Before he takes off for an extended siesta, our intrepid columnist imparts some valuable advice he’s gleaned from the past two years on the local nightlife beat.
A lot of people come to Toronto in search of something and, for a long time, I saw the city as a hub of nothing. It’s inadvertently easy to be flippant about what we’ve created and fostered in the 416, or how “lucky” we are to have so much and be so “world-class,” as if everything here is banal, and everyone’s wishing it was New York, but nothing exciting ever happens. (See: #CrackGate, or the #MMVAs, or #PrideTO. See, you can be surprised.)
I was born and raised in Toronto—not in the suburbs, but Toronto proper. It’s my home, it’s my heart, it’s my life, and it’s the keeper of my most significant successes and marvellous failures. I rode on one of the first subway trips to the new Downsview and Bayview stations. I remember the birth of a Megacity. I once hitchhiked from Yonge and Bloor to Finch during the Great Blackout of 2003. My first job was hustling pizza at the CNE and I also worked at Canada’s Wonderland. Those were pretty big deals once upon a time. In a January 2012 column, I half-heartedly wrote, “I know Toronto is wonderful, but I do often wonder if it’s not yet great, or if it will ever be able to ‘ascend.’ That, you see, is inevitably our responsibility.” Oh, I was so wrong. Toronto is the jam.
After over a hundred columns spanning just under two years, I’ve been so lucky to witness the city at its finest, at its quirkiest, at its darkest. My favourite Joni Mitchell song, “The Three Great Stimulants,” goes something like this: Oh and deep in the night, our appetites find us, release us and bind us, deep in the night. And I like to think that lyric could serve as a tattered, resilient emblem for Toronto, as we’ve come alive, not just in the night, but also politically, socially, and, hell, even spiritually.
Sure, the night and its deceptive shadows can appear full of artifice and reek like bottom-shelf tequila, but, while the dark usually serves as a setting for endings, in many ways it brought me back to life. As much as y’all like to pontificate and complain and so on, a lot of these kids that have appeared here are doing what they do for you, for Toronto. They know who they are, and I thank them; to those I never got to, we’ll find each other one day. So, in this indefinite finale to The Night Shift, I have complied this list of 25 Toronto survival tips—one for each year I’ve lived here—submitted by natives and foreigners, past and present, who will remain anonymous. If there’s one thing I wish to leave you with, it’s, well, at the end of this list.
1. Accept every invitation possible, especially if you’re new to Toronto. You never know who you might meet, or what you might find. (Unless it’s in Vaughan. Kidding. Not really.)
2. Tuesday-night karaoke at Neutral in Kensington Market is really something, no matter how sketchy your friends think the basement bar is. Saturday nights at Monarch Tavern on Clinton is a close second.
3. Pharmacy Bar on King West in Parkdale is really the best place for a first date during the week. Or Julie’s Cuban on Dovercourt.
4. House parties are to nightlife as blood is to the heart.
5. If it’s on Queen West, you can commit. If it’s on King West, you must acquit.
6. Raves are always a good idea. They remind us how human and connected we are. And glow sticks are never a bad idea.
7. Concerts at Yonge-Dundas Square or Sound Academy are hardly ever really worth seeing.
8. Movies at Rainbow Cinemas Market Square are always worth seeing, especially on afternoons or Wednesday late nights. That’s “real” Toronto.
9. The TTC is never your friend when you need it to be. Once you resign yourself to that simple, infallible truth, your relationship will be much better for it.
10. On that note, don’t live north of Bloor unless you’re five minutes from a bus or a streetcar. (See: winter.) But the Vomit Comet will always take you home.
11. Make enough money so you don’t have to take the streetcar.
12. If not, be smart—and brave—enough to ride a bike. And follow those rules of the road. And fight for the preservation of this culture that has barely begun to bloom in this city. The most significant, challenging relationship is the one you have with your bicycle. (Also: night rides!)
13. The best sunset can be observed from the Wallace footbridge in the Junction Triangle. Be sure to see it with people(s) you love very much.
14. The best view of the entire city can be found at Riverdale Park on Broadview Avenue, just south of Danforth. Go there at night—also with someone you love—and do the things people do in the dark.
15. Don’t listen to “the reviews.” If a club or bar or party or whatever appeals to you—on any level, even if just visual—then go to it. Most of us are just jaded.
16. Don’t be seduced by what you think Twitter/Instagram/Facebook presents as the “in crowd.” Stop trying to fit into pigeonholes carved out a decade ago. Trying to be “different” makes you exactly the same. Just do you, boo.
17. Despite what you may want to believe, the Church-Wellesley Village is changing. Fast. Whether that change is for better or for worse is largely up to you (okay, and Kristyn Wong-Tam). Crews & Tangos has been “closing” since it re-opened. Woody’s will live longer than Cher. The 519 will remain the epicentre. Fret not, gays: we’ve got Queer West and Leslieville going strong and, if you ask me, that’s a very good thing. You’ll keep dancing until the world ends, indeed.
18. If you consider paying for one worthwhile gala this year, make sure it’s in support of CANFAR, like Bloor Street Entertains or the Young Professionals Council’s Our Future Without AIDS. The work they do is so incredibly important. (Or, fine, go to Powerball—I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
19. Don’t worry—you’ll always find weed at a party. But don’t ever smoke something without finding out what’s inside of it—or if someone’s filming you with their iPhone.
20. A $20 cover charge is always too much. Skip it.
21. Consider getting your driver’s licence. Really. It will make Toronto that much more special when you can see more parts of it through some car-sharing membership or something. Plus, it makes you a more desirable cottage buddy. I spent the weekend test-driving an Audi RS5, doing many of the things on this very list. It’s little breaks from daily downtown grind like this that make it all worth it.
22. Otherwise, if you really want to get to know your city, listen to those cabbies. They’ve shown me at least half of the shortcuts and after-hours joints I know.
23. The friendliest people are not from Toronto, but the most ruthless ones are.
24. Another thought about friendships. Don’t be “nice,” but rather gracious and thoughtful. Try to avoid being a pal who measures worth by the number of Instagram likes you can get from strangers in Ohio. Extend invitations to go out—and follow-up on them. Have proper conversations in person. Go pool-hopping at night. Go to Sorauren Park. Make an effort to honour plans. Don’t just “brunch” once month.
25. And for the last piece of advice, my piece, I’ll turn it over to this chick: “To my home girls here with the big butt, shaking it like we at a strip club. Remember only God can judge ya. Forget the haters, ’cause somebody loves ya.”
This is the final edition of The Night Shift.