Canada’s largest city and the fourth-largest metropolis in North America, Toronto welcomed more than 27.5 million visitors a year before the pandemic, making it Canada’s top tourist destination, according to Destination Toronto, the city’s tourism marketing arm.
As travel resumes, Canadian tourists predominate, with traffic from the United States just beginning to return and foreign visitors still scarce, according to agency data. Summer is generally high season; this may be the last year to enjoy Toronto in warm weather before the city is overwhelmed again.
More than 5,100 restaurants have closed across the province of Ontario during the pandemic, according to Restaurants Canada, a national trade organization. But the food scene in this omnivorous city has come back to life. In May, Michelin chose Toronto as the first Canadian city to have its own guide.
“The dynamism and diversity are still intact”, said Scott Beck, President and CEO of Destination Toronto. “Everything that makes our culinary scene so unique in North America is still there. The diversity of arts and culture is still there.
And yes, cannabis stores have mushroomed during the pandemic, but “they’re a non-event,” Beck said. “Cannabis is legal across the country. Toronto is not Amsterdam.
Eat and drink
The liveliest restaurants usually open on the bohemian outskirts of Toronto. But attractive restaurants have now sprouted up in the city center. “Weekend warrior demand for social dining and entertainment is coming back in a real way,” said Hanif Harji, general manager of Scale Hospitality, which operates 14 restaurants. “There is buzz in the streets again.”
Mr. Harji’s Bar Chica, open since April, hides behind an unmarked door next to a condo tower on King Street West. On a recent Thursday evening, the high-ceilinged room vibrated with what felt like pre-Covid energy. Chef Ted Corrado refines traditional tapas with Canadian sourcing; think BC spot prawn ceviche or Canadian beef chimichurris with Ontario ramps (tapas range from C$9-24, or about $7-18). In August, Mr. Harji will open Miss Likklemore’s, a Caribbean restaurant in King West Village. In the fall, Scale and Montreal chef Antonio Park will open AP, a fine-dining restaurant atop the Eataly outpost in Yorkville.
Also in Yorkville, chef Rob Rossi’s Ligurian menu at Osteria Giulia attracts well-dressed locals who feast on traditional flatbreads, charcuterie and pastas (dishes from C$32-75). Open since October, it remains the hottest table in the neighborhood. Around the corner, Adrak employs a team of chefs who each specialize in a style of regional Indian cuisine; the unconventional menu includes smoked salmon with pommery mustard (starters C$29-60).
Toronto offers endless options for all kinds of Asian dishes. A new hot spot being talked about is Cà Phê Rang, opened south of Chinatown by veterans of French stalwart Le Select Bistro. A deceptively simple menu offers extravagant, seasoned surprises like halloumi banh mi, escabeche shiitake spring rolls, and homemade praline-peanut dip (starters C$15-20).
At the north end of Yorkville, Mimi Chinese goes back to the future in a neon-lit room of red velvet banquettes occupied by waiters in bow ties. The menu spans China’s southern provinces, from raw Guangdong-inspired king mackerel to charred cabbage in Shaanxi. It opened in October, and remains a difficult ticket (entries from 26 to 88 Canadian dollars).
Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn-born outdoor food market, will launch its first international edition on Toronto’s waterfront, Queen’s Quay, on July 23; it runs for eight Saturdays, featuring local vendors. In the West Side’s Annex district, the new Superfresh night market features “Asian-run and owned” food and drink vendors in a 4,000-square-foot venue “in the style of an Asian alleyway,” according to organizers.
With skyrocketing commercial rents, condos sprouting up everywhere, and precious space, nightlife has yet to catch up with the restaurant business. “We get a lot of restaurants, which is great. The challenge is finding a place to dance,” said Michael Nyarkoh, Community Marketing Manager for the new Ace Hotel Toronto.
Back on stage
Closed for renovation three years ago, the 127-year-old Massey Hall reopened in November with red velvet seating, beautifully restored stained glass windows, full accessibility and a crystal-clear sound system. His return had a special meaning for this music-crazed city. “Massey Hall was built a year after Carnegie Hall, and Torontonians dream of a band playing there,” said Kevin Drew, founder of Toronto band Broken Social Scene, who performed their first concert at the Massey. Hall in April. The $146 million restoration “did an incredible job of keeping the ghosts and the heat alive,” he said. Canadian music royalty from Oscar Peterson to Rush have performed in the venue, whose packed 2022 roster 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 shutdowns. For the first time since 2019, the Toronto Fringe Festival, which ends July 17, has brought back live performances. In the big Broadway-style houses, splashy openings include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in May; Jesus Christ Superstar (opening August 10) and Singin’ in the Rain (September 23). In February, Hamilton returns. Tickets range from approximately 99 to 260 Canadian dollars.
On independent stages, intriguing work includes the suburban drama “Detroit” at the eastside Coal Mine Theater (through August 7); the world premiere of Shakespeare’s prequel “Queen Goneril” by Erin Shields at Soulpepper (opening August 25); and the Kafka-inspired “Cafard” in Tarragon (opening September 13). Tickets at these theaters range from 25 to 60 Canadian dollars.
Arts and pictures
After nearly two years of online exhibits and discontinued openings, Toronto museums are back with mighty lineups. In June, the Art Gallery of Ontario opened the extensive exhibition “Faith and Fortune: Art through the Global Spanish Empire” (through October 10), featuring 200 works spanning four centuries and three continents. More intimate performances by Canadian artists Ken Lum and Ed Pien explore personal stories through images and text. A few blocks north, the Royal Ontario Museum opens the Harry Potter-related “Fantastic Beasts: Wonders of Nature,” exploring what the museum calls “the intersection of natural history and of pop culture” (until January 2, 2023).
A few blocks west, the Bata Shoe Museum launches “Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks,” showcasing high-tech designs like Nike’s self-lacing MAGS and a Zaha Hadid/Rem Koolhaas collaboration (until October 2023). The fabulous Gardiner Museum, one of North America’s only museums dedicated to ceramics, presents “Sharif Bey: Colonial Ruptures,” featuring African-inspired icons by the Syracuse-based artist (until August 28 ). And the four-year-old Museum of Contemporary Art in a converted West End car factory offers two jaw-dropping shows: “Land of Dream,” haunting portraits of New York-based Shirin Neshat, and “Summer “, the first solo exhibition of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, co-founder of the seminal queer collective, General Idea, who died in 1996 (both until July 31).
New hotels in spades
This is proving to be a banner year for hotel openings. The first Ace hotel in Canada will open this summer on a quiet cul-de-sac between bustling Queen and King streets. Toronto-based architects Shim-Sutcliffe designed a curvy modernist facade whose soaring concrete interiors house Alder, a Mediterranean-influenced restaurant by famed Toronto chef Patrick Kriss (rates from C$349 a night).
With a huge Hudson’s Bay department store closing in March, the intersection of Yonge and Bloor streets felt dark. The mood should pick up this month with Toronto’s first W hotel on the northeast side. Formerly an austere Marriott, the 254-room W polishes its brutalist concrete building with vibrant colors and abundant greenery. On tap: a spacious street-level cafe, a 5,000-square-foot tapas and champagne bar, and a massive rooftop lounge seemingly inspired by Yves St. Laurent’s Marrakech villa (rates from $475 Canadians at night).
The 1 Hotel brand, owned by former Starwood chairman Barry Sternlicht, made its Toronto debut last August on the west end of the entertainment district. Promising “sustainable luxury” – and featuring 3,000 plants – the 112-room hotel was the only Canadian contender on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2022 Hot List (rates from C$530 a night).
The 19-room Drake Hotel on Queen Street West isn’t exactly new — it opened in 1890 and was refreshed in 2004 — but its modern 42-room wing has just made its debut in a sleek, modern building. compact next to it. It’s the kind of property with a full-time art curator, color-saturated interiors by the innovative design agency, and live music in the basement. Its glass-enclosed restaurant offers a beautiful view of the sidewalk (rates start at 379 Canadian dollars per night).
On the site of the former Pilkington Glass Factory near the entertainment district, the Nobu brand, backed by Robert De Niro, will open its first mixed-use development in 2023, with a hotel, 650 residences and a Nobu restaurant. Toronto architect Stephen Teeple likened his perforated black building design to a tuning fork.