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Best of the City 2014: The ultimate insider’s guide to food, drink, fashion and fun

Best of the City 2014: This year's guide to all things excellent

Torontonians are spoiled by luxury—an inevitable side effect of living in a city where you can book a private chopper to Georgian Bay, nibble on sustainable sturgeon caviar and moisturize with 24 karat gold–flecked lotions. In the past year, however, the city has truly outdone itself, supplying the kinds of outlandish foods, amenities and products that would astonish even the most pampered urbanite. Our team of seen-it-all critics gorged on ornately plated desserts, scoured fashion trucks and baby boutiques, and subjected their bodies to aggressive Russian bamboo massages, all in the quest to bring you this, our annual roundup of Toronto’s best of absolutely everything.

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Best of Toronto

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Best of the City 2014: Fun

Best of the City 2014: Fun
wild ride

Wild Ride
Rock ’n’ Horse Saloon
250 Adelaide St. W., 647-344-1234
A night at Rock ’n’ Horse Saloon feels like a scene from Footloose: line dancers tap steel-toed boots to Brooks and Dunn, bartenders in 10-gallon hats pour beers, and a rotating slate of heart-on-sleeve country crooners twang their guitars on stage. The bar’s most gimmicky (and awesome) attraction is a mechanical bull that thrashes, bucks and throws riders into a pit of blessedly soft padding—an ­indignity best cured with another shot of Knob Creek. For saddle-shy spectators, the bull-­riding competition on Tuesdays is better than Netflix.


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The Goods

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Best of the City 2014: Home

Best of the City 2014: Home
Showstopping led lights

Lightform
267 Niagara St., 416-745-5656
Homeowners like LEDs because they reduce energy bills; designers like that their slim profile and low operating temperature make unconventional forms possible. At Lightform’s showroom on Niagara, boundary-pushing options range from an Ares light shaped like a giant bulb to a polished aluminum bar by Philippe Starck. The most arresting of the lot: designer Ron Gilad’s series of ring-shaped tubes, which appear to pierce the walls like hooped earrings.


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The Goods

Best of Toronto

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Best of the City 2014: Style

Best of the City 2014: Style
Everything Bag

Want Apothecary
1070 Yonge St., 416-924-8080
True to its name, the new storefront from the Montreal brand Want Les Essentials de la Vie is styled like a Victorian drugstore—albeit one that carries bergamot-scented Swedish lotions and myrtle-infused face balms. Beyond the cosmetics counter, however, is a collection of exquisitely crafted goods: Swiss-made rose gold watches, shredded Acne moto jackets and some of the city’s finest handbags. Our summer favourite is a tote in cobalt waxed cotton and white leather—a statement bag that’s still hardy and roomy enough to withstand a day at Ward’s Island. $575


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Best of the City 2014: Food

Best of the City 2014: Food
Modern raw bar

Yasu
81 Harbord St., 416-477-2361
In a narrow white room, chef-owner Yasu Ouchi delivers glistening sushi, one piece at a time, to 10 guests seated at a marble-topped bar. Yasu is the city’s first sushi-only omakase restaurant, and as at other tasting menu–driven spots, you give yourself over to the chef’s whims. Ouchi and his one sous bring Jiro-like fanaticism to the 20-course experience, offering fresh cuts of fish and shellfish draped over perfectly ­seasoned rice. One night he served up a plump scallop lightly torched for sweetness and dressed with yuzu ­vinaigrette, then ­mackerel with ­pickled radish and scallion, then salty, foie gras–like monkfish liver with a julienne of shiso leaf. And on and on and on. Seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., reservations a must. $80 per person.


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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: our sixth annual reminder of why we love it here

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: our sixth annual reminder of why we love it here

(Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus)

Election years have a way of reminding us what we love about our city. Whatever you think of our punchline of a mayor, there’s no denying the energy of the booming downtown, the world-renowned food and the renewed swagger of the Raptors…. Some of us are so proud of our hometown, we permanently tattoo our Toronto-love onto our bodies. We could go on and on about what we love. In fact, we did.

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #6. Because Ian Nordheimer Believes We Can Handle the Truth

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #6. Because Ian Nordheimer Believes We Can Handle the Truth

(Illustration: Ryan Inzana)

In the nervous run-up to a big criminal trial, the courts now almost reflexively order publication bans. The knee-jerk worry: media coverage will poison the jury pool. Which is why we were so impressed when Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer unsealed warrants in the police case against accused extortionist and Rob Ford sidekick ­Sandro Lisi. Lisi’s trial isn’t anticipated until next year, but in the meantime, as a result of ­Nordheimer’s ruling, we are afforded a window into surreptitious late-night meetings between Lisi and Ford, the handover of suspicious packages in a gas station parking lot, and Lisi’s penchant for issuing threats to anyone who crosses him or his good buddy. Nordheimer believes that juries, properly instructed, can render verdicts based on the evidence (trust in juries, after all, is the basis of our legal system), and that the Internet has rendered such bans pointless. Most importantly, though, is the value he puts on the public’s right to know. His simple justification for the sweeping release: “We are dealing with the actions of the duly elected mayor of the country’s largest city…it is hard to conceive of a matter that would be of more importance to the public interest.”

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Culture

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #8. Because Claire Danes Is Just Another Toronto Stroller Pusher

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #8. Because Claire Danes Is Just Another Toronto Stroller Pusher

(Image: Sean O’Neill/Pacific Coast News)

We thought it was a mirage last fall when we saw Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy having dinner at Woodlot, basking in a beatific glow. Then we spotted them again, walking with their baby down Queen West, and caught Danes head-bobbing to Arcade Fire at the ACC. Danes and Dancy are new Torontonians, living several months of the year here while Dancy films his CityTV series Hannibal, a prequel to Silence of the Lambs. Apart from being the grisliest show on television—in one scene, Dr. Lecter, played by the hollow-cheeked Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, sews together a pile of naked, still-twitching victims—it’s also thrilling and suspenseful, beloved by critics and obsessively anatomized online. Hannibal is one of several Toronto shows contributing to the box’s golden age. Among the new crop of hits is Orphan Black, the creepy Space sci-fi series about a troupe of clones, which films all over the GTA and sells out auditoriums at ComiCon. On CTV, Reign, a moony, Toronto-shot soap about Mary Queen of Scots’ teenage love life, has amassed a rabid fan base who call themselves Loyal Royals. And then there’s The Strain, an apocalyptic vampire show from weirdo director ­Guillermo del Toro, which films near Queen and Church. (Del Toro loves shooting in Toronto so much that he’s made his last three projects here, including 2013’s Mama and Pacific Rim, and next year’s Crimson Peak, a haunted house story starring Jessica Chastain, Tom ­Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska.) The Strain is the summer’s most anticipated series, set to debut in July on FX, a ­network that’s rivalling HBO in quality cable programming. Toronto’s TV industry is finally something we can brag about: last year, TV productions poured nearly $730 million into the local economy. Spotting Claire Danes at the AGO is just an added perk.

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People

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #20. Because a Living Room Charity is Changing the Way We Raise Our Kids

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #20. Because a Living Room Charity is Changing the Way We Raise Our Kids

(Image: Meri Pera)

Gwen Broda, a North York nurse who had three kids close together, and a few of her friends hatched a plan this year to help new parents. The New Mom Project is based on ­Finland’s famous baby box program, in which the government gives every expectant mom a starter kit of ­onesies, bedding and diapers. The system is often credited for helping bring down the country’s infant mortality rate from 65 in 1,000 to three in 1,000 during its 76-year run. Last ­January, Broda put out a call on social media for donations to help assemble her own first-year packages, which parents can access through a referral from their health care professional. Within three weeks, her home was so full of bouncy chairs, toys and tiny outfits, her kids couldn’t walk through the living room. She and her team of a dozen volunteers have already helped over 100 new families. The baby booty now comes in such huge volumes, she keeps it in a storage locker, and she’s scouting stand-alone space, with the long-term goal of turning the project into a national initiative. “Every mom in Canada should have the essentials,” says Broda. “I’m starting with Toronto.”

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #16. Because the Walleye, Pike and Bass Are Back

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #16. Because the Walleye, Pike and Bass Are Back

(Image: courtesy of Waterfront Toronto)

If you go down to the boardwalk at the foot of Spadina on a sunny day and peer over the edge, you’ll see something that seemed unimaginable even a decade ago: the shadows of darting fish. Both the number and diversity have soared in the past few years because of an underwater structure of boulders, logs and stumps, covered in a thick rug of aquatic plants—an ideal hangout for walleye, northern pike and largemouth bass. The man-made habitats—nicknamed “fish ­condos”—abut concrete walls where Waterfront Toronto built new boardwalks at the Spadina, Simcoe and Rees slips in 2008 and 2009. Underwater creatures adore the murky nooks and cubbyholes, and are thriving due to a recent improvement in the water quality, which has come a long way from the noxious swill of decades past. Should you manage to snag a fish-condo resident with a hook and line, it’s even safe to take home and eat for dinner.

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Culture

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #3. Because the City Puts On A Nightly Light Show

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #3. Because the City Puts On a Nightly Light Show

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

Over the past few years, as a forest of condos and commercial towers grew in the core, the nighttime skyline began to shimmer and twinkle. ­Torontonians are the happy beneficiaries of a kind of artistic one-upmanship among developers, who are commissioning light installations to lend other­wise inter­changeable glass towers some ­personality. The biggest concentration is in the 21 CityPlace condos, between Bathurst and the ­Rogers Centre, where the Ottawa-based artist Adrian Göllner used thousands of multi­coloured LEDs to highlight the nooks, parapets or angles of each building. (He says his project, titled Warm by Night, is a reaction to the cold glare of the financial district.) Another 17,200 lights illuminate the RBC Centre on Wellington in the bank’s signature blue, and 19 strips of LEDs programmed to shift through a range of colours make the Arcade Building, at the foot of Yonge, seem to dance. ­Perhaps the most dramatic is at the Corus Quay complex, right on the lake, where the prestigious British art collective Troika installed a 12-metre-high polycarbonate lightning bolt–like sculpture covered in 35,000 lights. Each addition to the nightly show is another beacon drawing us to a new, vibrant downtown.

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Sports

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #26. Because Brian Orser Finally Won Gold

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #26. Because Brian Orser Finally Won Gold

From left: South Korea’s Yuna Kim began training with Orser in 2007 and won gold at the 2010 Olympics; Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu began training with Orser in 2012 and won gold at the 2014 Olympics; Spain’s Javier Fernández began training with Orser in 2011 and won bronze at the 2013 World Championships (Photo Illustration: Gluekit)

Brian Orser didn’t win gold when he was a skater—he’s a two-time Olympic silver medallist—but as a coach, he’s unstoppable. Orser has transformed North Toronto’s sleepy Cricket ­Skating and Curling Club into a breeding ground for the world’s best figure skaters. At the Vancouver Games, he proved his coaching prowess when his student, South Korea’s Yuna Kim, skated what many consider the greatest Olympic performance of all time. Her grace and power are hallmark traits of Orser’s skaters. Wannabe champions from all over the world send him YouTube clips, hoping to be one of the 10 students he takes on at a time. Orser reviews the films looking for that X factor, skaters who are naturals on their blades. He puts them through a rigorous training regimen: for hours, they’ll do nothing but crossovers, and it might be months before he lets them do a Lutz. Orser’s team of assistants includes a skating fundamentals coach, a spinning specialist and choreographers (Orser was a choreographer for a brief time until a season spent putting four routines to the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean made him re-­evaluate). His pupils have included 2014 Olympic and World champion ­Yuzuru Hanyu and World bronze medallist Javier Fernández, as well as athletes from South Africa, Kazakhstan and the United States—turning the uptown club into a United Nations of ­Salchows, swizzles and spins.

The Dish

Neighbourhoods

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #9. Because a Three-Block Stretch of Dundas West is Jammed with New Businesses

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #9. Because a Three-Block Stretch of Dundas West is Jammed with New Businesses

(Image: Peter Andrew)

Four years ago, Dundas west of Gladstone to Brock was still described as “up and coming.” Now, it’s a full-fledged hipster village. Flannel-clad couples eat artisanal fare under bare Edison bulbs, shoppers flock to vintage boutiques to buy pieces they earmarked on ­Instagram, and dark bars cater to the writers, designers and musicians who’ve moved into nearby houses and studio spaces. Residents have dubbed the area DuWest. Here, a tour of the new businesses in Toronto’s trendiest neighbourhood.

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Sports

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #4. Because We’re Mad for Ping-Pong

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #4. Because We're Mad for Ping-Pong

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

Like the humble ukulele, Ping-Pong was once seen as kitschy and slightly embarrassing to play but has since been embraced by young downtowners celebrating their escape from the burbs by appropriating suburban cultural bric-a-brac. (See also: grilled cheese sandwiches, board game bars, picnicking, etc.) First came Spin Toronto, a King West club dedicated to the paddle arts. And now the sport has a concrete symbol of its revival: nine parks and public spaces across the city have brand-new, permanent Ping-Pong tables. They look a little like minimalist sculptures, cost $6,200 to build and install, and have a metal mesh ridge for a net—you need to bring your own paddles and balls. The tables are the brainchild of Dianne Moore, a Forest Hill Rotarian who asked a Brampton concrete company to design and build a prototype, and with that, was able to get community groups and like-minded councillors onboard. Funded by various means—private donations, development charges, infusions from the existing parks and rec budget—the tables started going in last summer, and have already given spaces as aesthetically unforgiving as Mel Lastman Square and as geographically remote as Scarborough’s Tall Pines Park a dose of quirk. More are in the works, which means pock-pock-pock will soon be the new sound of summer.

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Politics

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #24. Because He’s Good For One Thing: A Laugh

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #24. Because He's Good For One Thing: A Laugh

(Image: QMI)

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