Queen West & King West
What was once the Garment District, dominated by warehouses and railway lands with easy access to the Toronto harbour, the Entertainment District has transformed from a working-class ’hood to a trendy place to live, work, play, shop and dine.
Most of the manufacturing sector left the area (loosely bounded by Bathurst Street to York Street and the Gardiner Expressway to Queen Street West) in the 1970s as free trade and the decentralization of industrial work moved out of the city, leaving behind a fabulous array of historic warehouses and factories. Some of those buildings were converted into condo lofts, some into office buildings and some into the nightclubs that ruled the area for three decades.
The first large dance club, the Twilight Zone, opened in 1981 and many others followed, making the area home to the largest concentration of nightclubs in North America.
Along with the bars and restaurants — and Ed Mirvish’s refurbishment of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1962 — came Roy Thomson Hall (home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra), Mirvish’s Princess of Wales Theatre and the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (home to the National Ballet and the Canadian Opera Company). Also in the area are Theatre Passe Muraille and the Factory Theatre (plus the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres on Yonge Street and the Ed Mirvish theatre on Victoria Street), making Toronto the third-largest centre for English-language theatre behind London and New York City.
The latest cultural addition to the area is the TIFF Bell Lightbox (which The Daniels Corporation built with the Festival Towers Condos rising above it) at the northwest corner of King and John Streets, a part of what is to become Toronto’s Cultural Corridor.
The bohemian feel of the Entertainment District has spread west along King and Queen Streets all the way to Ossington Avenue, bringing great new restos, shopping and, of course, the inevitable condos, both midrise and highrise.
The condo boom started when abandoned warehouses in the area began to be transformed into lofts or were demolished to make way for condo towers. In 1996, only 750 residents lived in the area, but by 2005 the number had risen to 7,500, according to Statistics Canada. With the increase in residents, there has been a decrease in the number of clubs, mostly because of the noise and traffic issues associated with those types of venues.
David Mirvish has planned a two-storey condo complex at the northeast corner of King and John Streets designed by Frank Gehry that would see the addition of a huge art gallery space. Go to CondoLifeMag.com to search for great condos in the area.
Do you need to ask? The area is called the Entertainment District. Live theatre rules, with the Princess of Wales, Royal Alex, Roy Thomson Hall, the Four Seasons Centre, Theatre Passe Muraille and the Factory Theatre, but cinema is also well represented with the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the large complex of movie screens at the Scotiabank Theatre at Richmond at John Streets and the National Film Board of Canada’s home right across the street. Need a laugh? Try an evening at Second City, Yuk Yuk’s or the Forget About It Supper Club.
If you want to stroll the area, check out the stars of Canada’s Walk of Fame along King between Simcoe and John Streets, and on Simcoe south of King. This year’s inductees are musician Michael Bublé, broadcasters Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, actors Wendy Crewson and Lorne Green, author Lawrence Hill, Olympic rower Silken Laumann and singer Shawn Mendes.
Parks & Rec
Clarence Square — located where Wellington Street West meets Spadina Avenue — is one of the oldest remaining parks in the downtown core. Although a small area, it is relatively quiet and shady, with many large trees, a spacious grassy area and a fenced-in dog park. The Roundhouse Park is 17 acres and features the John Street Roundhouse, a preserved locomotive roundhouse that is home to the Toronto Railway Museum.
Shop until you drop into one of the fabulous restaurants, cafés or bars located throughout the district. Although there aren’t any large indoor malls in the area, stores of all kinds are plentiful and range from modest to bespoke.
Queen Street west of Spadina Avenue has some of the highest density of independent and chain stores. But if you want to stay inside, just wander through Toronto’s PATH to find an outstanding array of retail.
Included along the King Street stretch is Golftown, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Europe Bound, as well as Antiques on King.
Subways, streetcars and all-night buses service the area. Union Station is close by, so GO Transit is readily available, as is easy access to the Gardiner Expressway and DVP.
Eat Your Heart
Out Breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight meal are all available in the neighbourhood. There are the usual selection of fast-food chains and coffee shops, as well as independent restaurateurs and high-end gourmet fair.
The three high-end hotels in the area offer fabulous restaurants, including Toca in the Ritz-Carlton, Momofuku in the Shangri-La and Scarpetta and Warbora in the Thompson Hotel.
Restaurant Row, on King Street between John Street and Blue Jays Way, offers many gastro delights, and Oliver & Bonacini operates Luma in the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Go a little father west along King and you’ll find another fabulous selection of eateries, including The Fifth Grill & Terrace, Lees (as in Susar Lee), Crush Wine Bar and Rodney’s Oyster House.