A Quick Guide To Toronto’s Distillery District
If you’re not familiar with the Historic Distillery District, it’s one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods. Originally home to the world’s biggest whiskey Distillery, Gooderham & Worts, this small community has since been revamped into a hub for all things Arts, Culture & Entertainment. After closing it’s doors in 1990, the Distillery District became a prominent location for film production with over 1700 movies being filmed here. In 2001 the area was purchased and restored to it’s original glory by Cityscape Holdings and turned into what we now know and love as the Distillery District. It officially opened it’s doors in 2003 as an area solely dedicated to the arts, and is one of Toronto’s most tourist-friendly areas.
Upon entering the Distillery District, you’ll be greeted by hues of dark green and burnt orange. The cobblestone streets invite you into a square filled with Victorian industrial buildings, transporting you to a by-gone era.
With so much on offer, you can easily spend a day exploring the Distillery District right through from Morning til Night.
Start The Day With Coffee
Coffee is always a good idea to start the day. Bursting with aroma, Balzac’s coffee offers an array of carefully crafted espresso beverages. Exposed brick, vintage posters and chandeliers complete this quaint coffee shops Parisian aesthetic. The shelves are full of colourfully packaged coffee beans and tea, while the counter is lined with cookies, pastries and cakes.
An Essence Of The Past
Although the days of Gooderham & Worts are long gone, there is still an essence of it’s past here.
The Spirit of York has taken up residence in what was once The Gooderham & Worts malting room. Spirit of York produce Vodka & Gin using locally sourced water from Springwater, considered some of the purest water in the world. The walkway inside the distillery takes you on a journey through the distilling process, all the while watching the actual distilling process happen behind glass walls.
While the Spirit of York embodies the Victorian nature of the Distillery District, The Ontario Spring Water Sake Co brings new life to this area. The company is the first of it’s kind in eastern North America. This locally brewed sake is made using Ontario Spring Water and traditional Japanese methods. Tastings are available at their retail store in the Distillery District.
Public Art Installations
One of the things I really love about the Distillery District are it’s public art installations. Every walkway, alleyway and corridor is filled with art. This particular piece really stood out to me because of it’s personal approach. It’s the general public that have brought it to life with so many individual stories collected in one place. You’ll find many permanent and temporary pieces of art here. As well as a grand total of 22 galleries, this district is brimming with creativity.
You’ll find the theme of love repeated several times in the Distillery District. One of the most famous installations is the LOVE locks sign. Many a couple have left their mark here. If you’re visiting and would like to leave your love lock but didn’t come prepared, there is a guy selling locks who will also be kind enough to make sure you get your perfect photo. Other installations include the peace sign and love heart, greeting people on the Parliament Street entrance.
Cafes & Eateries
With a multitude of restaurants and cafes, the Distillery District offers something for every tastebud. Unfortunately my tastebuds are distinctly English, so I tend to gravitate towards places like Mill St Brewing. And in typical English fashion, I ordered a fish & chips, which was pretty good to be honest! If you’re looking for something casual, somewhere to watch the football, or simply want to sample craft beer, Mill St is the place to do it. With 16 in-house brewed craft beers on tap, you’re sure to find a beer you love. Their flights will give you a good introduction to the brewery. Or if you’d like a more in-depth experience, book one of their brewery tours.
I love almost every cuisine out there, and thankfully the Distillery District offers a diverse range of Restaurants. Cluny is a French bistro offering everything from French onion soup to pork belly. Madrina will fulfil all your tapas cravings while Boku Noodle Bar features a Pan-Asian inspired menu.
Indulge In Your Sweet Tooth
I was first introduced to SOMA chocolate by my brother-in-law, a local of Toronto. They are a small chain with stores dotted around Toronto. The first SOMA chocolate I ever stepped foot in was in the Distillery District and I’ve popped in on every visit since. A favourite among locals SOMA chocolate is filled with shelves offering a myriad of sweet treats. Everything from orange peel dipped in dark chocolate to milk chocolate bars covered in roasted hazelnuts. I never leave without a gelato cone!
If chocolate isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other places to fulfil your sweet tooth. Brick Street Bakery offers freshly baked pastries and handcrafted breads. The Sweet Escape is an independently owned bakery, offering everything from cupcakes to meringue.
Wildly Delicious is where you’ll come for all your home baking & cooking needs. Their store is filled with everything from cooking utensils to Jams & BBQ Sauce to infused balsamic vinegar. Attached to the retail store is a food counter where you can purchase artisan cheeses, bakery items and hot beverages.
Galleries & Performing Arts
Wandering the galleries in this area is a great way to walk off all those sweet treats. The Distillery District is home to a grand total of 22 galleries. The Arta gallery is forever changing with different artists showcasing their contemporary work. While the Corkin gallery focuses towards abstract photography.
The Young Centre For Performing Arts is home to the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the theatre school at George Brown College. The box office is open from 1pm – 8pm. For the current schedule check out their website.
The Distillery District hosts a multitude of events throughout the year including Artfest, Music City Summer Series and the Toronto Christmas Market. Through the summer they also host a Sunday Market where you can purchase from local vendors selling everything from fresh flowers to organic preserves.
It’s easy to see why Torontonians love the Distillery District. It’s certainly not like anywhere I’ve been before and a great way to reimagine an important part of Toronto history. Although I’ve been to the Distillery District on many occasions, I’ve still only scratched the surface. You could easily spend an entire day here since there are always seasonal events and things happening. If you are only visiting Toronto for a few days, I would allocate at least 3-4 hours here. This is somewhere you don’t want to rush when visiting Toronto or you’ll miss out on truly experiencing it. Low on time? Have a local take you on a walking tour!
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