Much more than just Canada's most populous city, Toronto bustles with international and culturally affluent inhabitants, alongside plenty of surprises. We once explored its soul food scene, but that's just one aspect of the city's stellar dining options. There are outdoor parks and pockets of world-class street art, and no shortage of great shopping, both vintage and high-end. Situated on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and easily navigable, Toronto is a quick flight from most North American airports, making it perfect for a weekend trip, but containing more than enough for a far longer stay.
While the concept is simple—sausages and beer—the execution is superb, and that's all thanks to a carefully selected menu of items you can't find elsewhere. Located in the Entertainment District, WVRST (pronounced "verst") offers delectable game sausages showcasing venison, boar and elk, among more traditional bratwurst. Fries come with clever dipping sauces and best of all, the beer list is without equal, including many hard-to-find and local brews on tap. For such an unpretentious spot, the food is not only well thought-out, it's delicious. And the staff is beyond knowledgable about what they're offering.
Officially known as Rush Lane, Toronto's back alley of street art sprung from the States' graffiti movement many years ago. Graffiti Alley is definitely worth a stroll, and for deeper understanding of the artists that lent their work to the ever-changing locale, a specially tailored graffiti tour provides insight and history. The murals are nothing short of spectacular, the colors eye-popping. With respect always up for grabs, the street will change each time you visit.
The Drake Hotel
While we would happily recommend The Drake Hotel for its swank accommodations, it's also worth stopping by for the cocktails and culture. The venue often houses art exhibitions and live music, as well as a slew of special events. You can eat in the Lounge, or hit up the all-seasons Sky Yard. The lobster nachos are a tasty favorite, but there's plenty more to get excited about. This year happens to be The Drake's 10th anniversary, so the upcoming few months will see many surprise celebrations and special events.
St. Lawrence Market
One of the oldest structures in Toronto, St. Lawrence Market is as delicious today as it was during its inception. This food fair houses the Carousel Bakery, which stakes claim to Toronto's most famous fare: the peameal bacon sandwich. Served simply on a kaiser roll with mustard, the sandwich was invented by William Davies at St. Lawrence Market in the 1800s. It is flat-out delish and worth braving any line. The market also features one of North America's best farmer's markets, which is open every weekend. Even during the winter months, you're guaranteed to cross the best produce, dairy and meat.
The Distillery Historic District
Comprising 47 Victorian-era industrial buildings, The Distillery Historic District invokes the history of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery while providing a new center for cafes, shopping and creativity. The establishment blends the new and old with charming ease, featuring large-form public modern art alongside the restored original architecture. Galleries fall between tea shops and beer halls, and with outdoor seating at establishments like Balzac's Roasters, it's well worth wandering around.
Evergreen Brick Works
A year-round facility and gateway to incredible hiking grounds, Evergreen Brick Works was developed from a series of deteriorating buildings. The location houses a community environmental center, with a focus on living more sustainably. At the root, Evergreen is a charity centered around urban living. Visitors can experience The Kilns, a 52,000-square-foot area housing three long tunnel kilns and six single-track drying tunnels, both historic and overwhelming. Or, take any of the surrounding trails to experience the woods. It's urban sustainability at the cross section of culture, design and of course, nature.
B.A.T.L Axe Throwing
Come on, how often do you get the opportunity to throw an axe? With The Backyard Axe Throwing League (B.A.T.L. Grounds), you can do so—and safely!—in the company of pros and novices alike. The new 7,000-plus-square-foot location provides plenty of space either to watch league play or sling some steel yourself. The league originally began in founder Matt Wilson's backyard in 2006. It's expanded a great deal since, and still retains its title as the world’s only axe-throwing league. Competitive play goes on all week, which you're welcome to watch. As for throwing, you can sign up for a three-hour lesson or rent out an area for a private, guided party.
Drake Hotel image courtesy of Spiro Georges Mandylor, all other photos by David Graver