Top-Class Toronto

en­ter­tain­ment op­tions and blessed with nat­u­ral beauty

Business Traveler (USA) - - TRAVEL AMERICAS - By Sarah Sta­ples

Toronto is that quintessen­tially Canuck phe­nom­e­non – full of ac­com­plish­ments that go com­par­a­tively un­no­ticed. The fifth-largest city in North Amer­ica, it’s Canada’s fi­nan­cial and cor­po­rate head­quar­ters, and seat of the world’s sev­enth-big­gest stock mar­ket. It’s the third most sig­nif­i­cant English-speak­ing theatre cap­i­tal, af­ter New York and Lon­don, has a film fes­ti­val al­most as pres­ti­gious as Cannes’, and boasts more than 50 dance com­pa­nies. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, it’s one of the most mul­ti­cul­tural cities on earth, with more than half of its cit­i­zens born over­seas.

Yet Toronto isn’t seen as ex­otic and upand-com­ing like Bei­jing, avant-garde like New York, or chic like Paris. People have lived along Lake On­tario at the mouth of the Don and Hum­ber rivers since the end of the last Ice Age, and still Toronto lacks the grav­i­tas of Rome or St Peters­burg. Hol­ly­wood shoots nu­mer­ous films and tele­vi­sion shows here an­nu­ally, but as a sort of ge­o­graphic body dou­ble – a standin for other US cap­i­tals.

That ac­tu­ally makes sense, for as James Howard Kunstler, au­thor of The Ge­og­ra­phy of Nowhere, once wrote: “Toronto is what many Amer­i­can cities wish they could be. ”The city is alive – nowhere more so than in its cheek-by-jowl en­ter­tain­ment and fi­nan­cial districts, where of­fice tow­ers stand steps from the­atres and opera houses, sports sta­di­ums, gal­leries and restaurants of ev­ery eth­nic­ity.

This is the “ex­u­ber­ant di­ver­sity” of a densely packed down­town – the kind that US ur­ban philoso­pher Jane Ja­cobs en­vis­aged in 1961’s The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities, years be­fore she moved to Toronto and be­came a cham­pion of the city. Among more re­cent high-pro­file sup­port­ers and cheer­lead­ers, Richard Florida, a US émi­gré and au­thor of The Rise of the Cre­ative Class, calls it a blue­print for cul­tur­ally vi­brant cities.

And with high-cal­iber five-star ho­tels open­ing, an ac­claimed film fes­ti­val en­sconced in its sparkling $140 mil­lion head­quar­ters, and head-turn­ing gallery ad­di­tions in the past few years by Frank Gehry and Daniel Libe­skind, Toronto is do­ing its best to draw the world in for a closer look.

There’s per­haps no bet­ter gauge for Toronto’s ris­ing arts and cul­ture scene than the TIFF Bell Light­box on King Street West. This is the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val’s com­plex of five cin­e­mas, restaurants and event and gallery space, which takes up a full city block. The venue opened in Septem­ber 2010, and has at­tracted Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters and Euro­pean royalty – not to men­tion a con­tin­u­ous stream of star-struck tourists and lo­cal film buffs.

Down­town Edge

It’s easy enough to get one’s bear­ings down­town. Toronto streets line up in a fairly tidy grid, with the cor­ner of Bloor and Yonge act­ing as an un­of­fi­cial cen­ter point. Down­town ex­tends roughly from Bloor Street south to Lake On­tario, and ei­ther side of Yonge Street for sev­eral blocks, west to Bathurst and east to Par­lia­ment.

If I left the Light­box walk­ing west on King, my first choice of cul­tural pit stop might be Spin Toronto – a “ping pong so­cial club, ”it’s the Cana­dian out­post of a hip New York chain co-owned by ac­tress Su­san Saran­don. Or I could take the next ma­jor east-west thor­ough­fare, Queen Street, to dis­cover the boho-chic restaurants and avant-garde fash­ion of Queen West neigh­bor­hood. This is where UK de­signer Oliver Spencer opened his first Cana­dian shop, next to the coun­try’s flag­ship Fred Perry store. It’s also a hub for live mu­sic, with venues in­clud­ing the Cameron House, the Rivoli, the leg­endary Horse­shoe Tav­ern and Vel­vet Un­der­ground.

Past Trin­ity Bell­woods Park, Queen Street morphs into an art and de­sign district dot­ted with pri­vate gal­leries, an­tique shops and the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian Art. Even­tu­ally you reach the Drake Ho­tel, which has a pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive per­for­mance venue in its base­ment.

“You’re in the heart of the emer­gent down­town. Here, busi­ness and arts are in­ter­mixed”

But I need to ven­ture east on King Street for my next meet­ing. Walk­ing past celebrity hand­prints pressed into con­crete on Canada’s Walk of Fame, the theatre row and Roy Thom­son Hall – home of the Toronto Sym­phony Orches­tra – I soon reach the fi­nan­cial district for a tour of the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel and Tower.

Toronto’s down­town busi­ness ho­tels are un­der­go­ing an am­bi­tious makeover. Opened in 2011, the Ritz-Carl­ton re­ceived the city’s first five-di­a­mond AAA rat­ing, a feat matched by the new Four Sea­sons Toronto in 2014. Trump Toronto and Shangri-La joined the spate of Toronto lux­ury ho­tel open­ings in 2012. Thomp­son Toronto and Hô­tel le Ger­main Maple Leaf Square are two re­cently opened bou­tique op­tions for the more dis­cern­ing.

Aside from the Four Sea­sons, all are sit­u­ated near the Light­box – and not by chance. “You’re in the heart of the emer­gent down­town, ”says Don­ald Trump Jr., ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion. “In other ma­jor fi­nan­cial cap­i­tals such as New York City, busi­ness and arts districts are sep­a­rate from each other – here, they’re in­ter­mixed, and there are plenty of leisure op­tions for the weekend. So this is re­ally go­ing to be a seven-day ho­tel.”

Shows and sports events are on the doorstep of of­fices around the Toronto Stock Ex­change at King and York streets. There’s the Air Canada Cen­tre, host­ing rock con­certs, bas­ket­ball and hockey; Rogers Cen­tre for foot­ball, base­ball and mu­sic; and Sec­ond City, the com­edy theatre that launched the ca­reers of such nota­bles as John Candy and Mike My­ers. The Four Sea­sons Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre show­cases opera and bal­let, and the Sony Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts is an off-Broad­way-style theatre.

Above: Cameron House, Spin Toronto

Above: Stock Lounge at Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel and Tower, Toronto Left: Toronto Stock Ex­change

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