As the city gears up for the biggest party night of the year, we surveyed some of Toronto’s most sociable butterflies about their favourite nighttime pastimes in 2011.
At the beginning of 1975, when readers asked Ellen Willis (The New Yorker’s first popular music critic) why she had yet to produce a “Best of/Top 10” list, she wrote: “In fact, it’s not criticism I’ve been taking too seriously all these years, but list-making. I worry over my criteria. (Do I pick the albums I play most or the ones I admire most?) Then I worry over the imperatives of the list itself, which transcend the merits of particular records.”
I’ll use that same reasoning to keep away from making any sort of definitive year-end list ranking of the things Toronto does at night. Instead, I’ve opted to let any such list develop on its own by informally surveying people—through e-mail, text messages, Gchat, Facebook, Twitter, on the street—about the things they had fun doing, and where they liked going, after dark in 2011. I don’t refer to the individuals quoted here as “influencers,” nor are they “socialites” (or whatever people think constitutes one these days). None of them are famous. (okay, one is.) They’re just people who do stuff, and go places, at night. Just like the rest of us. Some I know personally, some not at all. I’ve also written about some of the responses below, but that’s purely coincidental; other recommendations are just that. We all have our favourites, and that’s the point. As Willis also wrote, I present this with “no promise for the future,” but add to this list if you disagree.
Favourite neighbourhood by night
“Dundas West”—Alison Lawler-Dean, senior PR manager for Joe Fresh.
“Ossington—by far the best street [on which] to run amok due to the plethora of hangouts”—Kiki van Duin, communications manager at The Drake Hotel.
“The Annex—or Chinatown for its ‘cold tea’”—Michael Nus, CEO at Epilogger, a new network that “unites all your social memories.”
“Koreatown [around Christie subway station] for karaoke and late-night Korean food”—Amy Wood, copywriter and Tumblr funny girl in her spare time.
“King West”—Kayla Rocca, photographer.
Favourite place or party for actual dancin’
“The Parkdale Drink—I love to dance to reggae”—Michelle Easton, PR maverick at rock-it promotions.
“Nyood—small, great music. I love that you can dance on the benches to get out of the crowd and have some room to move”—Kristina Breckon, a marketing professional and a subject featured in our look at Halloween house parties earlier this year.
“Dakota Tavern—right in front of the stage, on those little blocks, at 1:45 a.m., any night”—Kiki van Duin.
“Crews and Tangos”—Colleen W., a private citizen with public opinions, on the Village dance castle that was almost lost for good, and reopened in 2010 to a tossing-off of t-shirts.
“Smiling Buddha Bar on College”—Bryanna Brown, wardrobe stylist.
Favourite bar that, thank god, isn’t wasted as a restaurant
“Goodnight on Richmond Street”—Alison Lawler-Dean, on a venue that also hosted TIFF 2011’s top party.
“Mezzrow’s—a divey Parkdalian favourite”—Kiki van Duin
“Reposado Tequila Bar”—Jen McNeely, the main force behind SheDoesTheCity.com.
“Double Deuce”—Jeff Barkman, singer-songwriter whose new album, Assembly Line Surgery, was released earlier this month.
“The Half Point”—Pam Kudlowich, concierge at The Drake Hotel, on her favourite (new) bar located in the poorly named “DuWest” neighbourhood.
“Bistro 422 on College”—Colleen W., on the basement bar with a random crowd and complete anonymity.
“Ted’s Collision in Little Italy”—Bryanna Brown, singing praise for the College Street bar beloved by locals for its patio(s) and billiards.
“The Red Light”—Grace Carroll, a woman of many hats with a website, and recent returnee from the UK.
Favourite bar with a place to sit—and without an “attitude”
“Parts & Labour“—Michael Joffe, a Polaris Music Prize juror (among other things) whose Yes New York party was profiled in a story on Toronto’s dalliance with Manhattan.
“Baby Huey’s, especially with El Divine or DJ Hal Kilmer”—Casie Stewart, a social darling who also threw her own love-it-or-leave-it speakeasy-themed party with Canadian Club this year.
“Three Speed on Bloor, near Dufferin”—Meg Orlinski, a member of The Deadly Nightshades bike crew.
“The Drake Hotel, hands down. In my opinion, it is also the strongest bar in Toronto in terms of making drinks properly—and they use real Amareno cherries”—Michael Nus, on what he believes is the only place in this city that can make a true Old-Fashioned.
“The Common—yes, the espresso bar. By day, it’s an amazing coffee shop; at night, it turns into an amazingly inexpensive wine bar with delicious snacks”—Amy Wood.
“Communist’s Daughter—they serve pickled eggs”—Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric, dishing on her favourite Dundas West spot to Travel + Leisure magazine, via Shinan Govani.
“Ha… in Toronto? Good luck”—Kayla Rocca, one of two people who think Toronto’s got a shitty ‘tude. (See below for the other.)
“Hotel Ocho”—Justine Iaboni, a ringleader-cum-“fake DJ” of The Secret Models, vouching for the Spadina up-and-comer we liked back in November (and pictured above).
“Happy Endings—gays in bloomers on one wall, thugged out dudes on the other, and then lots of happy people dancing in between.” – Anupa Mistry, a music writer and sometimes DJ, commenting on the monthly dim-sum dance party.
“Montreal.” – Michael Joffe, joining Kayla Rocca. Are they right?
“I’ll say The Garrison depending on the show you’re seeing, but stay away from everywhere on the weekends”—Jeff Barkman
“Black Betty’s”—Michelle Easton, on what some people will keep calling the now-named Cabin Five (a.k.a. the younger sister of The Fifth on Richmond)
“Brockton General on Dundas West—it’s laid back, the girls who own it know you by name. Nothing fussy, no one awful. And the food is good, too. ”—Pam Kudlowich
“Brassaii has the most pretentious crowd in the city tied with the Thompson Hotel’s rooftop.”—Kristina Breckton.
“Wrongbar, also known as the West Queen West hangout for King West-wannabe tweens—gross”—Kiki van Duin.
“Nyood on Sunday when they have that obnoxious Le Brunch. I walk my dog, and there are drunken people in mini-skirts bent over Porsches. Also, Nikki Beach at TIFF”—Jen McNeely, who has a different opinion on whether or not Nyood has actually changed, and disliked Nikki Beach just as much as I did.
“Any much-hyped place that’s only been open for a minute, probably. The cream always rises to the top! Plus, I really don’t like waiting in line just to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers”—Amy Wood, hopefully not referring to Grand Electric, the new Mexican-ish resto-bar that opened up in Parkdale last month.
Favourite new place to eat, drink, and be merry
“Fishbar”—Michael Joffe, on the oyster and seafood joint that opened on Ossington in May.
“The County General”—Jen McNeely, on the place that took over the old Oddfellows space in September and inspired tirades on our website in November because—gasp!—people actually still eat meat.
“The Ace on Roncey—though it’s the most confusing place to meet anyone because they’re either surprised there’s an Ace Hotel in Toronto or they think you’re at Ace Bakery”—Kiki van Duin, on her favourite place in my new favourite part of town.
“L’Ouvrier”—Grace Carroll, who recommends the Dundas West restaurant that opened in September, named after a line in a George Orwell novel
Favourite thing to do with an out-of-towner
“Cocktail on the Thompson or Hyatt roof, then The Harbord Room for dinner, and drinks somewhere like Goodnight or the Drake patio”—Alison Lawler-Dean, willing to spread the gospel that anyone passing through town must peep Harbord chef Cory Vitiello.
“Dinner at Enoteca Sociale on Dundas West, and then check out a band at The Dakota or grab a nightcap at Red Room.”—Jen McNeely, ready to go to those obscure places in Chinatown and prove she actually does know how to do the city.
“County General for dinner and cocktails, and then Drake Hotel SkyYard with a glass of Woodford Reserve”—Jeff Barkman, who, yes, knows more about bourbon than you (or me).
“The Caledonian for its huge selection of scotch and haggis”—Michael Nus.
“I love the Caledonian because of the relaxing atmosphere—it’s totally down to earth and the owner, Donna, is the sweetest. You always feel like you’re in a friend’s living room.”—Gail McInnes, principal at Magnet Creative, and partly known for her ability to properly entertain a Scottish tourist.
“The Embassy in Kensington”—Colleen W.
The ultimate Toronto night out
“Take bikes down Queen from Spadina to Roncy. First, the old-school classics: Horseshoe, Cameron House, Hideout, Bovine Sex Club. Then stop at 416 Snack Bar for some yums. Quickly bike past CAMH and stop for a beer at Sweaty Betty’s. Cross the tracks to the ‘bad side’ of town and prepare for the grime. Catch a rock band at the Cadillac Lounge. Shield your eyes from the children lining up at Wrongbar, and stop at Grand Electric to put your name on the list for a week from now. Scream past the middle of Parkdale on your bike and hit up the classic pseudo-dives: Not My Dog, Mezzrow’s and Parts & Labour. If you’re still alive, you can stop a Keriwa Café for some love from Amos, and then one last stop at Cardinal Rule for a relaxing pitcher of boozy lemonade. You are now initiated.”—Kiki van Duin, offering the abbreviated version of her most epic night in 2011 for brave locals and tourists alike.