Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Toronto - Like Chicago, But Canadian

Is Toronto a HugeParty? Much love to Toronto, it's quite the friendly HugeParty.

A work trip in May 2015 brought me north to Canada (America's Top Hat), specifically to Toronto. After 30+ years on this planet this was my first foray into the northern abyss. 

Many questions loomed. Were Canadians really as nice as they've been portrayed? Would it be snowing in May? Was I going to meet Drake?

From what I had heard from friends and colleagues, Toronto is awesome and that I would feel like I was at home because it is set-up much like Chicago (near a lake, with a neighborhood vibe). I had also heard that Toronto had a fantastic nightlife and restaurant scene. Those reviews gave me enough reason to extend my stay for another night. Check out my experience below!

St. Lawrence Market... a Must-Do... more on that below.

Although my stint in Toronto was short, I packed plenty of events and HugePartying into my schedule to get a bountiful taste of the Toronto experience. I can confirm, there is an amazing HugeParty in Toronto, and it's so gosh darn friendly too.

Read more after the jump!!!

Comparison to Chicago

My friends and colleagues were right, Toronto and Chicago are very similar in a lot of ways. Most notably, Toronto's buzzing downtown atmosphere and surrounding neighborhoods remind me of Chicago. The midwestern friendliness runs rampant and the craft beer scene is also stellar, much like Chicago as well. 

There is a great lake (Ontario), but it's worth noting that the lake and city seem worlds apart. As opposed to Chicago, where the various beaches and skyscrapers utilize the entire coast line. 

While Chicago is drenched in multicultural outlets and ideals, Toronto seems to be even more of a global city, but it's hard to explain why. I guess maybe it is because I felt more of a cultural blend throughout the city, as opposed to Chicago often feeling like the limits of cultural diversity reside in neighborhood pockets.

Since comparing and contrasting two cities really isn't the point of this post, let me cut to the chase and tell you about Toronto and the HugeParty that can be found!

Bar Hop Bar... Craft Beer Mecca of Toronto

What to Expect?

  • YYZ is a Haul - Pearson International Airport is likely your arrival airport, and that sucks. Why? Because it is soooo far away from the city, and transportation back is either a pain in the ass, or an expensive taxi. You can either bus to a train, which is long and arduous, or spend next month's utility bill on a taxi ride (>$60 Tip). If you're able, I highly suggest flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ), it is a stonesthrow away from downtown, and features a couple different low-cost airlines.
  • Favorite Bars - Two nights in Toronto certainly isn't enough to canvas the city for bars, but I highly recommend WVRST Sausage Hall for killer sausages and an excellent local craft draft selection. Opera Bob's Public House is a great dive in a great neighborhood outside of downtown, worth the cab ride. Bar Hop Bar was jam packed, filled with an extensive beer list and great people. The Citizen is for pretty people and a little more expensive fare, but it also turns into a great club at night. 
  • Cost - Toronto wasn't expensive, but it also wasn't cheap. You can find dives, or you can party at a club. There's something for every wallet. This is exactly how I describe Chicago as well. Just don't forget that their coins are worth something. Just hilariously named the Loonie and Toonie.
  • Avoid!!! - Molson. As much as I wanted to drink Molson in Canada (what I perceived to be "Canada's Beer"), it was difficult to find. When I started to ask around, I learned that Molson was more of a Canadian export than it was a national beer. Think of it as how Australian people view Fosters, or Mexican people view Corona. No one from Canada really drinks Molson, you can drink better, and the local craft beer boom has penetrated Canada as well, so do your research and drink local.
Enjoying a Beer at WVRST (Sweetgrass Brewing Co.)
The Kranjska Pork Sausage at WVRST, topped with Jalapenos and Onions

Truly Friendly People

This is a case where the stereotype fits perfectly, for a good reason. Every bar, hotel, restaurant, and even on public transportation... Torontonians were warm and friendly. Here are some examples:
  • On Day 1 my debit card fell out of my pocket on the bus, I had no clue. Thankfully a younger gentleman picked it up and gave it back to me. 
  • The bus/train trip from YYZ Airport can get confusing. A little old lady showed me the way, otherwise I would've missed my stop.
  • A bartender's duty is to be open and inviting, in Toronto I found that the bartenders were genuinely conversational and interested in teaching me about Toronto.
While I realize these are tiny examples that you'd likely see in other cities, these sort of instances happened daily and often. I certainly didn't experience the same when I was in Paris or Rome.

Ping Pong!

On our first night out, my group of co-workers and I found ourselves at SPiN, a legendary craft beer and Ping Pong social club! Not just one lonely table in the back bar, this place features 12 tables and they are the central focus of the bar. We had an absolute blast. 

SPiN Toronto... Such a Legit Place to Compete and Party!

Equally important, the variety of beer was excellent, and the Thursday night DJ was playing the hits. As far as I'm concerned, this place is a "must do" on a long weekend in Toronto.

St. Lawrence Market

You need to go to the St. Lawrence Market. This is the most touristy thing you should do in Toronto, and it involves food, so this is basically a no-brainer. 

Not to mention, it was designated by National Geographic as the #1 Market in the world

Venture through the market, visiting stall after stall of amazing food. The sheer variety under this roof is amazing, so bring your appetite!

Carousel Bakery for Peameal Bacon!

Toronto isn't really known for many culinary delights, except for the peameal bacon sandwich. You NEED to eat the peameal bacon sandwich when you're in Toronto. I recommend the most famous of them all, at Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market.

What is it? Peameal bacon sandwiches are often considered a signature dish of Toronto's St. Lawrence Market. It is grilled in medium-sized slices until the center is slightly rare and the cornmeal coating and external fat turns crisp, then served up with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.

I added egg and cheese. It was delicious. Thank me later.

The Lakeview Restaurant and The Bloody Caesar

As seen on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" and certainly well-known by most Torontonians.... The Lakeview is a 24/7/365 diner that caters to a broad spectrum of clientele, as well as a broad spectrum of inebriation.

The Lakeview is practically an institution. I have had conversations with a few people familiar with Toronto since my trip and when I described the place (without remembering the name) they all immediately guessed The Lakeview. 

Peameal Bacon and Smoked Meat Poutine..... Nom Nom Nom.

For food, when you're in Canada, you eat Poutine, I recommend the smoked meat poutine. They've got a great beer selection, but I recommend you test your courage and drink a "Bloody Caeser". 

A Bloody Caesar is a cocktail which typically contains vodka, Clamato (which is tomato juice and clam broth), hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. It is served with a celery salt-rimmed glass, garnished with a stalk of celery and wedge of lime. What distinguishes it from a Bloody Mary is the inclusion of clam broth.
Mmmmmmm Clam Broth...Said No one Ever.

Yes, you read that right.... Clam Broth! It took me a minute to warm up to the thought of clam sweat, but once I did I couldn't have been more excited about the cocktail. Much saltier, same spicy zing, all of the same garnishes and ounces of vodka as a normal Bloody Mary. I'm not saying this will replace my Bloody Mary diet, I'm just saying when in Canada, drink like a Canadian. 

Travel and Food Quote

"The fact that over 50% of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially. That is easily a city's biggest strength, and it is Toronto's unique strength." ~ Anthony Bourdain

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