Where to Find the Gems of Toronto's Financial District
Grab a frivolous book and pull up a chair at a comfy bistro – yes, this is also Bay Street
Toronto’s Financial District might have the heaviest foot traffic of any neighbourhood in Canada, at least between the hours of 7:45 a.m. and 6 p.m. on a weekday. Thousands of office workers, and people who make a living in industries that support them, flood into the area in the morning only to wash back out like a tide in the evening. You might end up concluding that the area had nothing to offer other than work. This would be wrong.
While there’s plenty of generic need-fulfilling going on here – chain coffee shops and the like – the Financial District also contains a few hidden jewels. As many Bay Streeters know, to find gems you sometimes have to dig underground: Finding the best of Toronto’s Financial District means mining the PATH, the underground system of tunnels that connects Toronto’s downtown highrises to one another. Around the rush hours and lunchtime, it can be enjoyable just to sit and watch the people file through like a school of sardines (in business attire).
Here’s what else to get up to. We’ve arranged activities as an imaginary ideal day in the Financial District – we can’t help you get through your work, but we can offer plenty of mental stimulation for the lunch hour, if that helps.
RISE AND SHINE
Dineen Coffee Company
The first thing you’ll need to do in order to distinguish yourself from the zombie hordes is find a bolthole where you can hide from them for one civilized moment. Dineen Coffee will serve nicely as your (pretty, expansively proportioned) hideaway. The décor here speaks the contemporary idiom, a mashup of European and steampunk-lite: white marble tables, an Ibero-Moorish tile pattern, brass fixtures. Friendly baristas are dolled up in check shirts, ties and vests, and dole out bittersweet cortados and macchiatos and adorable pastries (have a butter tart if you’re a visitor to Canada – or if you’re not). Lean your ear into the din at Dineen and you’ll hear a blend of softish music (jazz, most likely) and casual meeting talk. While you will spot the odd conservative suit, all sartorial signs point to Dineen serving as a clubhouse for the creative class component of the area.
140 Yonge St., 416-900-0949
Novelty Shoe Rebuilders
Ask Torontonians in the know whom they’d trust to repair a pricey pair of footwear and they’ll whisper the name of a place on a schlocky strip of Yonge Street. So take note if your morning errands include a run to a cobbler. Novelty Shoe Rebuilders has been around since 1932 and looks the part, thanks to the linoleum floors and a system of cardboard boxes for filing away customer shoes. Everyone receives the same excellent-if-sometimes-slow service at the steady hands of the gentlemen here; the clientele have included aristocracy (Lord Thomson and other 20th century Canadian tycoons) and celebrity (Gordon Lightfoot, Elizabeth Taylor, Anne Murray). However, you’re more likely to see a banker or office worker holding a paper ticket for pickup (don’t lose it!) or nervously handing over a pair of pricey Italian-made shoes for a shot at a second life.
119 Yonge St., 416-364-8878
Bay Streeters who know their food like to slide into the brown leather banquettes and continue the work talk over lunch at The Gabardine, a bustling restaurant with the feel of a hip, out-of-the-way neighbourhood bistro. Whereas many Financial District eateries attempt to exude expansive, masculine power (rawr!) through grandiose surroundings and proportions, The Gabardine gives off a sensible and more intimate vibe. The warm murmur of conversation bouncing off the tin ceilings and white walls helps give it that cosy feeling. So does a menu stacked with old-time comfort foods: Dishes include meaty things like pot pie and steak, but also a couple of Trinidadian dishes because this is Toronto. Even the house twist on a gin and tonic is comfier than the norm, sweetened as it is by tiny juniper berries floating on the surface. Pair that refreshment with indulgently creamy devilled eggs and move on to the burger – beware, however, that it’s on the juicy side and might be a bit too sloppy for a client meeting.
372 Bay St., 647-352-3211
Robert Jones Menswear
Many will be aware of the PATH, a network of shop- and restaurant-lined underground tunnels beneath Toronto’s downtown core – useful for hiding from winter weather. It’s a local cliché to mention that some neat stuff awaits down there. But it does, and Robert Jones is one example. An outlet for the sartorial elite of Toronto’s business community since 1919, Robert Jones used to be located in an ornate arcade on Yonge Street. The arcade was lost in a 1957 fire, and the shop can now be found nestled under the Royal Bank Plaza, near Union Station. Nowadays it focuses on Italian suits, outerwear and accessories, plus Edward Green shoes from England. If your budget can accommodate suits costing four – or five – figures, browse fabrics from a small, select set of brands including Casa Kiton and Sartorio Napoli. We drooled so much over the Sealup raincoats, meanwhile, that it was lucky they’re waterproof.
In the PATH, under the Royal Bank Plaza (200 Bay St., lower level), 416-362-6837
Ben McNally Books
A bookstore catering to the right brain interests of a left-brained Financial District crowd, Ben McNally isn’t stuffed with business books despite its location amidst the bank towers (it was even a bank once itself, hence the towering ceilings). Its selection is eclectic and interesting, running the gamut from cookbooks to novels to history to … kittens. Ben McNally is also refreshingly free of the housewares and tchotchkes that clutter other contemporary bookstores. What it does carry, however, are several books about how to write business books, for those who may harbour fantasies about trading in the pinstripes for pen and paper.
366 Bay St., 416-361-0032
TD Gallery of Inuit Art
When the stress of workaday life gets to be too much, take a quiet little break at the Toronto-Dominion Bank’s semi-hidden, free little gallery of Inuit art. Located on the mezzanine level at one of the towers of the TD Centre, this collection of a few dozen works, mostly sculptures, offers an organic, contemplative contrast to the stark lines of the local architecture.
79 Wellington St. W., mezzanine level. No phone.
After technology turned the old Toronto Stock Exchange into a relic – the physical trading floor became obsolete in 1997 – local firms and philanthropists chipped in to transform the building into a museum of design history. As well as checking out the (surprisingly small) old trading floor, you can browse a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions that often focus their gaze on consumer-oriented industrial design – a history of Canadian toasters and so forth. It’s more engrossing than it sounds; just wait for the warm nostalgia buzz to take hold when you spot Grandma’s old kitchen telephone.
234 Bay St., 416-363-6121
On the top floor of the historic Dineen Building (five stories above Dineen Coffee), The Chase enjoys a lovely city view. Among fine dining options in the Financial District, it has established more respect among the foodies than most on the strength of its “modern American” menu. Open for lunch and dinner, The Chase’s dishes tend to be built around businesslike proteins (beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, butter-poached lobster) plated with an artist’s eye. It’s wise to go with a healthy expense account, with appetizers in the $20 range and entrées in the $40 to $60 realm. Wines lean toward the Old World.
10 Temperance Street, 647-348-7000
A little hipper and more modest than The Chase but just as handy with the meat cleaver, Richmond Station (like The Gabardine) feels more like a neighbourhood restaurant than a power lunch emporium. One co-owner (Carl Heinrich) is a reality cooking show winner and the other (Ryan Donovan) is a butcher by training, and together they took Heinrich’s prize money and turned it into a darling of the local food critics. Charcuterie made in house is a highlight of the short, shifting menu. If you’re a people-watcher, try to score a table near the giant circular window to gawk at the multitudes at the busy intersection of Yonge and Queen.
1 Richmond St. W. 647-748-1444
Local restaurateur Mark McEwan’s crown jewel, Bymark, is located at the TD Centre bank tower; it’s been a blue chip dinner destination for Bay Streeters since 2002. Not content just to feed the financiers when they dine out, McEwan opened his eponymous underground emporium of packaged and prepared foods – a grocery store for people with more money than time – in the lower (PATH) level of the TD Centre in 2014. If your mood is more eat-in-private than see-and-be-seen, pop in and check out the lineup of meals ready to heat and eat. It’s global and gourmet: Think lamb shanks, salade niçoise, short rib empanadas and so on. Prices are quite reasonable by the standards of a place like this. If you’re looking for a wine to bring home with dinner, the LCBO liquor store at the First Canadian Place’s PATH level (take the tunnel leading directly north from the TD Centre) has a terrific selection by Ontario standards for such a small shop.
In the PATH, under the TD Centre (77 King St. W., lower level), 416.444.6262, Ext. 1
LCBO First Canadian Place
100 King St. W., lower level – follow the signs to First Canadian Place.