We’re not saying you should give up Philadelphia’s Pride festivities. But if you need to maximize your pride and absolutely have to go to another city in North America to do it, Toronto should definitely be at the top of your list.
Toronto is the biggest and most culturally diverse city in Canada and, as a result, attracts upward of 1 million people from around the world to its Pride Week, which pretty much engulfs the city in 10 days of celebrations, live performances, parties and parades June 24-July 3.
With the sheer volume of revelers Toronto’s Pride attracts, it’s best to make plans to go as early as possible. And if you haven’t been to Canada before, know that you will need a passport to enter the country. Visit www.pridetoronto.com for more information.
Once in the city, there are enough bars, restaurants and other assorted culture to keep anyone occupied night after night for at least a month ... provided they have the funds to last that long. The U.S. dollar used to go really far in Toronto but, thanks to the slide in our economy, the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar are running neck and neck, when means things in Toronto like food, drink and hotels are a bit pricier than U.S. counterparts. Not prohibitively expensive, but prices there are on par with mid- to high-end Manhattan establishments.
Toronto’s gayborhood is known as Church Wellesley Village, or “The Village,” most of which encompasses the four blocks on Church Street between Alexander and Glouster streets. When it comes to types of LGBT clubs and scenes, if you can’t find it easily here, it does not exist.
But Church Wellesley Village isn’t the only gay-friendly game in town. Another area with some serious mojo is West Queen West, overflowing with artists, galleries, musicians and independent shops. This part of town has a definite old-school Greenwich Village feel, but gentrification is hot on this neighborhood’s heels judging by the glossy new condos being erected all around. But West Queen West is resisting with all of its might to ensure that the artists don’t get pushed — and priced — out of the community.
One of the standout hotels in West Queen West is the Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. West (www.gladstonehotel.com). Staying there is definitely unlike what you’ll find at most hotels. The gay-owned hotel has a historical feel with a vintage manually operated elevator and 37 rooms, each decorated by different designers with unique feels ranging from retro and flashy to ultra-modern and minimalist. And there’s always something interesting happening onsite as the main floor of the hotel hosts a bar, a restaurant, a live-music venue and a performance lounge.
The artsy feel of the hotel might not be a perfect fit for someone who likes the more traditional confines of a conventional hotel. It also needs to be noted that if you’re the type of person who goes to sleep relatively early on the weekend, you will need the abundant and complimentary earplugs provided in each room.
Fortunately for us, we’re night owls, so the music and steady flow of hipster traffic didn’t bother us. But staying at The Gladstone is definitely a fun experience.
If you’re looking for a hotel with a more business-like feel in West Queen West, the Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St. West (www.drakehotel.ca), provides all the eclecticism and comfort of the Gladstone, but wraps up the nighttime festivities at a more reasonable hour.
If you’re the kind of traveler who carries a gold or black American Express Card and you can rest until you see it smoking from too much friction, you might want to spend your time in the Bloor-Yorkville neighborhood, which has high-end boutiques, restaurants, bars and hotels as far as the eye can see.
Normally we resist obvious touristy attractions, but we were so glad we gave in and went to the CN Tower (www.cntower.ca). Looking at it from afar and seeing it among the other downtown skyscrapers, it’s easy to delete it from your to-do list. Stand next to it and you’ll be a little more impressed with its jaw-dropping height. Get up to the observation deck on a clear day and your jaw will drop from the view, especially if you like standing on a clear glass floor and looking 1,100 feet straight down to the ground. Also, make sure you check out the 360 Restaurant, which slowly rotates, as it has a top-notch menu.
If you like your thrills on terra firma, we highly recommend The Keg Steakhouse in Keg Mansion, 515 Jarvis St. (www.kegsteakhouse.com) for several reasons: It’s a short walk from the Village, it has tons of classic charm and it’s haunted. Granted, the attentive staff won’t let you visit the haunted part of the mansion (the basement), where apparently no one is allowed to venture. But just knowing that you’re indulging in steak and martinis while spirits roam around in the catacombs beneath your feet is worth the trip.
For more information about Toronto, visit Tourism Toronto at www.SeeTorontoNow.com.