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Toronto Nightlife
If You Want to be Entertained or Try the Foods of the World, Toronto's Entertainment District is the Place

by Habeeb Salloum

The first time that I set foot in Toronto, more than half a century ago, for a young man like myself, there was hardly anything entertaining to do. To have fun, one travelled to Buffalo, Detroit or Montreal. ‘Toronto the Good’ was a fine but a boring city. For a lonely newcomer arriving from western Canada, roaming the streets or going to movies was about the only entertainment to be had. Sunday was the worst - there were no restaurants open. If I did not buy food and take it illegally to my room on Saturday, Sunday would be a day of fasting.

How things have changed! Toronto today has become a magnetic urban centre for young and old alike. Innumerable places of entertainment, honeymoon getaways and the foods of the world are to found in the hundreds of eating-places that dot every corner of the city. Food buffs assert that one can eat in these restaurants, mostly open seven days a week, 365 days a year and not have the same ethnic food twice.

Toronto Entertainment District -- "The District"

The top spot where one can enjoy life in Canada’s largest metropolis is The Toronto Entertainment District, or as it is commonly called, The District, located within an eight square blocks area in the heart of the city. Bordered by York Street and the Financial District on the East, Queen Street on the North, Spadina and the Fashion sector on the west, and the Lakeshore on the south, the area is easily accessible, by all forms of transportation.

It offers some of Toronto’s best theatres, bars and nightspots and, as well, The District encompasses many gourmet restaurants, fine shopping, the best of accommodations, sporting facilities, live theatres, movies, top-class luxury hotels and a good number of other attractions - for honeymooners, much to see and do.

The undisputed entertainment capital of Canada, The District is a heartland of good food and a lively concentration of entertainment spots, bursting with inspiration. It boasts the world’s largest and longest underground shopping complex with 1,200 shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. Now, known as the ‘Trendy Area’, The District incorporates an incredible number of art galleries, boutiques, bistros, cafes, nightclubs, first class shopping and theatre life galore.

When I first roamed Toronto in the early 1950s, this neighborhood was an area of neglected warehouses and rundown homes. Yet, when the city was first established it was set aside for the homes of Toronto’s upper crust which included such family names such as Baldwin, Campbell, Strachan and Boulton. As the city expanded, this original residential area was transformed into a neglected industrial and warehouse section of Toronto. In the ensuing years, after urban decay, there was growth and renewal. The neighborhood that was magnificently restored, has now evolved into the premier centre of Toronto and one of North America’s most diverse entertainment destinations.

Historic Landmarks

Among the historic landmarks that remain from the bygone era are: the Campbell House, an example of Georgian architecture; St. Andrew’s Church, once the leading church in the social reform movement of the Victorian era; the Black Bull Tavern, dating back to the early 1800s; the train terminal, Union Station, inspired by the basilicas of Ancient Rome featuring 22 limestone columns weighing 75 tons each; the CPR John Street Roundhouse, a reminder of the steam technology and the role of rail in Toronto; and the 1929 built Royal York Hotel, today known as the Fairmont Royal York, renowned for its physical presence and beauty and hailed when first constructed as the largest hotel in the British Empire.

Since the early 1980s, this physical resurgence has given the area an immense popularity. It has become a sought-after hot spot, known for its diverse and varied recreation possibilities - a place to enjoy a family overnight getaway. Here one can shop both above ground and below ground; drink in its innumerable pubs and patios; dine the best of Italian and French cuisine or the other fine foods of the world; catch a movie or a live performance in one of its theatres; attend an art exhibit or a sports event; and climb the highest tower in the world to get a birds’ eye view of Toronto in all its glory, then return to rest in one of The District’s six luxury hotels.

SkyDome, Theaters, and More

The most well known landmarks that give The District its renown are the Sky Dome, the home of Toronto’s baseball team the Blue Jays and boasting the world’s first fully retractable roof; the CN Tower, the world’s tallest free-standing structure, with its Convention Centre; the Canada Centre, the home for Toronto’s hockey team the Toronto Maple Leafs; the CHUM City Building, an innovative television station noted for its unique Gothic architecture; and the CBC Building, edged by Simcoe Park, designated the first park in Toronto in1827.

Vying with these giant attractions are the famous Princess of Wales, the first privately built theatre in North America; the Royal Alexandra Theatre, an architectural gem which has featured on its stage the most famous theatrical stars of the 20th century; and the spectacular Roy Thompson Hall, renowned in the world of entertainment. These three theatres have been largely instrumental in making Toronto the third largest theatre-going city in the English-speaking world.

The good number of plush condominiums being built around The District is gradually, and on an ongoing basis, making it a popular high demand residential area, especially for the young. The energy of this neighborhood can be seen at its best during the night when the streets fill up with people dressed their best, ready for a night on the town. Numerous clubs host special events geared for enjoyment, creating for those who live in Toronto and visitors alike a friendly and pleasureful atmosphere.

The saying that the ‘District really does have it all for those who are seeking entertainment’ is truly a valid statement. Every attraction, shop, eating-place or entertainment establishment is literally next door to the next. Considered a modern and fast paced neighborhood, it is constantly abuzz with entertainment and activities. Amazing, when one ponders that what was once a neglected area has become today a mecca of culture, those seeking excitement on their honeymoons and diversity.

For More Information On the Toronto Entertainment District, 157 Adelaide St. W., Box 414, Toronto, ON M5H 4E7, contact: tel: 416-397-0815. E-mail:mkeranen@hiok.com or visit www.thedistrict.ca

An Excellent Hotel in the District

The Fairmont Royal York Hotel - Called the ultimate downtown Toronto hotel, this deluxe grand landmark of the city is one of the most popular hotel names in the world. Within walking distance of all The District and beyond, it is an ideal place to stay when visiting Toronto. 100 Front Street West, Toronto, ON, Canada M5J 1E3. Tel: 416-368-2511. Fax: 416-368-9040. E-mail: royalyorkhotel@fairmont.com

Fine Eating Places

Penelope Restaurant, 225 King St. West, Toronto M5V 3C5. Tel: 416-351-7002. Fax: 416-351-7002. See website: www.peneloperestaurant.com/

350 Fahrenheit Restaurant - If after visiting the Entertainment District one has an Appetite for healthy living, to the north, on Bloor Street, this eating spot, is the place to dine. It is the first restaurant in Toronto to offer an entire menu designed to suit today's poplar diets and healthy eating lifestyle. For the dieter who appreciates the presentation and the art of fine cuisine, but also wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle, 350 Fahrenheit provides a comfortable dining experience. The nutritional breakdown including the calorie count and grams of fat, protein, carbohydrates and fibre are listed for each serving. The bill also includes the nutritional breakdown of all the foods ordered.

Popular dishes include: a lime grilled white fish with spicy sweet potato and kale; Poulet a l'range, chicken in an orange sauce; sweet potato & green pea samosas; and for dessert, "uncheesecake", cheesecake made from soy - dairy free. Appetizers and soups are under $6. and entrees are moderately priced - from $8 to $20.

"Forget about restrictions" says Ion Nicolae, proprietor of the restaurant. "Meals can be as delicious tasting as dishes ordered on any other restaurant menu."

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Habeeb Salloum is a Canadian author and freelance writer specializing in Canadian, Arab and Latin- American history, travel and the culinary arts. Besides five books and 18 chapters in books, he has had hundreds of articles about food, travel, history and homesteading in western Canada published.