Toronto Neighbourhood Exploration : Bloordale

What I like about my friend Meghan, aside from the fact that she’s an all around excellent person, is her sense of adventure. She seems to always be on the go, and when she’s not working at her enviable day-job in the media business, she is either travelling someplace great, taking a course, or seeing a show of some sort.

This being so, it’s inevitable that she plans ahead, making dates for future good times. I too am an advance planner so our styles mesh perfectly in that concern.

This is all to say that the outing I write about today — our experience on Saturday afternoon, exploring a neighbourhood neither of us knew well, had been in our calendars for a couple of weeks and I was glad to know it was there. The part of town she suggested we check out is the short strip of Bloor Street West, between Dufferin and Lansdowne.

Now, I’ll be honest and say, while I was happy to spend an afternoon with my pal, I didn’t hold high hopes for what we’d find there; I used to live just east, near Ossington and Bloor, so had walked that stretch and I was familiar with what was there. My recollection was of a somewhat bleak area with little feeling of community spirit.

I’m glad to say that my previous exposure happened a long time ago, and after having visited it on the weekend, there’s no doubt that the neighbourhood has changed a lot since then. It now even has a name, Bloordale Village!

After taking the Bathurst streetcar and subway westbound to get there, I met Meghan outside the Dufferin station at 2pm. During the days prior, we’d been warned that a big snowstorm was heading our way on the weekend, but fortunately, it waited until Sunday to arrive. So the weather was quite perfect for our walk.

Our first stop occurred less than two minutes after we set out walking westward, when we came upon a Holiday Market filled with artists and their creations. There were so many lovely unique things on offer there. Meghan picked up some note-cards, an original print and a sheet of awesome hand-printed gift wrap, and I ended up talking to each one and taking a bunch of photos. I’ll be writing a separate post about this market later this week, however, if you don’t see that second post, I’ll state here and now that the market in The Orchard Bar at 1139 Bloor Street West is really worth checking out. They’ll be there again this coming Saturday, December 17th from 11am til 4pm.

Right next door to that we popped in to have a look at Eyesore Cinema, who were just settling into their new space after moving to Bloordale from Queen Street West. They rent and sell movies, but certainly not your run-of-the-mill choices. To quote BlogTo here, “Eyesore Cinema is fiercely disdainful of most Hollywood fare. Owner Daniel Hanna has lovingly curated Toronto’s finest selection of obscure cinematic oddities, for rental and purchase.”

I found an interesting write up in The Globe and Mail about the owner and the current state of the video rental business nowadays here.

↑ Note, he was just having fun with his pose and not indicating that he didn’t want me to take his picture! ↑

↑ We passed a shop with a lovely array of seasonal greenery out front. ↑

Our next stop was for a spot of refreshment and a chat, at Grey Tiger Cafe and Bar at 1190 Bloor Street West, where I had a coffee and Meghan had a Matcha Latte, and we shared a ginger bran cookie.

It was such an inviting and comfortable place to relax, that we could have spent the rest of the afternoon there, but adventure awaited, so we eventually pulled our jackets, hats, scarves and gloves on and hit the road again. With these short days of winter, the sun was already beginning to set when we emerged.

Across the street we spotted a shop that looked interesting, called Town. Ooh la la, if you’re a lover of stationery and cute gift items, you’ll like this place. Meghan found some things guaranteed to please her mother there.

A few steps from there we found our next destination, an awesome vintage shop called Ransack the Universe. What a place! I found something that I’m always on the look out for but which are quite elusive — a vintage printed cotton handkerchief. My eyes tend to water easily so I always carry one with me, but they’re pretty hard to find. The one I got was unused vintage, and was $5, a fraction of what I usually pay for them on ebay. Meghan found a beautiful pair of leather gloves, also unused.

This building stood out from the rest, based on interesting architectural details — home to here Mercer Union, a Centre for Contemporary Art. I found a write up and some very old images of it at this Historic Toronto Blog. The writer discovered that this was once one of the city’s first movie theatres, The Academy Theatre, which began operation in 1914. He guesses that the actual building is older than that though, and that it was renovated to become the theatre at that time.

We saw that the gallery was open, so went in for a look. The current show is called Astral Bodies and runs through to February 4th.

↑ God’s Eye, porcelain piece by Shary Boyle. ↑

↑ Outfit for the Afterlife by Pamela Norrish. This entire outfit was covered in half a million hand-sewn tiny glass beads. It took her five years to complete. ↑

↑ Drawings by Shuvinai Ashoona ↑

↑ A still from The Astronomer’s Mime, a video installation by Karen Azoulay ↑

By the time we left there, it was dark out. After noticing the newspaper clippings with accolades for their Jamaican Patties on the wall of The Caribbean Queen, we couldn’t resist stopping in for one. It was fresh, spicy and absolutely worth the favourable feedback.

A few steps after that, we’d arrived at Lansdowne, the westernmost border of Bloordale. We weren’t ready to call it a day yet, though, and a place named Dolly’s called out to us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this Mojito Bar and Filipino Restaurant just opened a couple of months ago.

We both selected the “Filipino Mojito” from their list of several choices — of course you can get cocktails other than Mojitos there, but those came recommended by the server so that’s what we had.

Not only were the drinks nice to look at, garnished as they were with a stick of sugarcane, a generous sprig of fresh mint and half a lime, they were also delicious. They make their own sugar cane juice in-house.

We smelled and saw a few plates of food coming from the kitchen and have agreed that we’ll try to get back to Dolly’s for the food sometime soon.

So, that brought us to the end of our exploration of Bloordale on this particular day. We didn’t get to see all the shops that looked good, but things were beginning to close up, so we made our way back to the subway. Well, I did, Meghan was close enough to home to walk, so she did. We certainly had a great afternoon.

Oh, and a bonus — the best handmade Christmas hat you ever did see, spotted outside Dufferin Station. Made me smile.

Thanks for reading,
xo loulou