While everyone has compiled their best of comics list, here’s a random list of the cultural establishments in Toronto that I can’t wait to see more of in the coming year:
Narwhal and videofag: I discovered both of these galleries thanks to TCAF14! Ever since Meta Gallery on Ossington bit the dust, I’ve been looking for a space that showcases contemporary illustrative work in a similar vein. Narwhal seems to be it, with a style that overlaps a fair bit with what you might find between the covers of the latest issue of Hi-Fructose. Looking forward to the Junko Mizuno show in 2015 and seeing other exhibits. And now that I’ve moved closer to Kensington Market, I’m looking forward to shows in videofag and Double Double Land (have yet to catch a show there…)
TCAF Pop-Up: I had the chance to see the new TCAF store located inside the Toronto Public Reference Library, conveniently located at Bloor/Yonge. Much like the festival itself, it has comics of all kinds, with a healthy selection of goods from Europe and Japan, although not a lot in terms of independent press and zines. Its brightly lit, spacious layout is completely different from the stuffed to the gills interior of The Beguiling. If you are new to comics, this store is definitely very easy to navigate and I’m looking forward to seeing how the store grows. But The Beguiling is still the place to go if you’re looking for more independent, obscure or older material.
Hanji: A number of Japanese stationary stores opened up in Korea-town while I was away, but Hanji is probably my favourite. It’s been on Bloor W for awhile now, but they’ve also opened a location on Queen W, the other neighbourhood I love. Aside from handmade papers and stationary goods, there are all manner of crafty supplies like washi tape, book binding tools, and all things tiny and cute!
Agent Provocateur Boutique: I thought I’d mention the new AP store in Yorkville because their lingerie is gorgeous and I often enjoy their new designs, but I’ve mixed feelings about it. It has all the plusses that you would expect like a chic decor, flutes of bubbly while you’re shopping, and staff who try to meet – and then surpass – any request you might have. They’re also not snobbish, a trait I absolutely loathe about the staff in Holt Renfrew, where the other AP retail store is (located at the back of the lingerie department; although the AP trained staff are nicer than Holts). On the downside, the Yorkville staff are extremely aggressive and clingy – far more so than any other AP store I’ve visted internationally. I once had one woman basically surveil and stalk me as I was browsing and every time I so much as touched a piece, she would swoop out from nowhere to give me some kind of commentary like a creepy museum docent. I suppose it goes without saying that the staff at this location will say any old bs to close a sale. My recommendation here is to scope out the wares at the boutique, but to do actual fittings and purchases in Holts.
The Atlantic: The moment I sat down for dinner at The Atlantic, I saw a copy of Alexis Lykiard’s translation of Maldoror and I immediately felt like home. There is basically no menu and the wine list (see above) is rather whimsical, although last I heard, chef Isberg has done away with alcohol to focus on the food (??). The dishes in that evening’s five course meal – like the refreshing kimchi cucumber salad with pine nuts and rose petals, or the poached trout with black rice in amber, some kind of cream, bok choy, served in a pine infused broth – were creative, nourishing and surprizing. It reminded me of the now defunct URSA in terms of excellence in execution and inventiveness, but without any of URSA’s arrogance or trendiness. Highly recommended. The Atlantic also has a PWYC/barter/IOU model so you’re welcome to spend anything from $3+ there.
Yasu Toronto’s west end has been begging for a good sushi place to rival the likes of Kaji Sushi for decades. And that time has finally come with Yasu, a 12 seater sushi bar that has settled on Harbord Street, a strip beloved by the author for its wide selection of dining options from the modest top tier excellence of contemporary Canadian at Splendido to the cheery take out service at Flip Toss & Thai. At $80/head (although perhaps the price has been raised due to popularity; I last ate there in May…), it’s well worth the price. Friends don’t let friends eat bad sushi. Suck it up and make your reservations weeks in advance or follow Yasu’s Twitter feed to pounce on any last minute cancellations.
Bampot: Bampot is a tea and board game house nestled on Harbord St. I wrote about the place in my Guide to TCAF Eats and would still recommend the place for long, meandering conversations over some exotic brew.
Bellwoods Brewery: I developed a taste for craft brews during my time in the US and I’d say Bellwoods is right up there with some of the top American breweries. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with any of the terminology used by beer affectionados, but the principals of taste remain the same. You’re looking for a strong aroma, well balanced flavours and body and a good aftertaste. Right now, I’d say go for the Brett barrel aged quad, Lamda which I’m told they will bottle in the new year and Roman Candle for you IPA lovers. As for the brewpub itself, the food is good, but on the pricey side. Also, in the summer, the lineups are killer. But even in the dead of winter, they’re doing very well. I just went on a bitter Monday evening earlier this week and the place was pretty full.
Kekou Gelato House Baldwin is an oft overlooked street for dining. While Spadina’s Chinatown is having something of a foodie renaissance, this little sidestreet off the main Spadina strip has been undergoing interesting changes as well. Of all the new places that have sprung up, Kekou’s lineup of East Asian flavours – ranging from tropical fruits (yes, they have durian!) to various teas/coffees (HK nai cha!) is dangerously addictive. They’re closed now for the season but hopefully will be open again at the first signs of spring.
Anyways, since I might be in Toronto for awhile, my new year’s resolutions for cultural outings are to check out more live music shows, find a club I like other than Wrongbar, scope out the performance art scene and attend more community based events…