A guide to Downtown Toronto

Fashion and style writer Bronwyn Cosgrave reports from her home city on the buzz coming to Bloor Street and all points west

Back in the 1980s, when I was growing up in Toronto, Bloor Street was known as the Mink Mile. The title alluded to the dress mode preferred by the wealthy socialites patronising the upscale boutiques and fine restaurants lining this luxury retail thoroughfare, which remains Canada’s equivalent to Fifth Avenue.

Bloor Street’s locally-established retail landmarks are still world-class. The upscale department store Holt Renfrew rivals Bergdorf Goodman, and Harry Rosen, a multi-storied menswear emporium, is on par with Harrods with its selection of masculine finery.

Now, however, these old favourites are rubbing shoulders with some hip new neighbours. As I’ve noticed on recent visits back home, Toronto’s entire downtown area is experiencing something of a renaissance – not hurt one bit by the fact that the Toronto Film Festival is now the largest film festival in North America.

The development boom enlivening Toronto’s buzzing downtown quarter includes the recent opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto in Yorkville, the shopping enclave just north of Bloor. With it, came Canada’s first Daniel Boulud restaurant, Café Boulud, and the Four Seasons’ very own branch of Toronto’s finest trattoria, Buca.

Eating there is probably easier than nabbing a table at Buca’s original location further downtown in King St W, where you’ll need to reserve at least two weeks in advance. Toronto’s expansive downtown locale incorporates streets running west from stately University Avenue, including King West itself, home to the city’s ‘entertainment district’ of theatres, dining hotspots and the Rogers Centre sports stadium.

Strollers will also find edgier neighborhoods located along Queen, Dundas and College. These long, narrow streets are characterised by picturesque residential buildings, distinctive art galleries, independent boutiques and a food scene informed by the ethnic communities originally inhabiting them (opt to eat Chinese in Dundas Street West, and seek out Toronto’s ‘Little Italy’ in College Street West).

Queen Street West, meanwhile, offers an eclectic mash-up of world cuisine and hipster hangouts such as The Drake Hotel (Toronto’s equivalent to the Standard). It’s also home to some exceptional patisseries – namely, Dufflet and Nadege.

With the opening of the Bell Lightbox in 2010, the Toronto Film Festival put downtown on the cinephile map too. Film Journal International rightly classifies this five-storey, $140 million media complex as ‘spectacular’. Here, state-of-the-art cinemas showcase a smartly curated programme of art house films, retrospectives and new releases. Two galleries exhibit shows revealing the art of motion picture production and accomplished chefs Peter Oliver & Michael Bonacini helm the Lightbox’s accessibly priced O&B Canteen and Luma restaurants.

The launch of this minimalist multi-media hub prompted a spate of five-star hotel openings nearby – including the Trump Tower, Ritz Carlton, and Shangri-La where David Chang’s Asian fusion eatery, Momufuku, can be found.

It also coincided with the restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company, bought and transformed by an American developer. The venerable department store’s new ‘Room’ boutique now carries fashion from legendary greats like Azzedine Alaia, as well as many of London’s demi-couturiers, including Christopher Kane, Erdem, Giles, Jonathan Saunders and Roksanda Ilincic. Also in the Eaton Centre are US department stores Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

After shopping at the Bay’s Room, I often venture to Body Blitz Spa. This women’s only spa promotes ‘health by water’, with a circuit programme combining soaking in Dead Sea saltwater pools followed by invigorating ice-cold water plunges and relaxing stints in a steam room and sauna. Like most every topnotch hotspot in Toronto, the facilities at Body Blitz are immaculate and the service is expert.

Photo: mbbirdy/Vetta/Getty Images

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