When Vogue named West Queen West the second-coolest neighbourhood in the world, it was a sign of Toronto’s growing confidence that many residents were disappointed at only being second-best – despite placing ahead of much better-known locales like Bushwick in Brooklyn and Silver Lake in L.A. Others felt that there are cooler neighbourhoods even within Toronto itself, like Dundas West. So what is all the West Queen West fuss about, exactly? We did a little digging, and it’s hard to argue with the allure when you consider these cool magnets.
THE COUNTY GENERAL
936 Queen St. West
Like, oh, everyone else, Toronto loves brunch. You’ll find lineups all over town on Saturdays and Sundays for all kinds of places, but if you’re hankering for comfort food classics with a hint of attitude, then the County General is the spot to plant yourself in line. Regulars swear by the fried chicken thigh sandwich, while veggie fans can double-down in their own way with the heirloom tomato sandwich. And just because it’s brunch, it doesn’t mean it’s too early for bourbon; their Manhattan has been named the city’s best.
972 Queen St. West
The cocktail revival may have taken a little longer to take flight in Toronto — no doubt due to the antiquated liquor laws in Ontario — but the city has developed a taste for liquid invention, and nowhere is that more visible than in the tippler’s treasure trove that is BYOB. Try your best to choose from nearly 200 varieties of bitters, find all your jiggers and shakers or snag beautiful vintage glasses and barware in this one-stop boutique that rivals — and even exceeds — any found in New York or London. The only thing you can’t get? Alcohol. Thanks, LCBO.
1087 Queen St. West
The days of a bar being cool simply because it had a DJ in the window drowning out your convo have mercifully passed. Head chef Davy Love, a former DJ himself, relies instead on one of the most expertly-curated jukeboxes in the city to soundtrack this elegant, yet welcoming British pub. Don’t expect pictures of fox hunting and Lord Nelson, though; The Bristol evokes a much more modern Britain, which means top-notch curries on the menu and a TARDIS on the way to the bathroom. And what’s cooler these days than the Doctor?
883 Queen St. West
Print is dead, we’re constantly told. Yet TYPE books has found a way to thrive in the digital age by offering the kind of tactile and visually-appealing experiences that can’t be matched by looking at a screen. Tucked into a charming storefront near Trinity Bellwoods Park, you can find the latest buzz books even in categories like “plotless fiction.” There’s also an extensive children’s section, and they’re renowned for their assortment of design books if you want to feast your eyes. The ultimate proof of the store’s coolness? They even had their own viral video (above). Watch it and see how at TYPE, print is very much alive.
872 Queen St. West
The squeamish may shudder, but oysters are all the rage these days. Blackboards all over town proclaim “buck a shuck” happy hour offerings, but chances are that in this town, they all come from one source: Oyster Boy. They’ve been the go-to for oysters for Toronto chefs since 1992, but they also boast their own intimate dining space that satisfies your crustacean cravings. Start with the sturgeon ceviche and move on to the BC Dungeness crab and bay scallop pasta. Or stick to their namesake mollusk – and leave the shucking to the staff.
House Of Vintage
1239 Queen St. West
Styles come and go, but vintage clothing stores are always cool. How each generation’s fashion-forward fashion lovers rediscover and manipulate older clothes is a minor miracle; it requires a sharp eye and a lot of patience. Thankfully, the House of Vintage’s Dennis Adamidis possesses both of those in spades so you don’t have to spend hours digging through bins. So you won’t just find band T-shirts: you’ll find a 1982 The Who tour T-shirt. Other stores have ugly Christmas sweaters; House Of Vintage is where you’ll find a 1940’s art deco reindeer sweater. Forever cool, indeed.
Poutini’s House Of Poutine
1112 Queen St. West
Yes, poutine is Quebec’s great culinary contribution to the world, and for that we eternally say merci. But since it’s also the world’s most perfect post-bar snack, and West Queen West boasts some great bars, it’s no surprise that it’s taken up residence in our hearts (and arteries). At closing time, Poutini’s is filled with a boisterous, somewhat unsteady throng looking to make their morning a little easier by filling up on fries, cheese curds and gravy in all its forms: traditional, vegan, or topped with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, sour cream, even bacon and maple syrup. Don’t worry, that’ll sound irresistible at 2 a.m.
Queen St. West & Strachan Ave.
Not every hip spot on West Queen West serves artisanal cocktails or hocks hand-crafted items. The coolest spot on the strip is free to everyone: Trinity Bellwoods Park, a 37-acre green space that serves as the spiritual home of indie kids, local families and brazen squirrels alike. On sunny summer weekends, the park becomes a mini-village of its own: you’ll find people picnicking, making music, and playing softball, croquet — or that most popular sport, “sunning on a blanket.” Catch the canines cavorting in the dog bowl, gaze at a postcard view of the CN Tower, or people-watch all you want; that’s what everyone else is doing, too.