The Distillery District is currently one of Toronto’s new hip neighborhoods where bars, restaurants, and galleries line the streets and new housing is going up all around (everything in Toronto goes up, as the city is skyscraper-crazed).The area gets its character, however, from its past. Formerly the home of Gooderham and Worts, which became the world’s largest distillery, the district includes over 40 historic buildings, many of which were built between 1859 and 1895. Most buildings were designed by David Roberts, Sr. and his son, David Roberts, Jr. Together they created a beautiful and harmonious example of Victorian industrial architecture.
A touch of art makes it the perfect place to simply wander.
Today these large industrial structures – distilleries, cooperages (where barrels were made), boiler houses, tank houses, and more – have been lightly restored and repurposed as bars, restaurants, and galleries. I say lightly restored because, unlike so many buildings where only the exterior retains its integrity while the interior is gutted and modernized, the renovations here seemed to have largely consisted of a clean-up and polish. The industrial form and function of each building is still visible within as the businesses that now inhabit these spaces incorporate the structural elements and equipment of the past. It makes for fascinating spaces.
Many of these buildings now house restaurants, but we could eat at only one during our day there. Our choice (in part because of the lovely patio) was Archeo where I had an absolutely sublime mussel and pasta dish while my husband had a mediocre pizza.
For dessert, we headed over to Soma for a scoop or two of magical gelato and sorbetto. (The blueberry/basil is amazing, but everything we tried was wonderful.)
There are lots of wonderful art galleries and shops here as well. We didn’t have much time for shopping, but a few that caught my eye include:
- A Taste of Quebec (closed), a specialty food shop and gallery featuring some of the Quebec’s finest products.
- Artagallery where we enjoyed a show featuring beautiful photos.
- Cork Town Designs with a great collection of fun, modern designs.
- Soma where you can watch chocolate being made, taste a truffle or two, sip a specialty chocolate beverage, and then purchase your favorites to bring back home. They also have the gelato shop noted above. (Their chocolate is really good, but also really expensive – even for what it is.)
- The Thompson Landry galleries which are housed in two different buildings, each of which has a very different feel. We were particularly taken by the work of Tommy Zen, a ceramicist whose deep, rich glazes can sometimes be found on enormous pieces. It’s striking work. We particularly liked the feel of the smaller Stone Building gallery, which has a more intimate feel.
There is a lot more, particularly in the way of jewelry, art, and clothing that we missed. And, of course, there are a number of spots selling all manner of things related to beer and brewing!
The Distillery District makes for a nice excursion as it provides a (relatively rare) opportunity to feel surrounded by Toronto’s history – and you can enjoy a nice lunch or dinner and maybe a bit of shopping at the same time! In addition, art openings, theatrical performances and other events are regularly held in the area, making it ideal for an evening out.
For those interested in learning more about the history of the area when they visit, the Distillery District Heritage website provides maps and information for self-directed walking tours. Guided walking and Segway tours of the area are also available.
Wandering Toronto’s Distillery District
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