Toronto, Canada’s largest city and North America’s fourth largest metropolis, had more than 27.5 million annual visitors before the pandemic, making it Canada’s top tourist destination, according to Destination Toronto, the city’s tourism marketing arm.
With travel recovering, Canadian tourists dominate, traffic from the United States is just beginning to return, according to agency data, and overseas visitors are still few and far between. Summer is typically high season; this may be the last year you can take advantage of Toronto’s warm weather before the city floods again.
In the province of Ontario, more than 5,100 restaurants have closed during the pandemic, says the national trade organization Restaurants Canada. But the food scene of this omnivorous city has come alive again. In May, Michelin chose Toronto as the first Canadian city to get its own guide.
“The vitality and diversity is still intact,” said Scott Beck, President and CEO of Destination Toronto. “Everything that makes our food scene so unique in North America is still there. Diversity in art and culture still exists.”
And yes, cannabis businesses have mushroomed during the pandemic, but “it’s nothing,” Mr. Beck said. “Cannabis is legal across the country. Toronto is not Amsterdam.”
Food and drink
The busiest restaurants tend to open on the bohemian outskirts of Toronto. But tempting restaurants have now sprung up downtown. “The weekend warriors’ demand for social dining and entertainment is really coming back,” said Hanif Harji, CEO of Scale Hospitality, which operates 14 restaurants. “The streets are buzzing again.”
Open since April, Mr. Harji’s Bar Chica hides behind an unmarked door next to a King Street West apartment building. On a recent Thursday night, the high-ceilinged room pulsed with what seemed like pre-Covid energy. Chef Ted Corrado tweaks traditional tapas with Canadian dishes; think British Columbia shrimp ceviche or Canadian-beef chimichurris with Ontario ramps (tapas range from C$9 to C$24, or about $7 to $18). In August, Mr. Harji will open Miss Likklemore’s, a Caribbean spot in King West Village. In the fall, Scale and Montreal chef Antonio Park will open AP, a gourmet restaurant atop Eataly’s Yorkville base.
Also in Yorkville, chef Rob Rossi’s Ligurian menu at Osteria Giulia attracts well-dressed locals who enjoy traditional flatbreads, salumi and pastas (entrées from CAD$32 to CAD$75). Open since October, it remains the hottest table around. Around the corner, Adrak employs a team of chefs, each specializing in a regional Indian cooking style; the non-traditional menu includes smoked salmon with mustard (entrées from C$29 to C$60).
Toronto offers endless options for all kinds of Asian food. The new hot spot is Cà Phê Rang, opened just south of Chinatown by veteran French staple Le Select Bistro. The seemingly simple menu yields extravagantly flavored surprises like halloumi banh mi, shiitake escabeche spring rolls, and house-made praline-peanut sauce (appetizers from CAD 15 to CAD 20).
On the northern edge of Yorkville, Mimi Chinese heads back to the future in a neon-lit room with red velvet banquettes with bow-tied waiters. The menu spans the provinces of southern China, from Guangdong-inspired raw yellowtail kingfish to Shaanxi charred cabbage. It opened in October and remains a hard ticket (admissions from C$26 to C$88).
Smorgasburg, an open-air food market born in Brooklyn, will debut on Toronto’s waterfront on Queen’s Quay on July 23; runs eight Saturdays and features local vendors. The new Superfresh Night Market in the west side’s Annex neighborhood showcases food and drink vendors “led and owned by Asians” in a 4,000-square-foot “Asia alley-style” hall, according to organizers.
With commercial space rents on the rise, apartment buildings popping up everywhere and space at a premium, nightlife hasn’t caught up to food yet. “We get a lot of restaurants, which is great. The challenge is finding a place to dance,” said Michael Nyarkoh, Community Marketing Manager at the new Ace Hotel Toronto.
Back to the scene
Three years ago, the 127-year-old Massey Hall closed for renovations and reopened in November with red velvet seats, exquisitely restored stained glass windows, full accessibility and a crystalline sound system. His return had a special meaning for this music-mad city. “Massey Hall was built a year after Carnegie Hall, and it’s a Toronto dream for a band to play there,” said Kevin Drew, founder of Toronto’s Broken Social Scene, which played its first show at Massey Hall in April. The $146 million restoration “did an incredible job of keeping the spirits and the warmth,” he said. Canadian music acts from Oscar Peterson to Rush have performed at the venue, whose 2022 slate includes soul legend Mavis Staples and alt-country star Orville Peck.
Toronto’s theater scene, one of the largest on the continent, is coming back to life after the pandemic closed. For the first time since 2019, the Toronto Fringe Festival, which ends on July 17, has brought back live performances. The big Broadway-style houses will feature, for example, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in May; and Singin’ in the Rain (opens September 23). Hamilton returns in February. Tickets range from C$99 to C$260.
On the independent stage, interesting work includes the suburban drama “Detroit” at the Coal Mine Theater in the East End (through Aug. 7); the world premiere of Erin Shields’ Shakespearean prequel “Queen Goneril” at Soulpepper (opens Aug. 25); and the Kafka-inspired “The Cockroach” in Estragon (opens September 13). Tickets at these theaters range from 25 to 60 Canadian dollars.
Art and paintings
After nearly two years of online shows and stop-start openings, the Toronto museum is back with powerful lineups. In June, the Art Gallery of Ontario debuted the large-scale exhibition “Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire” (through October 10), with 200 works spanning four centuries and three continents. A more intimate show by Canadian artists Ken Lum and Ed Pien explores personal history through images and text. A few blocks north, the Royal Ontario Museum is opening the Harry Potter-related “Fantastic Beasts: A Wonder of Nature,” exploring what the museum calls “the intersection of natural history and pop culture” (through Jan. 2, 2023).
A few blocks west, the Bata Shoe Museum is launching “Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks,” featuring high-tech designs like Nike’s self-lacing MAGS and the Zaha Hadid/Rem Koolhaas collaboration (through October 2023). The storied Gardiner Museum, one of the few museums in North America dedicated to ceramics, presents “Sharif Bey: Colonial Ruptures,” featuring African-inspired icons by the Syracuse artist (through Aug. 28). And the four-year-old Museum of Contemporary Art in a converted West End auto factory is offering two knock-out shows: “Land of Dream,” haunting portraits by New York-based Shirin Neshat, and “Summer,” a first-time solo artist. an exhibition by conceptual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who died in 1996 (both through July 31).
New hotels by the handful
It turns out that this year is a symbol of hotel openings. Canada’s first Ace Hotel will open this summer on a quiet cul-de-sac between busy Queen and King streets. Toronto’s Shim-Sutcliffe Architects designed the curved modernist facade, whose floating concrete interior houses Alder, a Mediterranean restaurant from Toronto celebrity chef Patrick Kriss (prices from CAD $349 per night).
With the closing of the massive Hudson’s Bay department store in March, the intersection of Yonge and Bloor streets felt bleak. The mood should be lifted this month by Toronto’s first W Hotel on the Northeast Side. Formerly a hardscrabble Marriott, the 254-room W spruces up its brutalist concrete building with exuberant colors and abundant greenery. On tap: An airy street-level cafe, a 5,000-square-foot tapas and champagne bar, and a huge rooftop lounge apparently inspired by the Marrakech villa of Yves St. Laurent (prices from CAD 475 per night).
Former Starwood chairman Barry Sternlicht’s 1 Hotel brand debuted in Toronto last August on the western edge of the Entertainment District. Promising “sustainable luxury” — and boasting 3,000 plants — the 112-room hotel was the only Canadian contender on the 2022 Condé Nast Traveler list (rates from C$530 per night).
The 19-room Drake Hotel Queen Street West isn’t exactly new—it opened in 1890 and was restored in 2004—but its 32-room modern wing just debuted in the sleek, compact building next door. It’s the kind of property with a full-time art curator, colorful interiors by the innovative DesignAgency, and live music in the basement. Its window restaurant offers great views of the sidewalk (rates from CAD 379 per night).
On the site of the former Pilkington glass factory near the Entertainment District, the Robert De Niro-backed Nobu brand will open its first mixed-use development in 2023, with a hotel, 650 residences and a Nobu restaurant. Toronto architect Stephen Teeple compared his design for the perforated black building to a tuning fork.
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