Toronto Travel Tips for Ossington & West Queen West - great bars, food and city streets Canada
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Toronto visits should definitely include a trek to the downtown’s West End, marked by Ossington Street. Anything west of Yonge Street is technically “west” in Toronto, so further west along Queen is actually called West Queen West. Ignore our liberal use of the ridiculous neighbourhood names though! Toronto has lots of neighbourhoods, but this is a must visit.
Photo by Jason Paris (Flickr Account)
This gentrified but hip area has much to see. There used to be gangs nearby in the ‘90s and earlier, and since CAMH is near, a mental health facility, there used to be some real characters on the streets. But they’ve been mostly pushed elsewhere, and now there’s cool posh overpriced stuff and people. Local designers, artists and artisans hold court. It sounds obnoxious and kind of is, but the truth is they design some great art! Also, if done properly you don’t need a lot of money to enjoy good food or drink. Some of our recommendations aren't on the budget end though, reader beware. Either way, get out there and explore.
In the day, especially during the weekend, a walk through Trinity Bellwoods Park is mandatory. Just outside of the Park, on Queen Street, get a good coffee from any number of shops including Sam James, White Squirrel, Jimmies or Tokyo Smoke. Hang out nearby sipping your java and just people watch if that is your thing. Back in the park, people play baseball, frisbee, soccer, or they slackline, ie walk along a thin rope tied between two trees. Everybody is obscenely young and very, very hot. It’s nuts. Just really attractive people everywhere. They sit around on the grass drinking from red cups or having a Canadian schmoke.
Continuing on Queen Street, well, West Queen West, between Bathurst and Ossington, there are tons of food options. Both expensive and inexpensive options. Dog’s Bollocks and Squirly’s are great examples of the latter (pub food, beers and such). There are upscale butchers and shops for coffee or regal cupcakes, but the older heart of Queen West has not been entirely stomped out. There are vestiges still, here and there. You will know them when you see them.
Along Ossington there are tons of options to check out. Want a great bowl of Pho, check out Pho Tien Thanh. Looking for a dive bar in the evening, Sweaty Betties is your place. Keen on brunch, how about Union. Fancy a pint at one of our favorite micro-breweries in the city, sit on the patio at Bellwoods Brewery. We really like their sour beer Jelly King!
The Communist’s Daughter is a tiny bar featuring good live music during the days on weekends. No cover, but you need to get a seat or find a decent place to stand. To keep away the uninitiated the sign above the door doesn’t say Communist’s Daughter, probably they just left the sign from the former business. This was probably a cost-saving measure, rather than a deliberately obnoxious provocation. The Dakota Tavern on the opposite corner has some of the best acoustic music in the city, truly. The players on any given night will blow you away. Swinging honky tonk music. It’s a basement bar, but the people and the sounds make the atmosphere. They also host a famous Bluegrass brunch, which is definitely worth going to! Red Light has some wicked DJs spinning mellow funky tunes.
Enjoying tunes up close and personal at the Dakota Tavern. The atmosphere is phenomenal. Photo by Stephen Chanasyk
The Garrison has great dance parties, so does Painted Lady, but there are numerous low-maintenance bars with good beats and dark mellow lighting to hang out with people and just chill. You can drink the latest trendy thing at most, or just have a plain old beer. Something for everyone.
Some of our favourite restaurants for dinner around the area that are just worth going to are Han Moto and Oddseoul. JUST GO. Han Moto’s description is apparently “Japanese-style snacks & drinks are served at this bare-bones izakaya with flea market decor”. Sounds accurate enough!
Trinity Bellwoods at night can be fun too! Photo by Andrew Rivett of the Drummers in Exile event.
Dundas is the major street north of Queen, at the top/north end of Trinity Bellwoods Park. Dundas/Ossington is quieter, more subtle and maybe more fun. One of our favourite bars is the relaxed Northern Belle, on Bellwoods Avenue, just east of the park. Somehow lots of these great places include a reference to Bells, a shortened Bellwoods in the name. Montauk is also a great cocktail if walking back east towards Bathurst. Like eating weird meats, Black Hoof is fantastic. At the time of writing there is probably some hidden, secret bar opening up, and this article will be fatally outdated for being behind a trend. Meh. The relentless craving to be adjudged hip and the scorn for this craving are twin attitudes that should be put aside, except maybe to laugh about.
No need to weigh in on that, just explore and chill this fun area.
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For an example of the random things that happen here, Check out this photo by Wylie Poon.