Toronto is famed for its colorful, lively neighbourhoods. Perhaps the best known is the pedestrian-only Distillery Historic District east of downtown, with some of the best-preserved 1800s-era industrial architecture in North America. It’s a national historic site and you’ll see why: the area showcases the handsomely refurbished 1830s Gooderham and Worts Distillery, once the world’s largest whiskey producer.
You’ll find stately Victorians, chic converted warehouses, high-ceiling lofts, and brick-paved streets with tons of character — a hive of creativity now housing anything from farm-to-table cafés to boho boutiques. Trinity Street is the de facto public square for outdoor markets and such. Yes, it’s touristy, but you’ll love the bustle, the vibe, and stumbling on the latest emerging trends. All you need is a little intel on how to best navigate The Distillery.
While you’re at it, leave time to get to know Toronto’s other distinctive ‘hoods. Here’s our insider’s must-sees and dos for The Distillery.
Take in the sights
With 13 acres dedicated solely to arts, culture, and entertainment, you’ll want to take full advantage. Walk the pathways and people-watch or join a tour: walking or beer. There are 22 galleries, plus design and furniture showcases. Browse Sport Gallery, high-end lighting at Artemide, contemporary art at Monte Clark Gallery, Dwell-worthy wares at Akroyd Furniture, and the sprawling Corkin Gallery, one of the city’s most interesting. Case Goods Warehouse is an entire building filled with open-to-the-public artist studios and workshops, including crafts, artisans, and jewellers. Take your time.
Indulge in a little retail therapy
The Distillery houses 25 crème de la crème shops. For the stylish gent there’s Gentil Uomo with the latest Milano menswear. Hit Hoi Bo for artsy garments, bags, and bangles, and Gilding the Lily for jewellery and accessories from celebrity stylist Annie Jagger. Get your funky shoes custom-coloured in the industrial space of John Fluevog, the Canadian footwear design legend, and pick up Canadian-made clothes, crafts, and design objects at Distill. Open Air Books and Maps has 10,000 travel tomes — think you’ll find what you need?
Watch, listen, celebrate
What to see? That’s the question. There are 17 performing arts companies staging live performances all the time. Check the calendar because year-round plays, events, and concerts are far too many to detail. But standouts are ongoing craft shows, December’s Christmas Market, the Luminato cultural celebration, CONTACT photography fest, and the meticulously curated weekly seasonal Sunday market with 100% locally sourced edibles, organics, unusual textiles, hand-spun originals… you get the picture.
Feed your appetite
It’s hard to know what not to eat here. There’s crystalized ginger dipped in Peruvian chocolate at SOMA Chocolatemaker distillery and lab, decadent desserts from Cacao 70, and original flavors at Greg’s Ice Cream. Dig into fresh oysters and seafood flown in daily at Pure Spirits Oyster Bar & Grill, pick up all-natural breads, sandwiches, and pastry creations at charming Brick Street Bakery, and eat sushi at authentically Japanese Boku. Check out floor-to-ceiling murals while biting into artisan tacos at high-energy El Catrin — the patio alone is 5,000 square feet. Cluny Bistro is known for authentic modern French for good value. Go early to graze at world-famed St. Lawrence Market Complex, a permanent bazaar of fine imports and locavore everything — pristine produce, meat, fish, caviar, and other essentials — in the former vintage City Hall space. Rest assured: you won’t go hungry.
Enjoy some liquid refreshments
First things first: coffee. Go refined at sumptuously Parisian Balzac’s Coffee Roasters or modern Roma at groovy, Barbarella-esque Caffe Furbo with perfetto cuppas to match. Favourite watering hole — and patio — Mill Street Brew Pub serves 16 made-onsite craft beers on tap — try the signature trio: Tank House Ale, Organic, and Wit — and elevated pub fare a là lobster grilled cheese. Sip some of Ontario’s best wines at Archive Wine Bar, explore Japanese spirits at the hands of a master sake maker, or toast Communist glory days at Pravda Vodka Bar.
Explore your surroundings
Look for one of many playful sculptures throughout The Distillery, find a seat and appreciate art — over a wild apple-hibiscus jelly-rum truffle, of course. There’s also a sculpture park near Distillery Lane ideal for contemplation and conversation. Stroll the 18 acres of trails in the emerging waterfront park next to West Don Lands. Or, take up residence at a Euro-style sidewalk café. Catch some live music, watch buskers, and relax — after all that entertainment, you’ll need the R&R.