BY MACRINA SMART
It’s no secret that the Torontonians have something of a love-hate relationship with our public transportation commission, the TTC. Millions of us ride the TTC’s busses, subways and streetcars every day. We’re glad that the system exists; for years we’ve also been desperate to see its expansion. Thus the installation of dedicated streetcar lanes along St. Clair Avenue West continues to stick out as an example of transit’s challenges in Toronto. Started in June 2005, cost overruns and delays meant that the project took five years to complete, snarling traffic and limiting parking along the Midtown artery. In hindsight it’s unsurprising that numerous businesses closed their doors during this period.
And yet, since the end of construction, retail revitalization has firmly taken hold, particularly along the stretch of St. Clair between Bathurst and Dufferin streets.
One of the newest retail standouts is funky vintage boutique Gypsy. Opened this past summer, the shop features all the fripperies of a travelling caravan, bursting at the seams with clothing and accessories for men and women, as well as repurposed antique furniture, luggage and other “found objects.” Helpfully, everything is organized by garment type, then by style, then by colour, and then—if you can believe it—by fabric. And if you’re having trouble deciding just which one of the well-curated and affordably priced outfits to take home, friendly staff, including owner Donnetta Galloway, are more than willing to offer advice. Galloway—with her partner, Kirby Azuma—also owns Noir, a premium espresso bar and teahouse a bit farther west on St. Clair. It’s a perfect spot for a cup of coffee after playing dress up at Gypsy.
Of course, these are hardly the only establishments worth visiting on the reenergized strip. Some long-standing businesses, like Albert’s Real Jamaican Foods and ice cream parlour Dutch Dreams, stuck it out during the extended big dig; eventually they began to witness signs of a wider recovery. Gourmet boulangerie Pain Perdu brought artisan baguettes, croissants and quiches to St. Clair even as backhoes remained arguably more plentiful than pedestrians. Now with a small seating area to encourage the whiling away of an hour or two, the bakery is of such quality that it’s been recognized by the French government—and by the locals who jam its tables on the weekend. More recently, pastry chef Leah Kalish brought her gourmet treats to the neighbourhood via her cute two-stool bakeshop, while also spreading the love by selling her goods at fine grocers across Toronto. There’s something about the quaint, small-town feel of Leah’s that makes her sweets even sweeter.
A similar neighbourhood ambience pervades at restaurants such as Tom Davis’s renowned barbecue joint, The Stockyards. Opened in 2009, it’s been filled up ever since with area residents (plus those who travel from farther afield) taking out and dining in on the expertly marinated and wood-smoked ribs and chicken, plus griddle-smashed burgers, sandwiches and even hearty brunch options.
Of course this is only a small sampling of what remains and what’s arisen along St. Clair West. Now benefitting from dedicated TTC lanes as well as renewed access for cars, the area continues to grow with great recent openings including seafood restaurant Catch, down-home brunch spot Emma’s Country Kitchen and design studio Kosoy and Bouchard. It may not be the most obvious area for a day of shopping and dining, but the Midtown strip is easier than ever to get to. Just hop on the streetcar!
Featured in this article:>> Gypsy, 762 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-346-1205; gypsyfoundobjects.com, map and reviews
>> Albert’s Real Jamaican Foods, 542 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-9445; albertsrealjamaicanfoods.ca, map and reviews
>> Pain Perdu, 736 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-656-7246; map and reviews
>> Leah’s, 621 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-785-4766; leahs.ca, map and reviews
>> The Stockyards, 699 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-9666; thestockyards.ca, map and reviews
>> Catch, 744 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-0568; catchit.ca, map and reviews
>> Emma’s Country Kitchen, 1108 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-652-3662; emmascountrykitchen.com, map and reviews
>> Kosoy and Bouchard, 651 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-651-4480; kosoyandbouchard.com, map and reviews