Philadelphians know their hometown offers great history and gay nightlife. But sometimes you need a change of scenery, a vacation, some R&R. Toronto — the so-called New York City of Canada — is a great urban getaway.
This diverse city on the shores of Lake Ontario is one of the most gay-friendly in North America. And the LGBT community is integrated into the mainstream in ways Americans can hardly fathom: During Pride Week, the main parade (there’s also dyke and trans parades) was broadcast on live television, and then rebroadcast later that night. During the five-hour parade, which was held on July 4 this year, there were more openly gay police and firefighters marching than actually on duty. Moreover, the city closed down several blocks for the parade and street fair, which draws thousands — many of whom are straight.
And it’s super-clean: After the parade goes by, the street sweepers swing through and you hardly know that thousands of people had been there moments ago. Toronto Pride is one of the largest in North America, with events throughout the week, six stages with performances all weekend — Cyndi Lauper headlined this year — and myriad parties. Visit www.pridetoronto.ca for more information.
Drive or fly. Flights are about 90 minutes and start at $350 or so. From Philadelphia, it’s at least an eight-hour drive, depending on the border crossing. But, if you drive, you can stop at Niagara Falls for some sightseeing or in Buffalo for some authentic wings. Or both. Do bring your passport. Do remember that you’ll probably have roaming charges for cell-phone use (even if it doesn’t say “roaming”). Don’t forget to be safe and be aware of your surroundings. While Toronto might have less violent crime than Philadelphia, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Where to stay
Downtown is easily accessible by cab or public transportation, so you don’t have to limit yourself to staying in the downtown financial district. If you want to stay by the Gay Village, centered at Church and Wellesley streets, try the Sutton Place Hotel (955 Bay St., www.toronto.suttonplace.com/). It’s a two-block walk to the Village. For something a little more intimate, try the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. West, www.gladstonehotel.com). This boutique hotel on the west side of the city features an art gallery, a bar and a live-music venue. Another option is The Drake (1150 Queen St. West, www.thedrakehotel.ca/).
What to see
You must make it to the Gay Village. The formal name of the neighborhood is Church Wellesley Village, and it’s home to the LGBT community center, Pride Week, the Church Street Fetish Fair and Halloween events. The 519 Church Community Centre (www.the519.org), named after its street address, is home to programming and services for the broad spectrum of LGBT populations. Just a note: Some Torontonians use the very-inclusive moniker LGBTTIQQ2SA: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited and allies. Church Wellesley is home to many gay and lesbian bars: For the ladies, head to Slack’s (www.slacks.ca/) on Church Street, or look out for the weekly and monthly women’s parties.
Other notable neighborhoods: Cabbagetown (home to lots of lesbians and their families), Old Town (with the Historic Distillery District), the waterfront, the beaches, Queen West, Kensington Market and Bloor-Yorkville.
For attractions, Toronto is brimming with museums (Royal Ontario Museum and Bata Shoe Museum top the list), theater (next in line after New York and London), comedy (Second City), live music, film festivals, cultural festivals and, of course, the always-popular CN Tower (www.cntower.ca/).
If you want to get outdoorsy, there are beaches, kayaking, golf and sailing, to name a few. If you want to shop, Bloor Street is home to top-of-the-line boutiques, chains and department stores (some familiar, some local, such as Roots apparel and Bay Department store). For something a little funkier, try Queen Street West, home to independent boutiques and smaller chains. To go big, head to Toronto Eaton Centre (www.torontoeatoncentre.com), home to more than 250 stores.
What to eat
Be prepared to eat well in Toronto, famous for its culinary offerings. Local, organic food is a growing trend there and, as a diverse city, there are great international restaurants. Whether it’s fine dining or street food, you can find it here. Try Fuzion (580 Church St., www.fuzionexperience.com) for fabulous outdoor seating, or 360 Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower, for an amazing view of the city. Well worth it.
For more information, visit www.seetorontonow.com. There’s tab for “Gay Toronto” at the top of the page, right between “What to do” and “Calendar of Events.” Talk about integration.