The patio—nothing is more synonymous with summer in the city. We asked some of Toronto’s most-fluttering social butterflies to name their favourites.
You know that saying about how house parties always end up in the kitchen? Well, all of Toronto’s best parties between June and September end up outside. On Saturday night, for example, my friend and her neighbours overtook the roof of a Sobey’s because, on a warm night, you wouldn’t dare want to be anywhere but under the skies. Yup, just say the word and you’ll notice patios are now selling points: You’d get dizzy at the number of patio opening parties that have become actual occasions. And I don’t just mean people being cute with their backyards. (I was even invited to something actually dubbed a “partyio,” or patio party.)
Since all the days and al-fresco nights are permanently glued together now, let’s see if I can remember all the new additions everyone’s been talking about and/or drinking for free at. First there was the opening of DEQ (181 Wellington St. W.), the Ritz-Carlton’s opulent—yet somehow underwhelming—half indoor/half outdoor space. It’s fine, and there are fire pits, but it stops being “expansive” just as you realize it overlooks, I believe, the back of another building. (But the amazing, hand-shaken minimalist daiquiri is like chloroform, so you’ll forget.) And Italian restaurant Piola (1165 Queen St. W.) opened a sorely-needed front sidewalk patio on West Queen West, just shy of Dufferin, creating a feel someone described to me as “a taste of Little Italy without the obnoxious.” The Thompson Hotel (550 Wellingston St. W.) also re-unveiled its rooftop pool space, slightly re-designed with new finishes and, look, more fire. (I also get confused when people bitch that it’s so exclusive—I think it’s pitch-perfect for Toronto views on any non-weekend day because everyone’s at work. Just elevator up.) Grand Electric (1330 Queen St. W.) has opened its patio (yay!) and it looks so cute and side-of-the-road taco stand-ish, but I still see people waiting in line. Tomorrow night, Yorkville-adjacent Maléna Restaurant (120 Avenue Rd., at Davenport) will open its 14-seat outdoor space, too, and—surprisingly and welcomingly way-off-trend—will take reservations! (Pro tip: That’s just in time for Summerlicious, and the restaurant is participating.)
And last Friday, the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St. W.) celebrated the opening of its newest summer theme, the carnival-meets-amusement park Drakeland. The Hotel is continuing its tradition of transformation, hot off the sizzling successes of last year’s Summer School and, before that, their first instalment of the seasonal series with Camp Drake. I remember when the building’s Sky Yard was as good as it got for rooftop bliss. Now, we’ve got healthy competition and more than enough favourites to go around. And I think back to mine: weekends with board games (fine, Scrabble) and half-price wine at The Roxton (379 Harbord St.), Tuesday afternoons hiding at La Hacienda (640 Queen St. W.) with those lick-your-fingers nachos, or the ridiculously legit tapas in the velvet night at Julie’s Cuban (202 Dovercourt Rd.). Or The Done Right Inn (861 Queen St. W.). (Thought: why aren’t there any rooftop patios that host actual dance parties? We can’t be that lame with noise laws.)
So, in the spirit of the season and because I am so sick of “Best Of” lists, I once again surveyed some of Toronto’s social-est butterflies for a quick compilation favourite outdoor spots worth a trip this summer. And yes, let’s have some fun and compare by adding your own recommendations below and comparing—like, maybe, some spots in the east end?
“Easy Question. Bairrada (1000 College St.). The back patio is a hidden gem; I almost don’t even want to tell the people about it. It’s all picnic benches, the food is to-die-for, the sangria is cheap and if you’re down for Euro Cup they have screens for the games. Hands down my favourite patio in Toronto. A close second is probably still the Green Room (296 Brunswick Ave.)—although, is that place still open?”—Stefania Yarhi, photographer of the stylish and woman behind Textstyles.ca. (And, yes, according to a Yelp review from May 2012, the Green Room is still poppin’.)
“I met my guy on the Teatro (505 College St.) patio—well, at the bar technically—so it’s always been a favourite of mine. Tati Bistro (124 Harbord St.) feels like a treehouse in the very best way. And the Toronto Island Café—the most idyllic spot in Toronto—just got a liquor license so the good just got even better.”—Alison Lawler-Dean, senior PR manager, Joe Fresh
“The Gem Bar & Grill (1159 Davenport Rd.) is my favourite patio by far. I am a bit biased because it’s mere blocks from me, but despite my clear subjectivity, it’s beautiful at night and offers patrons a secluded space adorned with multi-coloured LED lights. Plus, there’s tons of loud-mouth conversations, making for hilarious, overheard, out-of -context scenarios.”—Navi Lamba, social media at GCI Canada, and a bystander to last week’s MMVA meltdown
“Shanghai Cowgirl (538 Queen St. W.). It’s directly across the street from my office, the pints are cheap and the grub is good!”—Christina Walters-Arseneau, senior publicist at rock-it promotions
“Sweaty Betty’s (13 Ossington Ave.). My first ever ‘real’ patio experience—as to say, I wasn’t with my parents at some touristy King Street trap—was at Sweaty Betty’s. Walking through this little dive bar before Ossington was what it is today, we landed in this secret garden. This snug, yet roomy little back patio—with a trellis of ivy above and wood everywhere else—just gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. Or maybe that’s the whiskey. Nonetheless, I get giddy for that feeling every time I venture back to this secluded gem.”—Ryan Bolton, creative director at Me to We and writer
“I’d have to say that the my favourite patio at the back of Terroni (720 Queen St. W.). This spot is absolutely perfect on a summer evening; the shady tree has lights hanging from its branches and creates this magical ‘secret garden’-esque ambiance. It’s an intimate atmosphere for anyone who wants to spend an evening eating authentic Italian food, drinking delicious Italian wine and having good conversation. I enjoy nights like this more than anything.”—Kayla Rocca, freelance photographer and former photo intern at The Grid
“Union Restaurant (72 Ossington Ave.) has my favourite patio in Toronto. It’s beautifully tucked away in the back and the staff is lovely. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a snack and a drink any afternoon.”—Michael Joffe, manager of digital innovation at GlassBOX, Polaris Music Prize juror, and co-founder of the YES party series
“A tie! 7 West Café (7 Charles St. W.) is open 24/7 and has a really nice little rooftop area. And one of my fave neighourbood watering holes is The Brass Taps (934 College St.). They have a front and back patio: one’s good for people watching, and one’s good for making your single a double and talking crap about your ex in a cozy and intimate environment with great pub food.”—Becca Lemire, photographer, etcetera