Toronto has a world-class queer scene and plenty to offer to gay travelers even during the cold season.
One of the largest cities in North America, Toronto also endures some of the continent’s coldest winters, with temperatures averaging 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless you love navigating icy sidewalks and donning layers of clothes, you might not think of Toronto as a great winter destination. But this stately city with a world-class queer scene has plenty to offer even when temperatures dip below freezing.
It helps that city planners built a vast network of tunnels beneath downtown, many containing shops and eateries, and created an efficient, user-friendly mass-transit system. Winter is also rife with hotel bargains and typically without long lines for queer discos, museum exhibitions, and other events that can be packed during the summer high season.
From noshing on delicious food to holing up with your sweetie in a romantic inn, taking the chill off Toronto’s frigid winters can be awfully fun. Here are seven great ways to enjoy yourself.
Related: Montreal: Canada’s Design City
1. Hit the museums
The immense Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) contains enough fascinating material to keep you engaged for hours – even days. Highlights include the dinosaur collection, a tremendous assemblage of Roman artifacts, the fifth largest textile collection in the world, a highly regarded gallery of Chinese art and antiquities, and the ancient Egypt gallery. Another place to lose yourself for hours is the esteemed Art Gallery of Ontario, which hosts several exceptional exhibitions each year and includes the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre, an impressive wing devoted to Canadian painting, and works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Picasso, and Degas.
Imelda Marcos’ shoe closet may have garnered more attention, but Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum is Valhalla for footwear fetishists. All displays are devoted exclusively to footwear, tracing its evolution since ancient times. Although not a museum per se, the CN (Canadian National) Tower, whose 1,465-foot-high Space Deck is the tallest observation platform in the world, is a must-visit on clear days or evenings.
The Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Toronto is an excellent place to stay, and is close to both the CN Tower and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
2. Shop till your heart’s content at Eaton Centre
Shopaholics should make a beeline for the mammoth, 3-million-square-foot Eaton Centre, an amazingly comprehensive survey of middle- to high-end shops and restaurants. If you’re a real die-hard, stay at the 18-floor Marriott Toronto Eaton Centre, a lavish, upscale hotel with cushy furnishings; it’s connected to the mother ship via an indoor hallway.
3. Catch a show
Toronto boasts the third-largest theater scene in the English-speaking world (behind only London and New York); in just 40 years, the number of professional theaters has grown from two to more than 200. For the latest on what’s playing, log onto the Toronto Theatre Alliance website, http://www.tapa.ca/ which also has links to T.O. Tix (a half-price-ticket finder). Full-price tickets normally go really cheap but can cost considerably more for top musicals and less for smaller-scale performances.
4. Plan a romantic dinner
Superb restaurants abound in nearly every Toronto neighborhood, including the Gay Village, centered around the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets, where Cafe California’s sumptuous menu and chic patio dining make it a see-and-be-seen spot. Relatively nearby – in the Danforth neighborhood, which is best known for its outstanding Greek restaurants – you’ll find the city’s gay-friendliest Irish pub, Allen’s. It’s a lovely and affordable spot for sampling imported ales and whiskies, famously delicious french fries, and stick-to-your-ribs meat pies, stews, and other Celtic treats.
Few restaurants outside the Iberian Peninsula serve better Portuguese fare than Chiado, where velvet armchairs, warm-golden walls, and starched linens lend a dignified air. The food is authentic and sophisticated – from rabbit braised in Madeira wine to poached salt cod – and the staff charming. Toronto has a wealth of superb Asian eateries, among them Susur, an austere dining room in which celeb-chef Susur Lee’s artful creations take center stage. The ultimate way to enjoy dinner here is by ordering the spectacular eight-course tasting menu.
5. Get down and dirty at a dance club
Toronto’s Gay Village has dozens of queer bars, including a handful with lively dance floors. The premier lesbian hangouts are The Beaver and The Henhouse, and even though they are not technically lesbian bars neither are dominated by gay men. For the guys, Woody’s is a cavernous venue with five bars and strong community involvement located in the heart of Toronto’s Boystown. Fly feels like a big circuit party, with its buffed crowd, high-energy music, and many lounges and dance spaces. The iconic Queer as Folk often filmed here, even though the show was pretending to be set in Pittsburgh.
The Black Eagle is a cruise bar for the leather, denim, and uniform crowd, proud to be friendly and without an attitude. Toronto’s only legal male strip club, Remingtons, boasts two fully renovated floors with a state-of-the-art liquor dispensing system.
6. Get even more down and dirty at a sauna
In a city whose name means “meeting place” in the indigenous Huron language, it’s not surprising that “hooking up” is a favorite activity in the gay community. Several bathhouses here act as clean and relatively safe “meeting places,” the darling of bathhouse aficionados being Spa Excess, a four-story playground with a friendly staff. Other local favorites are Steamworks and The Cellar.
7. Book a room at a cozy inn
Perhaps nothing takes the nip off a chilly night better than snuggling under the covers with your honey in a big bed at an inviting inn. Eaton Chelsea is a comfortable gay-friendly hotel high rise within walking distance to the gay village, while Toronto Garden Inn Bed and Breakfast is a two-and-a-half story Victorian townhouse that was built in the 1890s. The historic character of the house is enhanced with antique furniture and decor. After downtown’s excitement and hustle, Toronto Garden Inn offers a cozy, secure and quiet accommodation to make your stay as enjoyable as home.