In Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville, Hermès, Gucci and Cartier shops conceal the neighborhood’s storied past. The city’s toniest area served as Canada’s epicenter for bohemian culture back in the 1960s. Instead of luxury shops, Yorkville was filled with cafés frequented by then-promising musicians like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and writers like Margaret Atwood and Gwendolyn MacEwen. Yorkville may have strayed far from its hippie roots, but it’s found a new groove. While you won’t find jam sessions, poetry readings or love-ins any more, it does retain traces of its artistic legacy with art galleries peppered among the boutiques and restaurants housed in converted brick Victorian houses.
Despite being an exclusive enclave, it manages to maintain a charming feel. After wrapping up a slew of neighborhood improvements this month, Yorkville debuted gray herringbone stone streets flanked by newly planted Kentucky coffee trees and elms.
Our Forbes Travel Guide editors scoped out Toronto’s modern-day gem and found a slew of reasons you should visit right now, even if you can’t happen upon Mitchell wailing in a coffeehouse.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of excellent hotels in the area, including Park Hyatt Toronto and Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, but we opted to stay at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Hazelton Hotel during our visit. The utterly chic boutique hotel makes it own contribution to the artistic neighborhood with its collection of mostly Canadian art. Upon entering the Hazelton, you’ll be greeted with two precarious towers of shiny nickel-plated suitcases from artist Bruno Billio. And in the lobby, Sorel Etrog’s sculpted bronze figures are entwined in a tango, while Greg Payce’s shapely porcelain black vases have an optical illusion—stare at the negative spaces to see two men facing each other. (For a tour of the offerings, see the hotel’s art concierge.)
The rooms come with art, but you’ll also want to check out the sleek, modern décor. Tufted chocolate-brown leather covers the walls surrounding the bed, French doors open to a balcony, and a spacious zebrawood dressing room and a brown, gray and white palette add sophistication. Our favorite part is the bathroom—coated in green-streaked black granite, the space oozes sultriness. Plus, it comes with amenities such as a deep-soaking tub, an LCD television built into the mirror, a separate rainforest shower and heated floors (a godsend on those frigid Toronto mornings).
Where to Eat
Although it’s known as a shopping and art district, Yorkville provides great food options. One of the best is right off of the lobby at the Hazelton, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star One Restaurant. Friendly Top Chef Canada head judge Mark McEwan leads the kitchen in turning out refined contemporary Canadian fare. Don’t miss the lobster spoons appetizer, where the seafood swims in butter and vermouth. Several spoonfuls won’t be enough—you will wish this was your main course. The beet salad with roasted strawberries, rhubarb puree, honeycomb, whipped goat cheese and spiced pecans is another standout starter. If you save enough room for an entrée, try the yellowfin tuna with sweet pea falafel and couscous salad or the tender shortrib. Tip: In the warmer months, book a table in the patio to people-watch in the middle of the Yorkville shops.
For French food, check out the revamped Café Boulud Toronto at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. French master Daniel Boulud took his Four-Star fine-dining bistro and refashioned it into a more casual brasserie. In creating the menu, Boulud and chef de cuisine Sylvain Assié plucked dishes from their childhoods in the French countryside along with memorable plates from their travels. That’s why you’ll see quenelles de brochet, northern pike with cognac Nova Scotia lobster sauce, and Vietnamese pho on the same menu. The centerpiece of the renovated space is the made-in-France rotisserie, where chicken, lobster and pineapple slowly roast on spits.
Celebrities like hip-hop star Drake and Bruce Willis can’t seem to get enough of the Italian comfort food at Sotto Sotto, which reopened in a new venue in February after a fire destroyed its original space. Another Italian favorite among locals is the buzzed-about Yorkville outpost from the popular Buca brand.
To get great skyline views of the city, head to The One Eighty, a hot spot that debuted in March on the 51st floor of the Manulife Centre. Nosh on fun dishes like halibut tacos with Sriracha sour cream from the dim sum-like small-plates cart, or indulge in a larger meal, like buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with cherry chutney and crispy jalapeños while gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows (from April to October, perch yourself on one of the two terraces).
What to Do
A couple of museums call Yorkville home, including the Royal Ontario Museum and fashionista favorite the Bata Shoe Museum, but we recommend taking an easy walking tour of the smaller galleries. Right next door to the Hazelton is Liss Gallery, which specializes in contemporary fine art. We enjoyed Toronto-based Alexander Eros Rocco’s fashion-centric photos, which look like they come straight out of Vogue. Family owned Loch Gallery carries Canadian and European historical works as well as contemporary paintings and sculptures (you can’t miss the gallery, which has colorful Alice in Wonderland-esque sculptures outside of it). For Canadian art, peruse the paintings, sculpture, works on paper and photography at Kinsman Robinson Galleries.
Keep your eyes peeled as you wander the neighborhood. Spy installations in places like 121 Scollard Street, where rows of surveillance cameras blanket an exterior brick wall, a commentary on the way we are watched in the contemporary age. And near Hazelton Lanes mall, artist Boaz Vaadia offers his Ze’ev with Cat, a stacked stone man lounging on a bench with his stacked stone feline.
Where to Shop
Along the “Mink Mile,” the nickname for the stretch tony shops along Yorkville’s Bloor Street, you can go on a spree at Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Cartier and Prada. For some Canadian flavor, head to the Barneys-like Holt Renfrew, the nation’s high-end department store, or Harry Rosen, which stocks high-end men’s labels.
Veer off Bloor Street to Pink Tartan, Canadian designer Kimberley Newport-Mimran’s flagship boutique housed in a two-story Georgian townhouse that was built in 1867 for the Village of Yorkville constable. The racks are filled with stylish, understated sportswear, though you’ll discover some avant-garde pieces, like a pair of bold blue stillettos with pills affixed on them, a telling wear for fashionistas with a shoe addiction.
Next to The Hazelton Hotel is Hazelton Lanes shopping center. Head there to shop at trendy TNT, whose two floors offer Theory tops, Chloé dresses, Moschino accessories and more. Next door, visit Kiton to see the Italian brand’s smart suits, bright ties and dress shirts. Across the street is George C., a department store that feels more like a boutique (we were coveting a pair of Gianvito Rossi black lace pumps that fanned at the ankles).
Go east on Yorkville Avenue and stop off at Teatro Verde, a yellow two-level building that carries unique home goods and gifts. Then make your way to Bay Street to pop into Archives, a carefully curated boutique of accessories ranging from bow ties to one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Where to Unwind
After your day of shopping, you’ll need to relax. Retreat to Four-Star Spa at the Hazelton in the lower level of the Toronto hotel. The spa is tiny with only four treatment rooms, but it’s one of only three in North America (there are outposts in Sonora Resort in British Columbia and Hôtel Plaza Athénée New York) from the veteran Swiss Valmont brand.
While the menu offers a slew of massages, wraps and mani/pedis, skin care is Valmont’s specialty. So go for one of the facials, which use glacial spring water, essential plant extracts, primitive collagen and highly polymerized DNA to rejuvenate your skin. We tried the hydration facial, which is supposed to lessen wrinkles. The soothing service left us with a glowing, ready-to-go complexion (the absence of post-facial redness meant no recovery time was needed).
To further your state of bliss, make time for the spa’s saltwater lap pool, lined with Bisazza mosaic tile. The quiet subterranean sanctuary will make you forget you’re in one of Toronto’s most popular neighborhoods.