Indie at heart

The freewheeling character of Canada’s largest city is expressed in its home-grown design, bespoke bars and inner-city villages, as Kendall Hill discovers.

By Kendall Hill
Momofuku Shoto, Toronto
Shangri-La Toronto
This gleaming glass tower opened last year, bringing Shangri-La's Sino chic and seamless service to Toronto. Higher-floor suites capture views over the CBD, best enjoyed from a glass-cocooned bath or one of the supremely comfortable beds. All mod-cons are accounted for, from coffee machines to free WiFi. Standout spaces include the Miraj spa, a convincing Turkish-style hammam that offers Caudalie treatments, and the lobby cocktail bar that throngs with smart city types at weekends. 188 University Ave.
The Drake
Credited with revitalising (and democratising) Toronto's cultural life, the Drake is a hyperactive hotel where live music and performances are held alongside art exhibitions and parties at the fabulous Sky Yard, a buzzy, slightly camp terrace bar. (Do try the lavender lemonade.) Its 19 character-filled rooms range from spacious suites to compact "crash pads" with exposed brick walls. 1150 Queen St W. 
The just-launched Drake One Fifty (150 York St) is a restaurant, bar and arts space - but no beds.
Ossington Avenue is cluttered with cool little places for a lively bar crawl, Hogtown-style. Kick off with beers in the sun at Bellwoods Brewery, a whitewashed former garage with patio seating and craft brews with names such as Roman Candle and Wizard Wolf (124 Ossington Ave). The Ossington's smart shopfront could be a gentlemen's club but it is, in fact, a venue with musicians and DJs in the candlelit front bar and poetry readings, comedy nights, magic shows and other thrilling diversions out back (61 Ossington Ave). Don't miss the Hawker Bar at 164 Ossington with its backlit Janis Joplin quote: "Prove that you love me and buy the next round." It serves $9 cocktails, $8 house wines and $7 beers, but the big draws here are pukka Asian dishes such as chilli sambal stingray and Hainanese chicken rice (164 Ossington Ave). Nearby on West Queen West, head to the arty Gladstone boutique hotel at weekends for its wildly popular karaoke nights.
Toronto gives great retail. The western end of Queen Street, aka West Queen West, is the city's version of Melbourne's Brunswick Street - a wellspring of creativity, carefully sourced vintage and select foreign brands such as Blundstone and Penguin. Emporium by I Miss You on Ossington peddles high-end secondhand, including a covetable leather collection ranging from overnight bags to belts (63 Ossington Ave). The Drake General Store's various city outlets are top spots to pick up Canadian-made gifts.
Momofuku Shoto
Korean-American chef David Chang has made a big splash beside Lake Ontario in the past year, opening five new outposts of his Momofuku empire in a glass cube beside the Shangri-La. Shoto is the haute equivalent of Sydney's Momofuku Seiobo; dine à la carte at Daisho (as Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal did during this year's Toronto International Film Festival); Nikai is for cocktails, the Milk Bar for takeaway sweet treats, and the Noodle Bar for pork buns, ramen and fried-chicken feasts. 190 University Ave.
Hopgood's Foodliner
Noisy, frantic and booked to the gills, this hip seafood diner in the gentrifying Polish 'hood of Roncesvalles is chef Geoff Hopgood's tribute to East Coast produce. The seafood is sustainable, meats are heritage breed, the produce organic and the dishes such as the charred octopus tentacles with smoked paprika mayo, garlic scapes and pork sausage crumble are delicious. Killer Martinis, too. 325 Roncesvalles Ave.
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