Neighbourhood spotlight: The Annex

With its tree-lined streets, great indie stores and student energy, the Annex - bordered in the north by Dupont, in.


With its tree-lined streets, great indie stores and student energy, the Annex – bordered in the north by Dupont, in the south by Bloor and by Bathurst and Avenue Road on the west and east respectively – is a dynamic neighbourhood with a kinetic nightlife and vibrant street scene.

History gave it its name. In the late 1800s, when Yorkville began to grow too quickly to service its citizens, the city of Toronto annexed the area, which at the time was a Yorkville subdivision.

The Annex has a kind of split personality. It’s characterized by elegant mansions owned by successful professionals but is also a hotbed of cash-strapped students who hang out at downscale pubs and ram the area’s cheap sushi joints. Near Avenue Road, the retail options are high-end and fashion forward. Further west, including Mirvish Village just a block past Bathurst, the more wallet-friendly entertainment and independent shopping options are geared toward those attending U of T and the George Brown campus just north of Dupont.

Culture features prominently. The Annex is home to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, cultural and community hubs the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and Trinity St. Paul’s Church, and the Royal Ontario and Gardiner Museums.

In this instalment of our neighbourhood series, we tell you where to shop, eat and club-crawl.

If you’re looking for somewhere to go dancing in the Annex, you’ll definitely want to check out Coda (794 Bathurst, 416-536-0346, codatoronto.com). Every weekend you can catch some of the best underground dance music artists on the planet taking control of their powerful sound system, and the space attracts some seriously dedicated partiers. Run by the same team as much-missed Footwork Nightclub, Coda is easily one of the top places for electronic music.

Live music fans have been flocking to Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West, 416-532-1598, leespalace.com) since 1985 to catch cutting-edge international and local bands. It’s a sister venue to the Horseshoe Tavern (both owned by Collective Concerts), and boasts similarly high quality bookings, focusing mostly on indie sounds. Upstairs at long-time student hangout the Dance Cave, you can dance to alternative rock DJs on the weekends and catch occasional live acts during the week as well.

Those with even more adventurous musical tastes will want to stop by the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick, 416-923-8137, tranzac.org). The non-profit three-room venue was originally an Australian and New Zealand social club that over the years expanded its mandate to hosting avant-garde jazz, indie folk, experimental music, ukulele jams and more. While best known as a home for various weirdo music communities, Tranzac books a good balance of traditional sounds as well.

The Annex might not be the first Toronto neighbourhood that comes to mind for great fashion, but it definitely has its share of stellar indie boutiques.

It’s home to one of our favourite menswear stores in town, Theodore 1922 (374 Bloor West, 416-850-0175, theodore1922.com). Find upscale brands like Eton, Samuelsohn, Z Zegna and Michael Kors, and be sure to indulge in the shop’s made-to-measure shirts and suits. Owner Miranda Black is a stylist extraordinaire who can mix and match colours and prints like the pro she is. Another menswear option is the Brooks Brothers Flatiron Shop (262 Bloor West, 416-925-5878, brooksbrothers.com), which offers heritage designs for everyone from Bay Street brokers to the casual cottage-goers.

For women there’s indie boutique Coal Miner’s Daughter (594 Markham, 647-381-1439, and others, coalminersdaughter.ca), which is always stocked with amazing Canadian designers like This Ilk, Melissa Nepton, Eve Gravel and more. Also check out co-owner Janine Haller’s in-house jewellery line.

Ewanika (1083 Bathurst, 416-927-9699, ewanika.ca) has one of the larger cult followings in Toronto. The boutique sells the locally designed line along with curated accessories that complement each season’s collection.

Trove (793 Bathurst, 416-516-1258, and others, trove.ca) is a neighbourhood favourite for trendy women’s wear, shoes and accessories. You don’t stay in business for over 16 years without doing something right. Need some comfortable denim for fall? Stock up on Canadian brand Second’s denim yoga jeans – they’ll give a little if you eat too much pumpkin pie.

For underthings, check out uber-popular lingerie shop Secrets from Your Sister (560 Bloor West, 416-538-1234, secretsfromyoursister.com). More than just your average department store, the bra destination specializes in fittings that find your exact size. The boutique caters to a large variety of sizes and shapes.

With a thriving student population at its heart, the Annex is a perfect home base for wallet-friendly eats, but an equally healthy population of well-to-do families also gives the district a selection of more upmarket dining destinations.

Long-running brunch stalwarts like Bloor’s Insomnia (563 Bloor West, 416-588-3907, insomniarestaurant.com) and Bathurst’s Grapefruit Moon (968 Bathurst, 416-534-9056, thegrapefruitmoon.com) have helped residents start their days for decades. Up on Dupont, Fanny Chadwicks (268 Howland, 416-944-1606, fannychadwicks.com) does crepe-like Finnish pancakes and bennies with beer-infused hollandaise.

Those on a budget can take advantage of some of Toronto’s best cheap sushi joints, including Sushi on Bloor (525 Bloor West, 416-516-3456, sushionbloor.com) and New Generation‘s two locations (486 Bloor West, 416-516-8883 493 Bloor West, 416-963-8861, newgenerationsushi.com). Or swing by Kenzo‘s Annex location (372 Bloor West, 416-921-6787, kenzoramen.ca) for some of the city’s top ramen, Ghazale (504 Bloor West, 416-537-4417, ghazale.ca) for takeout shawarma, or Country Style Hungarian (450 Bloor West, 416-536-5966, countrystylehungarian.com) for schnitzel.

If you’re looking to impress your dinner date, head to Anthony Rose’s turf on Dupont: Fat Pasha (414 Dupont, 647-342-0356, fatpasha.com) does ingenious Middle Eastern/Jewish eats like whole grilled cauliflower stuffed with halloumi, while Rose & Sons (176 Dupont, 647-342-0356, roseandsons.ca) impresses with upmarket takes on comfort food. If you want to fake the Muskoka picnic experience year round, the heated patio of Big Crow (176 Dupont, 647-748-3287, roseandsonsbigcrow.com) is out back serving BBQ.

Out with friends? Guu Sakabar (559 Bloor West, 647-343-1101, guu-izakaya.com/sakabar) serves tasting-size Japanese eats in a raucous, party-ready atmosphere, and Playa Cabana (111 Dupont, 416-929-3911, playacabana.ca) keeps the tacos and margaritas flowing until late.

The neighbourhood’s two best-known bars are the Brunswick House (481 Bloor West, 416-964-2242, thebrunswickhouse.com) and the Madison (14 Madison, 416-927-1722, madisonavenuepub.com), with Vancouver transplant El Furniture Warehouse (410 Bloor West, 647-350-7326, facebook.com/ElFurnitureTO) and its $5 food menu rounding out the unholy trinity.

Non-students might prefer to grab a pitcher of craft beer at Victory Cafe (581 Markham, 416-516-5787, victorycafe.ca), a pint at Pauper’s Pub (539 Bloor West, 416-530-1331, pauperspub.com) or some whisky sours at Southern Accent (595 Markham, 416-536-3211, southernaccent.com) instead. Once the post-bar munchies take hold, retreat to Quebec chain Poutineville (296 Brunswick, 647-349-2345, poutineville.com), which serves the gooey stuff until 4 am on weekends.

The Annex is home to a few great beauty destinations. Your one-stop-shop for quality express facials, nail and brow services and more is the Ten Spot (497 Bloor West, 647-693-7405, and others, the10spot.com). For Instagram-worthy mommy dates, the salon offers kiddie manis and pedis.

Those who like to go bare flock to Fuzz Wax Bar (488 Bloor West, 647-748-3899, and others, fuzzwaxbar.com), which adheres to the highest hygiene standards and makes waxing as painless as it can possibly be. They also do threading and ingrown hair extractions.

Dudes appreciate the aptly named ManCave Barbers Lounge (476 Bloor West, 647-340-6448, mancavebarbers.ca) for its haircuts, scalp massages, paraffin hand waxes, manicures, beard grooming and mini-facials at reasonable prices. The truly committed can even go for a “brokini,” “brozillian” or “brotocks” wax. Pain in the name of beauty isn’t just for the ladies any more!

Another popular joint is Republic of Hair (324 Bloor West, 647-748-0808, republicofhair.com), which has a loyal clientele for everything from colour jobs to up-dos for big nights out on the town.

Don’t miss our advertising feature focused on The Annex.

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