Toronto, where same-sex marriage is legal, really knows how to do Pride up
STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer
It’s been said that love is the universal language. But gay Pride comes in a close second.
Rainbow-colored everything. Shirtless men holding hands. Lesbians on motorcycles. No matter where in the world you may find yourself, there are certain aspects of Pride events that transcend verbal communication and simply convey the coming together of a diverse group of people with one unifying sense of purpose and celebration.
While we’re deep in the heart of Dixie for Dallas Pride, Toronto is deep in the planning stages for World Pride 2014, a massive international event that promises to be the biggest gay party on the planet. And what better host than a Canadian city that proudly rejoices in equality for everyone, 365 days a year.
Toronto Pride, which took place earlier this summer, features 10 full days of events every June, with parties, marches, parades and performances that celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer (LGBTTQ) communities. (Yes, they have an even longer abbreviation than we do in the U.S., just another example of their commitment to all-inclusion.)
The festivities — and the broader acknowledgment of equality — extend far beyond the parade route and the borders of the gay village. At the airport, banners authoritatively welcome visitors to Toronto Pride. Taxicabs are adorned with Pride colors and event logos. And in all parts of the city, rainbow flags pop up in storefronts and restaurants as a warm gesture of “welcome.”
It’s a sight you normally expect to find only in the Castro, or Key West, or P-town … to see it citywide in a major city comes with a real sense of Pride for a visitor.
But you don’t have to wait until Pride Week to experience the vibrant energy of one of the gayest cities in the world, and home to Canada’s largest LGBT community. Toronto’s Gay Village (or simply “The Village”) is the area immediately surrounding the crossroads of Church and Wellesley streets, filled with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, bathhouses and gay-oriented businesses. Many may recognize a few building exteriors from the U.S. version of Queer As Folk, which frequently filmed on location in this neighborhood.
Bar-hopping here isn’t an option; it’s a necessity. Nearly a dozen bars and clubs fall within a few blocks, so it’s easy to pop into each of them the first night and figure out which you want to frequent the rest of your trip.
Woody’s (WoodysToronto.com) is a large space with multiple bars, frequent shows, and QAF fame for good measure. A couple doors down, the Black Eagle (BlackEagleToronto.com) is home to the leather, denim and uniform fans and occasional leave-your-clothes-at-the-door parties.
Flash offers up something rare in the U.S.: completely nude male dancers, sometimes performing “love acts.” Expect to pay a minimum $5-ish membership fee to this private club. Across the street, get your drag fix at Crews and Tangos (CrewsAndTangos.com), featuring nightly shows from talented performers.
Just make sure not to spend the entire trip in the dark, dance-music-filled meccas. There’s much more to explore. One of the best ways to experience the neighborhood is with a Toronto Queer Walking Tour (TorontoQueerWalkingTours.com), an informative excursion through the streets with amazing tales of the city’s gay past, including the harrowing circumstances of the 1981 bathhouse raids and subsequent riots. This cataclysmic event united the community and serves as Toronto’s own version of Stonewall.
The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives has a permanent home in the Village and is well worth a visit for history buffs or anyone who loves digging through boxes and boxes of publications and other memorabilia. Its collection makes up the largest archives of LGBT history in the world. (It’s best to make arrangements in advance to visit rather than just showing up at the door, CLGA.ca.)
To stay close to all the action of the Village, Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville (MarriottBloor.com) is a gay-friendly property just a quick walk down the street.
Most of the restaurants in the gayborhood aren’t anything remarkable, with the exception of the unique Fabarnak (Fabarnak.com). It’s a social enterprise of The 519 Church Street Community Centre, housed right on the first floor of the building. Here, members of the community learn restaurant skills, both in-front and back-of-the-house operations. But most importantly, they put out an innovative spread of seasonal cuisine that rivals any big restaurant in the city.
But anyone looking for a different type of gay community may want to stay in the rapidly growing district, West Queen West (aka “Queer West”), filled with art galleries, boutiques and tiny cafés.
Here, there are two fantastic boutique hotels with an emphasis on art. Lesbian-owned Gladstone (GladstoneHotel.com) features 37 unique artist-designed rooms and an ever-rotating exhibit of artwork on each floor, as well as a curated gallery space. Just a couple blocks away, the Drake (TheDrakeHotel.com) offers just a handful of sleekly designed rooms (and one suite), also exhibiting multiple rotating art installations, an underground performance space and one of the coolest rooftop bars anywhere in the city. People gay and straight travel from all over Toronto and beyond just to party here.
Hit The Beaver (BeaverToronto.com) for an electric, alternative crowd that welcomes all and defies categorization. Gay restaurant Nyood (Nyood.ca), on the other hand, serves up plenty of ingredient-driven small and shared plates in a chic setting. But if you really want to get a taste of Canada, it’s all about the poutine (French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy). At Poutini’s (Poutini.com) on Queen Street West, order up a traditional version, or sample vegan, pulled pork or bacon varieties.
These are cheese fries on crack.
A city of distinct neighborhoods, Toronto is vast and where you stay will greatly affect the amount of money you spend on cabs, or how much time you’ll spend in a rental car or public transportation. So don’t leave your vacation to chance. Instead, contact one of the city’s most knowledgeable travel agents (and a delightful lesbian, as well). Liz Divine at Rainbow Travel (Rainbow.Travel.com) can book everything you need and help you create an itinerary to maximize your daily experiences.
Splitting your time between West Queen West and The Village is a great way to immerse yourself in the community, so be willing to change hotels halfway through and truly discover Toronto.
Wherever you end up, you’ll encounter some of the friendliest people anywhere. Guaranteed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2012.