Wednesday, August 10, 2011

[944] Director's Cut: The Toronto International Film Festival Travel Guide

View from the Thompson Toronto's rooftop infinity pool. All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.
For film aficionados and movie nerds, spending a few days immersed in back-to-back screenings of the outlandish, edgy, quirky, profound, and always wholly unique offerings of an international film festival is a sacred experience. But too many film festivals are more about celebrities and their seekers preening and neck-craning than about the movies themselves. Others are so under-the-radar that they only screen third-rate features and a LOT of local talent. A movie buff might feel like Goldilocks trying to sift through the available choices for cinema-tourism: this one’s too big; this one’s too small... But the Toronto International Film Festival is just right.

Since 1976, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has been showcasing some of the best films from all over the world during its 11-day run. The festival has grown to feature 300-400 films every year, ranging anywhere from Asian arthouse horror to documentaries on life as a woman in Afghanistan, and also has included such high-profile premieres as American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire and Precious. It is considered one of the finest and most influential film festivals in the world, yet despite its reputability it still has been able to maintain its indie integrity as a film lover’s film festival (and not a PR machine for various celebs’ latest star vehicles).

In September 2010, the TIFF unveiled their new home in the Entertainment District in the King West neighborhood, the TIFF Bell Lightbox & Festival Tower, a five-story glass-encased complex with an atrium, five theatres, two galleries, learning studios and student centers, restaurants and a lounge. The heart of the festival is here, but screenings still occur all throughout downtown Toronto.
This year the TIFF will be held September 8-18. In between screenings, be sure to explore the vast cultural offerings this sparkling city has to offer – from haute couture shopping to gritty artist enclaves, Toronto has something to appeal to all tastes … kind of like the festival itself.

King Deluxe room at the Thompson Toronto.
Where to go:

King West

King West, home of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, is becoming a hotbed of youth-oriented urban chic with gourmet burger bars, high-energy nightlife and sleek hotels, while still maintaining a bit of the neighborhood’s independent grit.

The Brunch Burger at the Counter.
Eat, drink and sleep:
The Thompson Toronto The ultra-sleek Thompson Toronto features floor-to-ceiling windows, plasma TVs, and heated marble floors in every room. The design is plush contemporary, perfectly suited for the stylish, trendy traveler. While there, enjoy their exclusive rooftop lounge and infinity pool overlooking the Toronto skyline, as well as the Counter, a 24-hour “classic” diner with a sophisticated twist, serving artisanal cocktails and locally-sourced gourmet comfort foods (the “Brunch Burger” will change the way you think about burgers forever).

Grindhouse Burger Bar
The trend of the gourmet burger bar is alive and well in Toronto, and the options are nearly endless. Grindhouse is a bit less flashy, tucked away in a modest-looking storefront, but inside you’ll find 12 options of top-quality burgers ground in-house that are free from refined sugars, hormones, preservatives, and gluten, making their burger an actual healthy option.

Crush Wine Bar
This is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of your evening, with an extensive offering of wines by the glass and regionally-themed flights (including many of Ontario’s own wines, difficult to get in the States).

: TOCA by Tom Brodi (inside the Ritz-Carlton), Scarpetta (inside the Thompson), Lee Lounge, Le Sélect Bistro, Buca, Wvrst

West Queen West.

West Queen West
Don’t you just love the smell of fresh gentrification in the morning? This recently-revitalized neighborhood has seen some rough times in its past, but now – thanks in large part to the efforts of artists setting up shop and transforming the area – it is a funky, eclectic, artistic cultural hub filled with the largest concentration of art galleries in Toronto as well as independently-owned boutiques, hipster-chic gastropubs, rockin’ whiskey bars, risqué nightclubs and late-night indie rock venues.

Eat, drink and sleep:

The Gladstone Hotel This 132-year-old hotel is one of the major catalysts of WQW’s redevelopment. The goal of the Gladstone is to be a conduit for connecting artists with the public. Their ballroom is a live concert venue (hence why every hotel room comes with a set of earplugs) and they show over 100 art exhibits every year in their hallways and bar. The Gladstone Café also serves some of the best locally-sourced, sustainable foods you will have in the entire city of Toronto.

: The Drake Café (inside the Drake Hotel), Mavrik Wine Bar, Poutini’s House of Poutine, Nota Bene

Old Town

The Distillery Historic District
A huge undertaking in historic preservation and adaptive reuse, the Distillery District is a pedestrian-only arts, culture and entertainment destination located within 34 historic Victorian industrial buildings on cobblestone streets, filled with independent galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafes and performance spaces. 

Eat and drink:

Mill St. Brew Pub Sample their award-winning beers (including their renowned organic lager) while noshing on their beer-infused comfort food (their poutine with beer-braised shortribs is outstanding).

: Balzac’s Coffee, Pure Spirits Oyster House, Soma Chocolate & Gelato, The Boiler House

St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Market is over two centuries old and is located in the heart of Toronto’s Old Town. There are over 120 specialty merchants located in the south building and the north building holds a farmers’ market every Saturday.
Eat and drink: Carousel Bakery, Origins

The Beaches.
On the east end of Queen Street lies these somewhat sleepier neighborhoods down by “The Beaches,” vast stretches of sand along the shore of Lake Ontario. Take a day to soak in the sun on these beautiful urban beaches and explore the cute shops and restaurants nearby.

Eat and drink:

Ruby Watchco Homestyle dining from Canada’s Top Female Chef Lynn Crawford; the menu consists of a single four-course tasting menu that changes daily.

Pic Nic
Dozens of artisanal cheeses, meats, and garnishes like gherkins and olives to pair with your wine – this is definitely a grown-up kind of picnic!

: Bonjour Brioche, Lady Marmalade
The Royal Ontario Museum.

Bloor-Yorkville/The Annex
This ritzy neighborhood used to be the home of the TIFF, but now it is home to one of the most expensive retail spaces in North America. This exclusive shopping district is populated by some of the world’s most elite designer brands, including Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Hermès.

Check out
: The Royal Ontario Museum, Bata Shoe Museum, Casa Loma
Eat and drink: Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar, Insomnia

Chinatown (Dundas and Spadina)
Toronto’s Chinatown is nestled between the Frank Geary-designed Art Gallery of Ontario, the eighth-largest gallery in North America, and Kensington Market, a multi-cultural market filled with bakeries, cheese shops, ethnic clothing stores, pupuserias and taquerias, and a host of countercultural boutiques and head shops. Chinatown itself is actually one of six such areas in Toronto, but the one located around Dundas and Spadina is one of the largest in North America. Here you’ll countless restaurants, bakeries, markets and shops selling pork buns, dim sum, dried fish and various trinkets.

Yonge-Dundas Square
It is Toronto’s answer to Times Square, and it is the heart of the city’s action. This is the most “touristy” spot in Toronto, but the flashing L.E.D. screens and dynamic art installation comprised of 600 water jets are a sight worth seeing. This is the playground for the young and trendy…especially at night.

Original link here.

Want to see more? View the Flickr set here.