Two Brothers, Two Coasts: Driving Vancouver to New York
Blue Jays and Full Moons in Toronto, Ontario
Clare was hunched over the breakfast counter, busily scribbling down notes, sketching out maps and running routes on multiple blue post-it notes.
We had met Clare and her fiancée Alex in Barbados on a catamaran cruise in January and now we were staying in their stunning top-floor apartment, where we were welcomed in with cold beers and sunset views of both the Toronto skyline and the new waterfront development of glass apartment blocks and hotels.
This is Clare and Alex to a tee, they are amongst the most hospitable people I have ever met. We had caught up with Clare in Nashville the week before, where she was on her bachelorette party, and she offered to let us stay with her and Alex when we got to Toronto the next week.
The apartment was beyond anything we had imagined. It is on the top floor of a smart looking block, just off of King Street, a strip of fashionable bars and restaurants and just a 1km jog down to the waterfront.
Clare was on hand with recommendations on what to see, where to go and especially where to eat and drink. We started with burritos from Wilbur Mexicana, two doors down from the apartment, where there is a constant queue and a hot sauce selection that made me feel like a kid in a candy store. We walked around the majority of the city, took in a Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre and ate and drank everything in sight.
Maybe it was the apartment, or the local knowledge that had been imparted upon us, or maybe this is just how Toronto gets you, but we soon felt like locals, starting every day with a trip to Jimmy’s for coffee.
There isn’t a lot to strictly see in Toronto, from a tourist perspective, except the overpriced CN Tower, so the best way to enjoy it is by walking around the various neighbourhoods. I quickly fell in love with the city. It just seems to function correctly. There were no road works, everything is clean and tidy, every bar and restaurant looks appealing and the locals look busy and happy and affluent. Unlike London, everyone seems like they are at once busy but also relaxed. People play golf, run down by the harbour, walk their dogs, catch a baseball game, go out for dinner. No wonder the city gets ranked in the top five of liveability tables year in year out
As I walked around, the diversity of the city started to impose itself upon me. London is as diverse a city as any, but Toronto feels more like a melting pot, with less dividing lines. We stumbled upon Church St on the Friday just as a gay pride parade was getting into full swing, but we saw gay couples in every neighbourhood, not just hanging out in the village. The Chinatown is one of the biggest in Canada, but Asian restaurants are everywhere. The diversity of dining options is staggering across the entirety of the city.
Our favourite neighbourhood was Ossington. We walked the length of Queen St (which was flying the flag for gay pride in most shop windows, I have no idea if the irony was intentional) where every vintage clothing shop, independent burger bar and converted apartment block looked appealing. Apparently this was once the rough neighbourhood of Toronto, but in a hyperdriven spate of gentrification it looks like Shoreditch does in London today.
The best young chefs have all been gravitating towards the area for the best part of a decade, and every open door we walked past was full of hipsters enjoying Cubano sandwiches, steaming bowls of rare beef Pho, woodsmoke flavoured gelato and small plates of jerk-pork-dim-sum fusion cuisine. There were restaurants that didn’t even have a name or menu on the door, probably because the bar was already full to bursting and people were spilling out onto the sunny back terrace.
The weekend was always going to culminate at the apartment. Clare and Alex were planning a Full-Moon themed party for their friend Santa and we were pretty much crashing it. Ted and I helped set up while the scale of the party started to make itself apparent. Two 90-pint kegs of Steam Whistle pilsner arrived first, then 100 pounds of ice, and then an ice luge.
The sun was out and the party started quick, Clare’s friend Jackie was manning the keg with an Irish determination that meant no one’s glass was empty for long. The sun was out and everyone was out on the huge wraparound deck. The night got blurry as soon as the shots started flowing down the ice luge and conversations began to melt into one another. According to Alex, we got to bed at 5am.
Ted started the following day by throwing up his Wilbur burrito in front of a group of girls trying to enjoy their lunch in the sunshine, and ended with me driving all the way to Montreal during a thunderstorm while he slept it off. I’ve never been to Thailand, but I imagine that’s how most Full Moon parties leave you feeling.
Next stop: Montreal, Quebec