Want to see revitalization in action? Visit the Junction, a west-end neighbourhood along Dundas Street West just north of High Park. What was once Toronto’s last “dry” zone is now a hopping hotspot of hip restos (where cocktails flow freely), design and vintage shops, organic food purveyors, galleries and cafés.
The dynamic transformation over the last five years elevates the area to showcase status for events and progressive dine-arounds. Try the following gems on for event size:
The Space: With its address as its moniker, 3030 Dundas West injects a raucous and vibrant downtown groove into the Junction’s historic neighbourhood. Red velvet curtains mark the midway point of the 3,700 sq. ft. open-concept industrial-chic resto-lounge. Warm weather sees the front windows roll up on the comfy couch-strewn front living room. Vintage pinball games sit near by. Tables run throughout and art changes often along the exposed brick gallery wall. A multi-coloured panel backdrops the back-of-house stage.
The Vibe: Unique, high-spirited, live performance, entertaining
Event Perfect Because: There’s always something happening. Invite a group to enjoy onsite spectacles including live theatre, bands, kitchen throw downs, movies and more. Staff have loads of connections to help heighten the fun factor of private events. Local micro- and macro-brews are on tap and a $5 tapas menu a hit! Rave reviews, too, for lunch and dinner offerings. Available for buy-out with a capacity for 200.
Added Bonus: Mixology lessons and tastings are part of the entertainment. The head barkeep is Kentucky-born so A+ bourbon is a cocktail staple.
Wine, Dine and More
The Space: Housed on the ground-floor of a house along the Junction’s main avenue, Dundas Street West, Bricco Kitchen & Wine Bar is the latest restaurant entry into the ‘hood. The roomy, open-concept interior throws whitewashed exposed brick and Gaudi-inspired tiles against warm wood furnishings and edgy chrome lighting. Front-of-house floor to ceiling windows frame the streetscape. A free-flowing tumble of wooden branches, an installation by Toronto’s Brothers Dressler, adds entryway interest.
The Vibe: Upscale casual, laid back, linger-awhile wine-friendly
Event Perfect Because: It’s beautiful and spacious. Mix and match à la carte mains and sides featuring traditional Italian cuisine. Sharing is encouraged. An expansive wine list (liquor licence coming soon) is food friendly. A few steps up from the main dining room, the mezzanine bar offers group friendly versatility with a ready-made lounge nook and a window on the open kitchen. Total capacity is 100; buy-out available.
Added Bonus: Owner and certified sommelier Eric Gennaro will happily recommend vintages and lead groups through tutored tastings and educational food-and-wine themed meals.
Get Your Tequila On
The Space: Neon-lit retro signage, tin sombrero-topped lighting fixtures, vintage Mexican movie posters and hip salsa beats backdrop Playa Cabana Cantina, the Junction outpost of the growing Playa Cabana chain. The over-the-top décor works. Signage such as the “Keep and Enforce Prohibition” slogan plastered across the espresso machine is a sly nod to the area’s former no-alcohol policy. Upfront dining includes a long, narrow butcher block-topped oyster bar seating 16. Shelf-like wall tables are ideal for barflies and reception-style socializing.
The Vibe: Colourful, kitschy cool, boisterous, fun
Event Perfect Because: High-calibre delicious tacos (the fish is a must!), inventive burritos and premium tequila-based cocktails (pitcher-size available) are the au courant ingredients of today’s social scene. The back dining room, by the open-concept kitchen, is configurable for semi-private parties of up to 25. Total capacity is 176.
Added Bonus: Set up tasting flights of tequila and let the barkeep coach you through them.
The Space: Local art store Articulations is a creative oasis of art supplies, talent, workshops and exhibitions. Gleaming wood floors and old schoolhouse lights run the length of the well-laid out storehouse of paints, papers and tools. Local and city artists exhibit in the onsite Earl Selkirk Gallery. A back-of-store craft area accommodates up to 20 participants. Downstairs, a workshop studio is kitted out for mixed media adventures for 12 to 20 artists-in-the-making including painting, printmaking, drawing and sculpting.
The Vibe: Artsy, warm, inviting, collaborative
Event Perfect Because: Accustomed to hosting gallery openings, the Articulations team is resourceful in widening the hospitality net for groups interested in unwinding post-art sessions with cocktails and socializing. Encourage your group to explore their inner Degas with one of the studio’s popular workshops or customize to a theme.
Added Bonus: Have art will travel. Articulations can also stage teambuilding workshops at a venue of your choice.
The Space: Once the power plant source for a nearby rubber manufacturer, Metropolis Factory, at Dundas Street West and Dupont, is the workshop-cum-showroom for the oversized vintage finds and pieces that don’t fit into its store-front shop Metropolis Living, a few blocks west. Over 7,000 sq. ft. is divided into two distinctive spaces. There’s the “industrial” block where the company does its refinishing, which can be cleared for events. There’s also the “power” block with its second-floor catwalk and third-floor loft space overlooking ground level and the portable stage.
The Vibe: Industrial, eclectic, artsy, raw
Event Perfect Because: It’s unique! Put a band on the catwalk or make it a cocktail mingling area. Repurpose ultra-cool salvaged relics as event décor including vintage advertising and store signs, old klieg lights, antique furnishings and old apothecary tables. Shelves of old film reels lend a funky library feel to a few gathering nooks. Total capacity for 150 people.
Added Bonus: Vintage pieces are also rentable for offsite prop duty. The back parking lot is ideal for catering a smorgasbord of food trucks.
Putting Down Southern Roots
The Space: A chic black exterior marks the corner location of Roux which combines an upscale diner-like bistro aesthetic. Angled mirrors on the warmly lit exposed brick wall above dining tables beautifully reflect the crisp edge of the marble bar and subway tiles directly opposite. Dark wood tables complement a teal banquette. Push tables together for groups or clear away for receptions. Cast-iron bar stools swing put of the way when not in use. Chalkboard-chic wallpaper clinches the bistro feel.
The Vibe: Intimate, bistro-stylish, southern comfort, local lively
Event Perfect Because: Bourbon is a cocktail mainstay. The menu is all comfort. Chef-owner Derrick Markland, a Four Seasons Truffles alum, works the open kitchen – every seat has a great view. House specialty: French-Cajun and American south cuisine – mac ‘n cheese, pan-fried catfish, jambalaya, grits etc. The fried chicken and waffles is the bomb. A patio is in the works for summer 2014. Total capacity is 45 guests.
Added Bonus: A large oyster bucket stationed by the bar makes for great cocktail reception helpee-selfee appetizers.
Sweet & Savoury
The Space: Delight, home to handmade organic fair trade chocolates, and Junction Fromagerie, an oasis of artisanal cheese, are charming side-by-side sister shops from husband-and-wife team Jennifer Rashleigh and Jeff Brown. Exposed-brick farmhouse-chic on the Fromagerie side spotlights small cheese producers from across Canada; Delight is a picture in robin’s egg blue and cream with pretty display cabinets and eat-in tables. Local seasonal fruit stars in house-crafted preserves in the cheese shop and, on the Delight side, in tubs of hand-crafted ice cream.
The Vibe: Artisanal, personal, delicious, old-world charm
Event Perfect Because: Both boutiques are excellent catering sources for local-focused cheese plates to anything chocolate, including edible centrepieces and gift baskets. Delight also offers customized room gifts and event takeaways – chocolate lollies with logos and initialized chocolates. The shop’s ice cream is fab and available for event and restaurant orders.
Added Bonus: Interactive, educational tastings and wine pairings with cheese, chocolate or both! Book a chocolate-making class.
A Neighbourhood Landmark
The Space: One of the city’s oldest Italian restaurants and first pizza place, Vesuvio Pizzeria & Spaghetti House serves the west-end community from a distinctive ochre-and-aubergine accented low-rise building with takeout pizza on one side and restaurant and bar on the other. A 1962 fresco relief mural and exposed brick-broken plaster wall treatment anchor the main dining room. Local art changes monthly. Roomy and comfortable, there’s a semi-private alcove near the back ideal for groups of up to 20. Parties of up to 30 take over the front window-seating area, while the main dining room seats over 60. Private buy out available.
The Vibe: Homey, Old-school Italian, family friendly
Event Perfect Because: Front windows open for an outside-inside dining perspective. Preset three-course menus make group ordering easy. Raise a toast to history, since it was Vesuvio’s Pugliese family who spearheaded the lobbyist group that helped get the Junction’s dry designation repealed in 1997.
Added Bonus: Generous-sized platters and trays of anything on the menu are deliverable for group dining.