Share this article

print logo

Yorkville sheds hippie image for glamorous one

"Yorkville is heaven," says the flower child dreamily to the camera. The year is 1967 and the CBC-archived video footage reveals long-haired, bead-wearing hippies hanging out in the streets of the midtown Toronto neighborhood.

Canada's answer to Haight-Ashbury and Greenwich Village, Yorkville was a haven for rebellious youth and the center of an artistic movement that saw, among others, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young playing in its clubs and coffeehouses. Tourists would come to gawk at the bare-footed youth and their experimental lifestyle.

You'll find nothing remotely resembling that scene today.

Unlike San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, where tie-dyed shirts and peace buttons pay homage to its role in the 1960s, Yorkville has shed its psychedelic past. Tourists still come and gawk, but now it's at the parked Maseratis and Lamborghinis and Starbucks-toting celebrities shopping in designer boutiques. Designer-clad fashionistas stroll the sidewalks sporting thousand-dollar footwear.

The neighborhood remains a prime people-watching destination, filled with first-rate shopping, art galleries, patios and cafes, with some of the city's best attractions in its vicinity. A trip to Yorkville is always a treat.

> Sightseeing

High-end art galleries housing the works of Canada's foremost artists can be found throughout the village and its cobblestone back streets. Two of the best are the Mira Godard Gallery, 22 Hazelton Ave., and the Drabinsky Gallery, 114 Yorkville Ave., both focusing on contemporary Canadian and international art. You'll find more lining Scollard Avenue, a narrow lane in the heart of the neighborhood.

The Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St., designed by the renowned Canadian architect Raymond Moriyami, is a quiet gem in the area. The five-story building houses more than 1,653,665 cataloged items, and has several special collections, including genealogy, maps and thousands of historic photos. The room housing its Arthur Conan Doyle Collection is under renovation, set to reopen in 2013.

A better-known attraction nearby is the Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Bloor St. West, easy to spot because of its sizable crystal addition jutting out to the street. With more than 6 million artifacts in 40-plus galleries, give yourself time to make the most of your visit. At 111 Queen's Park is the Gardiner Museum, specializing in ceramic art. Find pottery from around the world in its collection, from ancient treasures to contemporary pieces.

To relax, stroll to the Village Garden at the corner of Cumberland and Bellair streets. "The Rock," a 600-ton slab of Canada's glacial shield, and a rain curtain fountain are the focal points of this urban park. Its gardens display native Ontario habitat and are a favorite place for Torontonians to chill out and sip a latte.

> Window shopping

Toronto's "Mink Mile," stretching six blocks along Bloor Street from Yonge Street to Avenue Road, boasts such luxury retailers as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès, Prada, Tiffany and Harry Rosen.

Anchoring the shopping strip is Holt Renfrew, the ritzy department store whose floors are filled with designer fashions, cosmetics and accessories. Clients (not customers, of course) can make an appointment with complimentary personal shoppers to help them cultivate their style and update their look. Even if you can't afford the Jimmy Choo shoes on display, it's fun to browse, try out the cosmetics and lunch at the Holts Café, where Poulaine bread is flown in from Paris.

Other shopping hotspots include Over the Rainbow, known for its extensive denim collection, Anthropologie, TNT (The New Trend) and David's Shoes.

> Dining

Snagging the perfect patio spot is one of Toronto's most popular summer pursuits, and Yorkville's terraces are among the most coveted. Mark McEwan's newest restaurant, One, in the Hazelton Hotel, 116 Yorkville Ave., is the street-level patio at which to be seen, preferably quaffing a "Marky Mark," the celebrity chef's signature gin and tonic cocktail. Sassafraz, the perennial hotspot of the Toronto International Film Festival, has seen countless celebs come through it doors, including Mick Jagger, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger and Queen Latifah.

To savor cocktails and a view high above the city streets, there is Panorama's patio on the 51st floor of the Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St. West. The Park Hyatt Hotel's Roof Lounge, 4 Avenue Road, also takes guests aloft with fine food and drinks on the 18th floor.

Hemingway's, 142 Cumberland St., is a more casual choice, and its double rooftop terrace cheers the after-work and weekend crowds.

Tucked away at 69 Yorkville Ave. is Dynasty Chinese Cuisine, where the attraction is the daily Dim Sum menu rather than the view. Explore a multitude of options, being as cautious or bold as you like, from vegetable dumplings and shark's fin soup to marinated duck tongue and crispy shrimp rolls. It is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.

For a caffeine fix and a prime soaking-up-the-glamour location, try Lettieri Espresso Bar & Cafe, right in the center of Yorkville. And chocolate doesn't get any better than at MoRoCo Chocolat, 99 Yorkville Ave., where you'll find hundreds of sinfully delicious concoctions, including its cult-status macarons.

> Accommodations

There are hundreds of rooms available in Yorkville, including B&B's, Comfort Hotels and Howard Johnson on the economical and InterContinental, Marriott and Hyatt hotels in the midprice and higher range.

However, the five-star Hazelton Hotel epitomizes the glamour of the neighborhood surrounding it with its exquisitely styled rooms, art collection, luxurious spa and private theater. Even if you don't stay here, it's worth peeking in the lobby to glimpse the design of Yabu Pushelberg, who used the rich materials of dark granite, marble, onyx and bronze to create the award-winning aesthetic design. It's a favorite among celebrities, especially during September's Toronto International Film Festival. Rooms don't come cheap, though, starting at around $500 and going up to $3,000 for the Bellair Suite, which features a dining room, two lounge areas, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors in its 80-square-foot dressing room.

Certainly a long way from its hippie past.