The Annex is one of Toronto's oldest neighbourhoods and its first streetcar suburb, characterized by its distinctive tall narrow houses, and lively community along Bloor Street. Considered a food and shopping mecca, this district is well known by Torontonians as one of the friendliest neighborhoods in the city. The large number of university students and faculty residing in the area (due to the adjacent University of Toronto district) also gives the neighbourhood a somewhat intellectual reputation.
Bloor St. W, the focal point of the Annex.
Map of Toronto-Annex
From the Don Valley Parkway: exit at Bloor Street, follow Bloor Street West to Spadina.
From the 401: exit at Allen Road. Follow Allen Road south until Eglinton. Turn left on Eglinton, and right on Bathurst. Follow Bathurst to Bloor. Or: Exit the 401 at Avenue Rd., proceed south to Bloor St, where you make a right turn and continue until you reach spadina.
From the Gardiner Expressway: exit at Spadina. Follow Spadina north until Bloor St.
Parking: Finding a parking space on Bloor Street or any of the side streets is extremely difficult at the best of times and basically impossible during regular business hours. There is one parking lot in the neighbourhood, a commercial one just off Bloor Street, on Lippincott Street, one block east of Bathurst Street.
This neighbourhood is well served by the subway. The University-Spadina line runs to Spadina Station; the St George Station on the same line is several blocks east of the Annex. The Bloor-Danforth line runs underground immediately north of Bloor Street, it stops at Spadina Station and Bathurst Station, on either end of the Annex. The Spadina and Bathurst stations have transfer-free connections to 510 and 511 streetcars respectively.
The 510 Spadina LRT Streetcar runs from Union Station south to Queen's Quay in the Harbourfront neighbourhood, along which it runs west to Spadina, it then runs north on Spadina to Sadina Subway Station where it connects to the Bloor-Danforth line. The 510 runs entirely in its own right-of-way. The 511 Streetcar runs from Exhibition Place in the Harbourfront neighbourhood, along Fleet Street to Bathurst, it then runs north on Bathurst to Bathurst Subway Station. The 511 runs with traffic for most of its route.
Bloor Street runs east-west across the city, and is north of downtown. It's best to ask directions, everyone will know where Bloor and Bathurst is located.
Bata Shoe Museum, [www.batashoemuseum.ca], 327 Bloor St. W, across from St. George subway station. +1 416-979-7799. Tu,W,F,Sa 10AM-5PM, Th 10AM-8PM, Su 12PM-5PM. One of Toronto's more unusual attractions, the Bata Shoe Museum tells the story of footwear through the ages. Much more interesting that it sounds, the building is worth a look if only to check out its unique deconstructivist architecture, meant to resemble an opening shoe box. Adults $8, Seniors $6, Students $6, Children (5-17) $4 (Free on Thursday between 5PM - 8PM)
Casa Loma, 1 Austin Terrace, +1 416-923-1171. 9:30AM-5PM everyday. In 1911, financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt decided to construct Canada's largest private residence. The resulting European-style castle is now a Toronto landmark and popular tourist attraction. The gardens are particularly beautiful. Adults $16, Seniors, $10 (60+), Youth (14-17) $10, Children (4-13) $8.75. (Parking is $2.75/hr).
The Spadina House Museum, 285 Spadina Road, +1 416-392-6910. Adjacent to Casa Loma, this museum gives a more authentic version of Canada's history. It's also a cultural center, hosting music and art events. Hours and admission vary with the season. Check the website for what's on at the moment, or call their event hotline at 416-338-3888.
Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queens Park (at Bloor), +1 416-586-5549. M-Th 10AM-6PM, F 10AM-9:30PM, Sa-Su 10AM-6PM. The ROM is Canada's largest museum, displaying everything from preserved Egyptian mummies to live Madagascar cockroaches. It's must-see for anyone with an interest in cultural or natural history, and a terrific place to wander through. The first floor's East Asian Exhibit is particularly beautiful. Be aware that the museum is can easily take more than a day to fully explore. A new civilization wing is currently under construction, apparently designed to resemble the Louvre pyramid exploding. Adults $20, Seniors $17, Students $17, Children $14. Free 45 minutes before closing.
Honest Ed's. A Toronto landmark that invites you to "Come in and Get Lost!" While this gigantic department store is far more impressive outside than in, it's definitely worth a look if for no other reason than to see the gigantic "No Refunds" signs that wallpaper the interior. Check it out at night, when the shopfront's 23 000 lights give off a display that's almost brilliant enough to induce a seizure. Across from Bathurst subway station at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst, it's nearly impossible to miss.
The Fringe Theatre Festival, . One of the city's cultural highlights, The Fringe Festival is an annual summer event featuring comedy, drama, dance, and a range of other independent productions put on in and around The Annex. 2008 is a particularly big year, since it's their 20th anniversary.
The Bloor Street Cinema, . A century-old, independent movie theatre that often features classic favourites in addition to current box office hits. Definitely the place to go if you feel like watching Dr. Strangelove on the big screen. Evening shows are $5, plus a $3 membership fee that's good for 6 months. If you're in town for Halloween, the midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is recommended.'
Neighbourhood Stroll. If you're interested in Victorian architecture, the Annex is a great place to just wander. The area includes countless detached and semi-detached homes, most built in the elegant Victorian style at the turn of the century. North of Bloor are the mansions, south of Bloor are the rowhouses; both are equally worth a look. Admiral Road and Elgin Avenue are particularly attractive.
Queen's Park - The home of Ontario's provincial legislature is another pleasant place to stroll or people-watch. Located inside Queen's Park Crescent, a traffic circle just north of College and west of Yonge Street. Tours of the legislative building are offered, call 416-325-7500 for schedules and reservations.
True to its bohemian character, The Annex is dotted with small bookshops and independent record stores centered around Bloor and Bathurst. You'll find the predictable headshops and ethnic/tribal stores, but there are also some truly exceptional places to shop.
The Green Beanery, 225 Brunswick Avenue, 1-800-263-2784 ext. 253, , Open M-F from 9:30-6:00. A fair-trade, non-profit organization that offers a mind-boggling selection of coffees and teas. They're currently preparing to move into a massive new location just down the street at Bathurst and Bloor, which is set to become Canada's largest coffee shop.
BMV Books, 471 Bloor St. W., 416-967-5757, Open Mon-Thurs 10-11, Fri-Sat 10-12, Sun 10-10. Carries a formidable selection of new and second-hand books on two storeys in subjects ranging from literature and spirituality to self-help and travel books. Their DVD selection caters to an impossibly wide range of taste, and is a real steal at around $5 each. Also has bargain-priced, slightly out-of-date travel books (though they don't yet stock the excellent Wikitravel brand).
Book City, 501 Bloor St. W., 416-961-4496, , Open 9:30-10 Mon-Sat, 11-10 Sun. Has a large and fairly tasteful selection of mostly new fiction and non-fiction. They also carry a good number of international newspapers and local independent magazines. Other locations throughout the city, but this is the main branch.
Sonic Boom 512 Bloor St. W., 416-532-0334, , Open 10-Midnight. Probably the best record shop in the city, and a good place to sell your old cd's. Also offers a reasonable collection of vinyl and concert posters.
Asiallery Studio, 1069 Bathurst St, 416-616-5431, , Open Tues-Fri 10-7 Sat 10-6 Sun 12-5. Carries hand-made, unique and exquisite fashion accessories at excellent prices.
Kensington Market (West of Spadina, South of College) is a two-block area with shops selling fresh produce and spices, as well as butchers, cafes, fishmongers, and some terrific vintage clothing shops. Best seen on a Saturday when the market is in full swing. Kensington Market is about 15 min. on foot away from Bloor St. and can be accessed by walking straight down Brunswick Ave. The TTC Spadina streetcar also stops at Baldwin and Spadina, which is at the entrance of the market.
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The Annex has more restaurants packed in per square metre than any other part of the city. Keeping true to Toronto's multicultural flavor, you're likely to find sushi restaurants, pizzerias and falafel stands within a few steps of each other. Whatever you crave, you can find it in the Annex. A few highlights:
By The Way Cafe, Bloor and Brunswick, 416-967-4295. 9AM-11PM everyday. Very popular patio weather-permitting, as well as good food with daily specials at decent prices. The weekend brunch specials are especially good and you can stuff yourself on a specialty omelette with all the sides for under $10. $10-$20.
New Generation Sushi, 493 Bloor Street West, 416-963-8861, Mo-Th 12pm-1am, Fr-Sa 12pm-2am, Su 12pm-12am. The Bloor Street West strip between Spadina and Bathurst plays host to no fewer than five sushi restaurants. All are quite popular and have their own devotees, but New Generation Sushi is this particular writer's favorite. $5-$24.
Mount Everest Restaurant, 469 Bloor St. W. near Brunswick, 416-964-8849, . Mt. Everest specializes in Northern Indian and Nepalese cuisine. Excellent lunch buffet before 3PM for $8.95, dinner per person for about $25.
Future Bakery, Bloor and Brunswick, 416-922-5875, 9AM - 2AM everyday. Popular among students. Famous for excellent bread, delectable cakes (try the strawberry-mango cheesecake) and friendly staff. Also serves a complete cheap breakfast all day which is even cheaper for University of Toronto students. $10-20 (Less than $5 for the U of T special).
Ghazale, 504 Bloor St. W. (next to Bloor Cinema), 12PM-4AM everyday. Excellent Middle Eastern food for incredibly affordable prices. Not so much a restaurant as a counter and a lineup, the staff is friendly and quick, and there's always some interesting conversations waiting in the line. Many vegetarian options. $5-$10.
Swiss Chalet, Bloor and Markham, 416-972-6831,  Mo-Th 11AM-10:30PM, Fr 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-10PM. A mega-popular Canadian chicken chain famous for their "Chalet Sauce". Get take out and eat it in the park. $10-$25. This is the original location of the Swiss Chalet brand.
Green Room, Bloor and Brunswick (head down the alley just south of Bloor St), 416-929-3253, 11AM-2AM everyday. A staple of U of T art students, this hard-to-find and seedy looking bar offers some surprisingly affordable and good meal options. Be advised that their on-tap beer is rarely cold, stick with bottles. $5-$15.
Chippy's, 490 Bloor Street (West of Spadina), 416-516-7776, http://www.chippys.ca/, Su-Th 12pm-10pm Fr-Sa 12pm-12am. Great fish and chips, scallops, salmon, and sole as well. $8-$11 for a good sized portion.
Country Style, 450 Bloor Street West, 416-536-5966. Not to be confused with the donut chain, Country Style has been serving up Austro-Hungarian dishes for decades and has become somewhat of a legend for the warm atmosphere and old-country authenticity served up by the couple who've run the place from the start. The schnitzels are the biggest in town and are quite tasty, and with generous sides of rice, beets, or potato dumplings. If you have room, crêpes are a good choice for desert. For the truly glutinous, the "wooden plate" special, piled high with about as many different meats as can be imagined, will have you thankful for all of the heart research going on nearby. Unfortunately, prices aren't what they used to be. $15-$40 for more than you could hope to eat.
South of Bloor
Massimo's Pizza, 302 College Street, One block west of Spadina, 416-967-0527, Sun-Thurs 10am-1am, Fri-Sat 10am-3am. The Annex is home to many of the best pizzerias in the city, but this writer particularly recommends Massimo's for thick, greasy and cheesy fare. Cora's (Spadina and Harbord) is more popular among the thin crust crowd, while Amato's (380 College west of Brunswick) offers the widest selection of toppings and is open the latest (4am). A slice and a drink at all of these place will cost around $5.
Aunties and Uncles, 74 Lipincott at College, 416-324-1375, Open until 3pm. Located at the extreme south end of the Annex, this jam-packed little cafe is very popular with the younger crowd for it's simple yet sophisticated meals. Also a very popular weekend brunch spot. Space is extremely limited and the restaurant closes for all long weekends, so it's best to call ahead. Meals from $10.
Harbord Fish and Chips, 147 Harbord, near Brunswick Ave, Open 11:30-9:00 7 days a week. This friendly hole-in-the-wall serves up fish and chips wrapped in newspaper the old fashioned way. Portions are generous and tasty. Haddock/salmon meals for one come with freshly-cut chunky fries, a soft drink and coleslaw. Dining space is limited to two picnic benches on the outside and a few stools inside. Meals start at around $8.
Kensington Kitchen, 124 Harbord St, just west of Spadina. Open 11:30-11:00 Mo-Th, 11:30-11:30 Fr-Sa, 11:30-10:30 Su. A popular destination for vegetarians. They offer a delicious Mediterranean influenced menu that also caters well to meat-eaters. Pricing is reasonable, but not cheap.
Free Times Cafe 320 College Street, two blocks west of Spadina, 416-967-1078, http://www.freetimescafe.com, Open Mo-Sa 10am-2pm, Su 10am-12am. Offers a fabulous brunch from 11-3 every Sunday featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional Jewish dishes (bagels, assorted fish dishes, French toast, croquets, blintzes, danish, pickled salads, etc). Very popular, currently costs $16.95 per person. Arrive early if you don't want to wait, reservations essential for groups larger than 4. Don't eat the night before, and wear loose pants. Meals from $15.
Sneaky Dee's, 431 College St at Bathurst. Open Mo-Tu 11am-3am, We-Th 11-4, Fr 11-4:30, Sa 9-4:30, Su 9am-9pm. Inexpensive yet tasty Tex-Mex fare and cheap pitchers of beer. Particularly popular among the post-bar crowd, due to it's absurdly late closing time. Live music can be heard upstairs, catering to the punk orientated. $8-15.
Noon Restaurant, 1088 Bathurst St. at Dupont, 647-436-0666, menus, Tu-Su: 8am-4pm. All-day Breakfast and Lunch: omelettes, soups, salads, sandwiches, smoothies, espresso, cappuccino. Features Applegirth Smoked Salmon. Vegetarian options. Licensed. $10-$15
Hey Good Cooking, 238 Dupont Street (near Spadina subway station), 416-929-9140, Open 11-9 Mo-Sa, 11-4 Su. A range of excellent dishes and juices.
Fresh: By Juice for Life, 326 Bloor Street West at Spadina, 416-531-2635, http://juiceforlife.com, Open Mo-Fr 11:30AM-10:30PM, Sa-Su 10:30AM-10:30PM. 20-30 options for fresh juice, running the gamut from Immune Boost (beets, carrot, apple, ginger) to elaborate espresso-based smoothies. Their food menu is almost entirely vegan, making it an ideal choice for veggie diners, a fact adored or despised by most visitors. Food is reasonable, juice can be expensive. $10-$20 (juice runs $5/glass).
Do It Yourself
Harbord Bakery, 115 Harbord St., Open Mo-Th 8am-7pm, Fr-Sa 8am-6pm, Su 8am-4pm. Very popular for breads, and their famous quiche.
24 Hour Groceries - The Annex also offers a few 24-hour grocery stores. There is a Dominion supermarket on Bloor St just west of Spadina, and the Bloor Super-Save is a block west of that. Super-Save offers a better selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Molly Blooms, 191 College Street, 416-916-6448, . Not really a crazy party place, but a great spot to hang out and play board games, pool, pinball, foosball or darts. Sunday-Tuesday are .34 cent wing days. Thursday is $3 night (pints, martinis and shooters) and Saturdays have cheap Kokanee and Guiness.
Einsteins, 229 College St just east of Spadina, 416 597-8346, . Although it is run independently of the university, it is very much a student bar, offering food, drinks and good times. On Thursdays, their home brew is $8.50 a pitcher before 9pm. Fridays and Saturdays are also quite busy. Wednesday is open mic night, you've been warned.
The Madison Avenue Pub, 14 Madison Avenue just north of Bloor, 416-927-1722, . A very popular meeting place and singles bar populated by young professionals, frat boys, and preppy students. They also serve food but do not expect to find a table if you do not arrive early, despite several floors and an extensive patio. Pricier than most Annex options.
The Brunswick House, 481 Bloor St W, 416-964-2242, . Est. 1876, and recently renovated after decades of neglect. The Brunny is famous for its long weekend line-ups (no matter what the weather), live bar-rock, and very impatient bouncers. Caters to frat boys, college football players, party girls, and associated hangers-on. Not recommended for people outside those groups except as a social observation experience. The bouncers are notoriously proactive in dealing with theoretical trouble-makers.
Labyrinth Lounge 298 Brunswick, 416-925-7775. A small bar attached to Future's Bakery (see Eat section). A more subdued place that stands in stark contrast to the often-raunchy Brunswick House across the street. Drink prices are comparable to other bars in the area. Live music on Tuesday nights. Excellent patio in the summer time.
Lee's Palace and the Dance Cave 529 Bloor St W, 416-598-0720, . Lee's is one of the premier performance venues for current live music, catering to a wide range of tastes. Bands play almost every night of the week and ticket prices at the door range from $2-$25, depending on who's playing. The Dance Cave, upstairs from Lee's, is a club that runs almost every night of the week, leaning towards house/goth/industrial music. Of note is that the age range in the Cave is unusually broad, so if you are 19 or approaching 40 and like to dress up in black and go dancing, you won't be entirely out of place.
College Hostel, 280 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market, 416-929-4777. Great location. Private and communal rooms available. $17-$42.
The Planet Traveller's Hostel, 175 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market. Cozy, friendly communal atmosphere. Located in a gorgeous Victorian house. $17-$25.
The Annex Townhouse B&B has high end suites in a new contemporary house at reasonable prices. Located on Bloor Street near the Annex.
As with the rest of Toronto, phone coverage is not a problem. Full digital cell phone coverage, and pay phones are ample.
Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst has 5 Internet cafes to choose from - the prices are the cheapest in the city due to the increased competition, and they're open 24/7.
Hutoshi Hair & Skin Studio 112 Harbord Street, (416) 922-3264 is an environmentally-friendly beauty salon, famous for the unique style of haircutting and hairstyling, henna hi-lites, social work, and a garden with over 350 flower pots on the salon's second floor. At Hutoshi's, they don't use gels, mousses, hairspray, or complicated tools to 'set' the hair. They specialize in haircuts that require virtually no maintenance, and they will show you how to use your fingers, water, natural oils, brush the hair properly and keep it healthy.