next wedding season dress here, or a punchy statement piece for your summer festival-going.

Victoire Boutique — image via victoireboutique.com
Victoire Boutique — image via victoireboutique.com

DRINK: Bellwoods Brewery

This is a Dundas and Ossington go-to. Even if you’re not a fan of beer, Bellwoods Brewery is always a good time. I personally love this place because on holidays, when the LCBO and Wine Rack are closed, Bellwoods is usually open, and my drinking plans are saved.

 

 

NOVELLAHOODS: Matthew’s Guide To Affordable Eats In Yorkville

Japanese Pancake Yorkville

There is no doubt that Yorkville is home to some very expensive restaurants in the city. Whether it’s Cafe Boulud at the Four seasons hotel, or The One at the Hazelton, there are more than your fair share of white table cloth dining options in the Yorkville area. Having the high end dining experience is great, if you can afford the champagne and caviar, but what about the times you’re looking for something a little more casual and affordable? Believe it or not, it is actually possible to eat in the Yorkville area without a look of regret after receiving your bill. Here are five affordable dining options in the Yorkville.

Okonomi House

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Photo Credit: BlogTO

Okonomi House is a hidden gem in the city, which has been open for over thirty five years. The affordable Japanese restaurant focuses on authentic Okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes that can be customized with beef, bacon and seafood options. The pancakes start at around 6.50 and, for an extra cost, you can keep it authentic by adding Bonito flakes (dried tuna flakes, that move, when placed on hot food)

Location: 23 Charles Street W  M4Y 2R4

Xtreme Taste

Xtreme Taste Yorkville
Photo Credit: BlogTO

If you’re looking for a quick, affordable bite but want to opt for something that is still healthy, and tasty, look no further than Xtreme Taste. The family run business opened in 2010, and is known for their homemade Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. Most people that go to Xtreme Taste come for their famous platters, where you get one protein (salmon, chicken, or beef) and a choice of two side salads for 5.00. The restaurant also specializes in lebanese chicken and beef Shawarma, and falafels, which are all made in house.

Location: 6 Cumberland St. M4W 1J5

Summer’s Ice Cream

Summer's Ice Cream
Photo Credit: BlogTO

During the summer months you often see people stroll around Yorkville, enjoying the warm weather, shopping, doing a lot of people watching, and often with an ice cream in their hand. That ice cream is most likely coming from the Yorkville Gem, Summers. The ice cream store in the heart of Yorkville is a staple and must have, if you’re in the area during the summer. There are often long lines at the ice cream parlor but for a good reason. Summer’s has been  making all of their ice cream, sorbets, frozen yogurts, and waffles cones in house, for the past 30 years.

Location: 101 Yorkville Avenue. M5R 1C1

Crêpes à GoGo

Crepe A Go Go Yorkville
Photo Credit: BlogTO

If you’re looking for a taste of Paris, without having to fly overseas, Crêpes à GoGo should be your go-to spot whenever you’re in Yorkville. The small cafe takes you out of Toronto and into a small cafe in paris with their french decor and  traditional French Crêpes. The Crêpes are offered in savoury options such as smoked salmon, brie cheese, ham, mushrooms, but also  sweet options include, dark chocolate, strawberries, bananas and nutella.

Location: 18 Yorkville Avenue M4W 3Y8

Dimmi Bar & Trattoria

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Photo Credit: BlogTO

In the mood for something that is not as casual – a grab and go spot – but don’t want something that puts a major dent in the bank account? Dimmi Bar & Trattoria is an ideal landing spot, if you’re look for quality Italian comfort food all for a fair price. The restaurant has all the offerings of your traditional Trattoria, with homemade antipasto, pizza and pasta.

Location: 140 Cumberland St. M5R 1A8