Exploring Toronto
December 11, 2004 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Going to Toronto next weekend for the first time, for three days and staying at the Canadiana Backpackers Hostel in downtown Toronto. We are three college students - can anyone recommend free/cheap things to do and explore? We'd prefer to avoid touristy spots, have a high interest in walking everywhere, exploring ethnic neighborhoods (where'd the best place for good, authentic dim sum in Toronto?)
posted by jare2003 to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Walk up Spadina, that will take you through Chinatown, where there are many great restaurants.

Other places to explore include: Yorkville, the islands (the ferry is cheap, the islands get really cold in winter so wrap up warmly), Little Italy (College Street west of Bathurst), Danforth east of Broadview (Greek), Kensington Market, the Distillery district, Front Street (lots of old Toronto buildings there), Bloor West Village (Eastern European), Queen Street West (used to be funky, now more upscale in some areas, but still neat), the Beaches (Queen Street East). Have fun!
posted by biscotti at 11:57 AM on December 11, 2004

Ethnic neighbourhoods and dim sum work well together. Explore Chinatown with the centre-point being Spadina and Dundas. Unfortunately I don't have an address, but my favourite dim sum place (which is sadly closed) was on the third floor on the south side of Dundas, 1.5 blocks east of Spadina. However, there's a decent, but not spectacular cart dim-sum place on the 2nd floor of that building. You can search for the 'Champions' sign near the front door.

We have a little India (Gerrard St) but there's not much to do there save for eat and go to a block or two of stores; we have a little Italy (College St W) which also has a bunch of nice clubs for after dinner; we have Greektown (the Danforth) which has good food and decent wandering.

A good place to wander, but quite touristy is Kensington Market, as well as West Queen West (not to be confused with the touristy Queen West - WQW starts at Queen and Bathurst and goes West; QW is Queen from Yonge to Spadina - it's worth wandering anyway.) Also, a nice wander is Bloor St W.

If you are doing either of these, might I suggest looking up project Murmur. It's like a little scavenger hunt with maps, and if you see a sign on a signpost, you call a number and hear a tale of the city from a 'real-life-torontonian!!'. I take all my tourist friends on the Kensington and Bloor tours (those are the only 2, I believe)

Sorry about not actually placing any actual links for you...gotta study for law exams. If you're looking for more details, try me at robbievillagevoice hot mail

On preview: Biscotti has it.

posted by evadery at 12:04 PM on December 11, 2004

Not sure about dim sum, but Pho Hung (the one on Spadina, not so much the one on Bloor) has excellent pho (Vietnamese soup). In addition to what has been mentioned above, you might like to stop by St. Lawrence market.
posted by stonerose at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2004

Chinatown (walk up Spadina from your hostel) is where you want to be. Tons of cheap and good restaurants along Spadina. Kensington Market is a must-see as well. The Danforth has all the good restaurants. Queen West is required viewing, touristy as it may be. If you're looking for a pub, I'd recommend the Duke of Argyle (Entertainment District). Live music, there's usually something going on at Lee's Palace or The Horseshoe or any of the other places (pick up an Eye magazine or Now magazine -- helpful free weeklies). If you're after the college atmosphere, hit the enormous Madison pub, and for partying into the wee hours, everyone should go to the Matador at least once in their lives. The metrosexual lounge-y type places are along College St. in Little Italy. For the ultimate hipster palace, visit the Drake Hotel. Enjoy.
posted by Succa at 12:22 PM on December 11, 2004

Previous post might be of interest.

I just checked the 'Shoe and Lee's listings and there's not much of interest. Skydiggers are at the 'Shoe and they're okay live if you can't find something else that night.

NOW Magazine and EYE.
posted by dobbs at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2004

Rol San, in Chinatown, does these deep fried shrimp cake things that are to die for. Ditto the crispy ginger beef. You can safely ignore everything else on the menu.

I second dobbs' suggestions for Eye and Now-- though I'd probably look more at what Eye recommends. NOW has somewhat forgotten their roots as a starving artist/student/aging hippie kinda rag, and now advertises $650 coats in their style section.

Also, emailme (my username @gmail.com) if you'd like to hang. We're aiming for a MeFiMeetUp on Saturday. WITH BEER.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:41 PM on December 11, 2004

Head north on Spadina until you reach Bloor. West of the intersection is the Annex, where there's a few cheap (some not so cheap) eateries and bars (as well as Lee's Palace mentioned above) and little further west of that is Korea Town.

Have a great time and welcome to TO!
posted by phyrewerx at 12:45 PM on December 11, 2004

Response by poster: Great suggestions! Another question: where is the best place to change my american dollars for canadian dollars? if i pay for things by credit card, do i get charged a transaction fee? (it seems the exchange rate isnt too hot, btw)

Also, does anyone have a favorite laid back dive bar?
posted by jare2003 at 12:47 PM on December 11, 2004

MeFi BoozeMeetUp.

Dive bar? Not so much my thing... Exchange rates are going to be farily similar across the GTA, unless you're talking about insane amounts of money. Transaction fees on your credit cards are likely-- I would check with your card provider.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:55 PM on December 11, 2004

Dive-y hip: The Cameron House.
posted by stonerose at 1:06 PM on December 11, 2004

I got here 7 months ago from the west coast. Here is what I recommend:
  • Bring an umbrella. It's wet.
  • China town is a must. Spadina and Dundas is the heart of it. Taro bubbletea is fantastic
  • Kensington Market is great for ethnic food and hippy stores that smell like patchouli. Courage My Love is a great vintage clothing shop.
  • If you love schlock visit Honest Ed's It's a circus + a dollar store. On the corner of Bloor and Bathurst.
  • The ROM is free on Friday Nights
  • St. Lawerence Market rules. Two floors of vendors. everything is cheap.
  • My favorite Dive bar is Lee's Palace/dance cave, Fairly gothy some nights. always a live band, usually local.

posted by joelf at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2004

Not really a dive bar but the Cameron House is a great place to drink. It's on Queen West just west of Spadina by a block or two at the most.

The El Mocambo and the Silver Dollar (both Spadina and College) may fit your definition of dive bar though I've only been there when music was playing and am not even sure if they're open other times.

The Matador, mentioned above, was pretty divey the last time I was there but that was probably close to a decade ago.

Unfortunately, my fave dive bar (by every definition of the phrase) closed a while back: The Duke of Connaught. $2.25 per shot (which is really cheap for Toronto).

Most of our dive places are not central to where you're going to be and, being what they are, are not really worth a trip, but there are a bunch Queen East (Jarvis - Broadview) :)

Also, not sure if anyone has mentioned the gay district. If you're keen on checking it out, it's Church and Wellesley area. Some great bars there, Slack Alice, Woodys, a great book store (This Ain't the Rosedale Library) and a good video store (7-24 Movies and More) and a martini place I forget the name of but there's a club with the same name in Queer as Folk. It's a tiny place just north of Slack Alice on the opposite side of Church. They're all within 2-3 blocks of each other.

Here's Now's recent "best of toronto" but take it with a grain of salt as there is lots of shit in there. The Critics picks are more reliable than the reader's as the readers are mostly idiots.

Toronto.com, upcoming.org, and torontolife.com may also be of interest.
posted by dobbs at 1:17 PM on December 11, 2004

Oh! Another divey place just came to mind: The Library. It's on Dundas just east of Yonge by a block and a very tiny bit. North side of the street. It's huge, but it's definitely dive. Lotta entertainment in them barfly characters.
posted by dobbs at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2004

If you can get tickets check out the Stars concert on the Friday night at the Mod Club. There are definitely still tickets for the matinee (5:30pm) the next day. One of my fave live acts, for a mere $15CDN.

For dive bars, there's always Bistro 422 near College and Spadina, and Thymeless, at, well, College and Spadina.

Here's a great breakdown of the neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Have fun, I hope the flurries have stopped by then... although the snow is settling on the ground right now!
posted by krunk at 2:03 PM on December 11, 2004

Not much to add, except to second/third/whatever the recommendations for the Cameron House and the Library. Ditto for Chinatown - late night, post-bar meals at Swatow on Spadina are a favorite of mine, but it's not dim sum. I usually go to Bright Pearl (also on Spadina) for that.

I think the martini bar on Church mentioned by dobbs is Babylon. A staggering menu of drinks and a great place to get a feel for the culture of the village.

One more divey bar to add the list: the Pilot, up at Yonge and Bloor. Not really super-divey, but it's an actual bar with history and personality, as opposed to the kit-pubs that litter the city.

Finally, two more links of interest for the bar-crawling types: Martiniboys, and The Bar Towel.
posted by flipper at 2:29 PM on December 11, 2004

Yeah, Babylon is what I meant. I usually get martinis at Insomnia (Bloor and Bathurst--good brunch, also) but Babylon does indeed have them beat. As does Cobalt (College east of... Bathurst I think), though their hours are shite and I'm not sure they're still around.

Also, looks like the Serial Diners will be in your 'hood on the Friday night. Might be a worthwhile exeperience.
posted by dobbs at 3:03 PM on December 11, 2004

If you want real divey - I might suggest Duffy's at the corner of Bloor and Landsdowne. I went there one night, and they had some real crack-heads singing karoke. Later, someone was throwing pool balls at karoke-dj's car.

My favorite dive spots are at bathurst and college. The Bistro 422 (422 college st) is really cheap, really small, and usually plays some pretty good music. Alternatively, across the street is Sneaky Dee's, which has good cheap draught and really good tex-mex food (try the nachos, awesome) and they have half price fajitas on tuesdays (also awesome).
posted by helvetica at 3:22 PM on December 11, 2004

For self conscious hipsters in a bohemian setting, try the Green Room at Bathurst and Bloor. Note that it's a bit hard to find, so I suggest looking it up online before setting out.

For spaced out stoners in a crack alley setting, try the Comfort Zone at Spadina and College.

Both are essential to the Toronto experience.

I also reccomend Anh Dao at Spadina and College for excellent Vietnamese food in a restaurant that looks like it should be shut down for multiple health code violations, and Kom Jog in at the same intersection for Chinese.

Sneaky Dee's is overrated (imo).
posted by sid at 5:23 PM on December 11, 2004

I posted this back in Aug. Nice look at Toronto's neighborhoods.
posted by arse_hat at 9:57 PM on December 11, 2004

Sneaky Dee's is overrated (imo).

You can say that again... Ugh!

If you are visiting on the cheap and you don't want the price of sit-down dining all the time, check out the food court in Village by the Grange. Across the street from the cool new OCAD building. There is also Massimo's Pizza - Mmmmm!!!

As everyone says Chinatown and Kensington are definitely worth some time. They are also right beside each other, which is convenient (sorry about the crappy map, but it makes the point at least). The University of Toronto is very nearby as well, so you might be able to check out all three in one trip. Lee Garden is probably the best downtown Chinese restaurant, not expensive, but expect a line.

The real Toronto-Hong Kong fusion experience is not in Chinatown at all. It is way way north and east (in Markham), amazing, but not worth it for a short trip.

And if you are interested in a college pub I think Einstein's (229 College) beats the Madison by a mile. The Madison is all about Yuppies nowadays, and prices to match (sorry Succa).
posted by Chuckles at 4:01 AM on December 12, 2004

also allow me to point out eye.net, the website for the free eye magazine which IMO is the best free city rag i've seen.
posted by ori at 9:37 PM on December 12, 2004

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