Toronto’s Distillery District
Picture it: Toronto, August 2008.
I’m late for a very important date and to top it all off, I’m lost. I get off the bus and start walking east. All of a sudden I see a gateway leading to…. England? Looking at the cobblestone streets, the distinctive red bricks of the Victorian-era buildings and the noticable absence of cars, it seems as though I entered a time warp and stepped into Dickensian London. Instead, I’m in one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods: the Distillery District.
The District’s old-world charm comes from the fact that it was once home to the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, founded in 1832 and the largest distillery in the British Empire by the 1860s. In the late 20th century, the Distillery’s operations came to a close and the area soon became a no-man’s land, surrounded by demolished buildings and vacant lots. But the Distillery’s buildings remained intact and “constitute the largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.” This made the area a big favourite with “Hollywood North” so it has often been used as a location for a number of major films, such as Chicago, X-Men, Cinderella Man and of course Brady Bunch in the White House.
A few years ago, the site was redeveloped and is now one of Toronto’s most fascinating tourist destinations. Its 40 plus buildings house art galleries, theatres, speciality shops, restaurants and cafés and what’s more, the spaces are never leased to franchises or chains. So if you’re in the area and are hankering for a Big Mac or Starbuck’s iced cappuccino, you’re outta luck!
I must say I was pleasantly surprised by my visit because even if I grew up in Toronto, I had no idea this District even existed. It truly was a hidden gem. And I just loved the relaxed vibe and slightly European feel of this pedestrian neighbourhood. There were a number of restaurants to choose from, such as the Boiler House and Perigee but we opted for the Mill St. Brew Pub, a microbrewery specializing in fresh organic beers, stouts and ales. They also served pub fare with a twist. I had a fancy shmancy meat loaf stuffed with asiago cheese and spinach and one of my friends ordered sweet potato fries. So delicious and gorgeous that I just had to take a picture!
I wish I had had enough time to discover more of the District, visit some artists’ studios and try the chocolates at Soma, but that will have to wait till my next visit to Toronto. And of course, you’re all invited!
Are there any hidden gems in your towns? What area would make a great movie location?