Toronto in Winter: So Cool

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fashionably dressed locals stroll Mink Row, along Bloor Street, Toronto's upscale shopping district that's akin to New York's Madison Avenue or Chicago's Miracle Mile. Among those blithely ignoring the winter cold: a stately woman in a Chanel coat and hat, pushing a stylish baby carriage that holds a freshly groomed Afghan hound.

A couple of miles away, in an edgier section behind one of Toronto's four Chinatowns, I stumble across the Hungary Thai, a restaurant that features Hungarian and Thai food. I misread it as Hungry Thai and was sufficiently intrigued to walk inside. Unfortunately I was too stuffed with dim sum to eat just then, but even so I was tempted by the #3 combo plate: spring rolls, cabbage rolls, pad thai and Wiener schnitzel.

After mulling over my recent three-day trip to Toronto, I concluded that the woman pushing a hound and the Hungary Thai formed iconic images of Toronto, more so even than the CN Tower or the Hockey Hall of Fame.

For one thing, more than ever the city is displaying and celebrating its wealth and success. It's a great city in the process of becoming a world-class city, with a new opera house; a new and glittering $270 million addition to the Royal Ontario Museum; a cutting-edge, $254 million addition designed by Frank Gehry to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which will open later this year; and a new center that will be the home of the Toronto International Film Festival, considered by many second only to Cannes. The film festival's new home, Festival Centre, includes screening rooms, full-size cinemas, a gallery, a library, shops and restaurants.

The city is also building a 150-acre shopping and entertainment complex centered on extensive studios for filmmakers, who last year spent more than $700 million in Toronto, which has become a kind of Hollywood North.

Private enterprise has followed, drawn by the scent of wealth and growth.

Trump, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Shangri-La are building combination luxury hotels and residential condos. Recently opened: the Hazelton Hotel, a five-star boutique hotel with a glamorous restaurant that is getting raves.

Yet Toronto has retained its distinctiveness. You can still easily find the eclectic and the eccentric.

Among the glittering tributes to high culture and wealth, there is still room for dives like Graffiti's Bar and Grill, where talented young musicians come from all over Canada to perform in exchange for whatever patrons put into a hat. There are edgy, youthful neighborhoods, historic areas built to the human scale and immigrant neighborhoods that could make a person of any nationality feel at home, even a Hungarian Thai.

But Toronto in winter? Sure, average temperatures are in the 20s. But my hotel in Yorkville, the Park Hyatt, was just across the street from the Royal Ontario's new galleries, which, by the way, are built in such a way as to have no right angles.

I was also only a few blocks from the Bata Shoe Museum, a rare space devoted entirely to shoes and much more fascinating than you might expect. But I also walked for miles and, when feeling chilly, found I was never more than steps away from some warm and interesting place.

Besides, there is nothing more cozy than sitting in a restaurant near a window and watching the snow fall on city streets. For romance, that's at least competitive with a Caribbean sunset.

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