Not a lot of places have stood the test of time in Toronto. Sure, we've got a lot of heritage plaques nailed to buildings, but nothing so much along the lines of an entire district perfectly preserved. Well, with one exception.
The twisting lanes and cobbled streets of the Distillery District date back to the early 19th century. That's a long time ago. But to this day it's still as relevant as ever and a popular spot to spend an afternoon.
Since it re-opened its doors in 2003, it became a historic site dedicated to arts, cultures and entertainment. It's now a major link connecting us millennials to Toronto's hazy, booze-filled past.
So if you haven't been there in a while, here are 10 convincing reasons why you should.
Photo Cred - Juliette Capdevielle
1. The Booze
It's called the Distillery District for a reason. Everywhere you go, or choose to stop to eat, there will be an enormous drink selection waiting with wines from around the world, and beer made on location.
You can enjoy fresh Mill Street beer at their brew pub and beer hall. Have a drink by the refinery tanks where it's crafted right in front of you. Also, you can become an expert by attending Beer School for $25 and participating in guided tastings on Fridays at 6:30.
Be sure to try The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. Interestingly enough, it's the first brewery of it's kind ever constructed in eastern North America. Take the tour and get your fill of delicious traditional Japanese Sake before moving on to...
2. The Vintage Boutiques
You can spend hours in one store browsing through a plethora of strange things that would look just great in your living room. The Distillery is filled with stores flipped from ancient brick storehouses and grist mills. Where people used to soak malted barley in hot water and boil sugar with hops, fancy antiques, art pieces, and trinkets are set up and on sale.
If you think Kengsinton Market reigns supreme in the vintage world, you may want to poke around here.
3. The Sunday Market
Every Sunday at noon local vendors set up shop at Trinity Square. High quality products such as gourmet chocolate, honey, wine and spirits, and spices are for sale by merchants hailing from Toronto and around Ontario. The market is a sort of preamble to the Agricultural Winter Fair at the Exhibition grounds.
It's a great opportunity to stock up on unique artisan bundles you may not find anywhere else in the city.
4. Art Galleries
There are a series of galleries open for the public in the district. Each establishment represents its own vision of contemporary art and has a rich roster of eclectic artists renown from around the world.
One of the newer spaces opened in 2006. The Thompson Landry Gallery is the only place in Toronto with artwork solely from Québec. Artists from varying time periods are showcased; the leaders of our generation alongside the virtuosos of the past. Exhibitions and events rotate frequently, so there's always something new to see and feel.
5. The Dining Experience
If there's one reason why you're at the Distillery, it better be for the food. You have the choice of approximately 8 restaurants in the area each with a distinct cuisine from somewhere around the world. You may decide to eat at Cluny Bistro with its classic French menu and wine selection. The captivating marble bar and tiled floors will definitely catch your eye.
Pure Spirits Oyster Pub, two-time winner of DineTO's Best Sea Food Award, is an excellent choice as well. As you chow down on your Manhattan Clam Chowder, take a moment to observe your surroundings. Even if you're not a history enthusiast, it is pretty cool to note you're eating in the same room where the good old law-abiding employees of Gooderham & Worts stored their stash of whiskey during the Prohibition Era to sell to American gangsters, who then would smuggle it across the lake. Now our liquor stores just extended their hours; oh how times change.
Even if you're not hungry, it's worth it to take a peak at the decor of each restaurant. Many have done their best to import a sense of tradition from their respective culture, and yet, maintain the original Victorian aesthetic of the distillery.
6. Coffee Shops And Patisseries
Getting a hankering for a quick snack and buying a bag of chips is an act of sacrilege. There are an exuberant amount of fine chocolate and pastries available everywhere!
On an especially warm day, or sweltering hot, it's never a bad idea to grab some ice cream. Greg's Ice Cream, the happiest ice cream in the world, serves delicious all-natural ice cream that will cool you down. If you need a coffee kick, Balzac's provides its customers with hand crafted and roasted brews that will definitely perk you up in the best way possible.
No matter where you turn you will be tempted with goodies.
7. The Tours
For those of you trying to figure out a good second or third date option, we recommend a Segway tour. The Distillery District and Segway of Ontario offer a bunch of options to enrich your experience. Plus, who doesn't want to ride around on one of those things?
There are a few ways to go about your tour. You may choose the Historic Walking Tour with topics covering the history of the distillery and Toronto. Then you face 3 options on the segway: the Segway Spin, Classic Tour, and the Ghost Tour. Prices vary and each last about 60 minutes. The Classic Tour includes tastings at Mill St. Brewery and Soma Chocolate. What are you waiting for?
8. The Art Installations
Let's just admit that the big pieces of corrugated metal sculptures are provocative. The beams, bent and twisted into impressive representations of...something, is pretty awesome to look at. My take on this one is clearly War of the Worlds.
Numerous artwork peppers the distillery, some bearing over you, others hidden and less physically imposing but still fascinating. It's definitely another layer of modern design that meshes with the classic 19th century architecture.
8. Music City Summer Series
A special event going on until the end of August, the Music City Summer Series hosts Canada's newest up and coming artists every Wednesday at 6 pm. Come by and listen to swing, jazz, country, blues, and much more!
It's a perfect opportunity to be outside and enjoy the ambiance of the distillery at dusk. Each evening is dedicated to one group as they perform a set.
For more information, check out the performance listings here.
9. Theatre At The Young Centre For The Performing Arts
Home to one of Toronto's most widely recognized theatre company, Soulpepper, and George Brown Colleges' Theatre School, this space is always buzzing with activity.
The YCPA has hosted productions for Panamania this month, and the next installment titled Obeah Opera kicks off in August. Be sure to allot some time to browse around the local restaurants for a prix fixe deal before a show!
10. The Atmosphere
In the midst of all the eateries, shopping, coffee, art exhibitions, and live entertainment, it's a perfect place for some peace and quiet. There's something about the mood, old and brooding, that helps the mind wander. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the craziness of our every day lives and take a walk along the old streets of a derelict heritage site, frozen at the crossroads of the past and present.
On the flip side, there's so much going on during the day it's hard not to get swept up in Toronto culture. It's an ideal setting for a date, or a casual hang out with friends.
It's amazing how we can live in the city our whole lives but rarely get to know it intimately. If you haven't been to the Distillery District in a while, maybe it's time to plan a trip.