When the winter chill sets in, there's nothing like a burning flame to heat things up. T.O.'s bar scene has lots of places to bask in the glow. Try the Drake Hotel 's (1150 Queen West, 416-531-5042) huge walk-in fireplace in the main lounge, or head up to the second floor of Café Nervosa (75 Yorkville, 416-961-4642), where they love to throw a log on. The Raq n Waq (739 Queen West, 416-504-9120) pool hall has three hearths, and the many-tiered Courthouse (57 Adelaide East, 416-214-9379) has several dating back to the 1850s. If fireside dining is your thing, Auberge du Pommier (4150 Yonge, 416-222-2220) has a huge wood-burner.
Here comes hockey
There are a lot of people who can't wait for February 5 , aka Super Bowl Sunday . No, not because the Rolling Stones are playing the half-time show for pro football's championship game. I'm talking about the hockey freaks, who know that once it's over - and now that the Raptors' hot streak is long gone - they can concentrate on what matters.
Tourin' Turin's tourneys
We love the Olympics, every minute of them, especially the Winter Olympics , this time around in Turin. Okay, except for the skaters (ooh, tacky!), the athletes are all covered up, so the bodacious bod factor suffers a bit. But the insanity factor - luge competitors, for example - is entertainingly high, and there's always that emotionally intense hockey tournament. The Canadians promise something like 25 medals, and Canuck skiers and skaters have performed well in recent world-class events. But we've kinda heard that song before, so do yourself a favour and don't get your hopes up. See it all on CBC February 10 to 26 .
Women's Day action
The march and fair may not be what they were a quarter-century ago when Toronto women stepped up their organization of the event. Times and political sensibilities have changed. But International Women's Day on March 8 is still a flashpoint for some fascinating woman-centred events. For the serious-minded, the Law Society (130 Queen West) hosts a panel discussion on the legal implications of the worldwide traffic in women and children . Call 416-947-3314 for info on the participants, date and venue. And the laugh-starved can head to the World Literacy of Canada Reading Series's International Women's Funny Day on March 15 featuring Kate Rigg , Maggie Cassella and Diane Flacks at the Royal Ontario Museum. $40 (steep, but this is a funder). 416-977-0008.
And the winner is...
It means we won't be seeing a film montage featuring Billy Crystal and King Kong - sigh! - but it's hard not to get excited about the idea of Jon Stewart hosting this year's edition of the Academy Awards . We're guessing queer themes will figure prominently when the January 30 announcement of nominees rolls around. But the monkey could take it all. We find out March 5 .
The beauty of snow white
It's the eternal cold-weather style conundrum: you get gussied up, strut to the front door and come toe-to-toe with your boots. They're pretty. They're toasty. And they're caked to the ankle in sidewalk salt. You could squat on the kitchen floor to give them a shine and cab it all night to prevent the chalky residue's return. But you simply slide them on and stomp off into the snow. A good sodium stain in always-chic winter white is a badge of Canadian fashion honour.
The Gladstone (1214 Queen West, 416-531-4635) could see some tension when This Is Not A Reading Series presents Globe columnist Leah McLaren and ex-Post writer Katrina Onstad in conversation with Canada AM co-host Seamus O'Regan on the subject of the portrayal of women in popular fiction and film. Onstad's no-holds-barred assault on celebrity journalism in How Happy To Be features a character who bears a striking resemblance to McLaren - and it's not exactly a flattering portrait. Be there for the fallout on January 31 .
Small screen on the small screen
More and more vintage TV shows are showing up in DVD box sets, and winter's the prime time for their release. There was a time when no evening TV programs' plots dared to span more than one episode. Enter Steven Bochco's groundbreaking Hill Street Blues, the show that spawned the term "prime-time soap." Season one streets January 31. Speaking of prime-time soaps, catch up on what made Grey's Anatomy the surprise hit of 2005 when season one comes out February 14 . And the thinker's late-night fave, The Dick Cavett Show , gets the DVD treatment when its Comic Legends component is released February 21 .
Like fellow urban fur-bearers - raccoons, skunks and coyotes - the city's 1,000 red foxes start trolling for mates in the winter. Though most of the action happens in the dead of night, eros and sunshine sometimes lure the creatures out of their dens in large parks, cemeteries and ravines to luxuriate in the warm rays. Males may follow an adored one around for a couple of weeks before she finally lets him nuzzle up to her. Competing suitors go nose to nose in screaming matches while brandishing their celebrated bushy tails. The owner of the biggest white-tipped plume often intimidates his rivals into sulking away.
When the weather is chilly, fire up your rebel neurons at Anarchist U , the academy that proves you don't have to pay tuition to feed your head. Don't worry if you aren't into Goldman or Bakunin - there's something here for every anti-corporate sensibility. Sign up for classes on the mass media, radical economics, conspiracy politics, shamanism and psychiatry, judo for gentle people and more. January courses continue through the frigid months and are - wouldn't you know it? - non-hierarchical and consensus-driven. Check www.anarchistu.org for registration instruction, times and places.
Our forest needs us
Our trees may be mere skeletons of themselves these days, but LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) wants you to use the winter to grow strategies for saving our urban forest. Don't assume those graceful maples, chestnuts, ashes and beeches shading our streets are going to be there for all time. Many neighbourhoods are going to lose their rooted wonders all in one blow because they're of the same generation. Help seed the future by dropping in to a free LEAF info session January 28, 2 to 4 pm, at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge). Call 416-413-9244 for info.
While many kinds of birds that nest in the city split up and head south on separate vacations for the winter, magnificent red-tailed hawks mostly stick it out through the cold, staying close by their sweeties. On sunny days in February or March they begin renewing their vows in spectacular courtship flights, soaring in circles and then dipping and diving together. During snow squalls you can see pairs of red-tails stoically perched together in streamside willows in the shelter of ravines. When the weather clears, the sudden explosion of pigeons into the cold, blue sky over city streets is often precipitated by the close approach of raptors cruising for dinner overhead.
We're always uneasy about choosing one month to concentrate on black culture, history and issues, but when African Heritage Month spawns great events we feel a little better about it. Take, for example, the launch of Afua Cooper 's new book, The Hanging Of Angelique (HarperCollins), the story of an 18th-century black woman's torture and execution in Montreal. George Elliott Clarke interviews the author February 15 at the Gladstone (1214 Queen West). Celebrate terrific dance when fab South African show Umoja returns to the Elgin (189 Yonge), through March 26 (416-872-5555, www.ticketmaster.ca). Or check out theatre company Caribbean Tales ' presentation of A Winter Tale , February 1 to 5 at the Alchemy Theatre (133 Tecumseh). It's a terribly timely story of how a shooting affects a multiracial working-class Toronto community. For more info call 416-998-7503. Harbourfront checks in with its annual Kuumba festival February 2 to 12 , featuring a comedy component with Jean Paul, Mark Trinidad and others, dance by Vivine Scarlett and a film program featuring works by UK punk/reggae impresario Don Letts. 416-973-4000, www.harbourfrontcentre.com.
Homes Not Bombs hopes you'll use the icy season to cool Canada's war ardour. On the first Tuesday of everymonth at noon, the boisterous group holds a vigil protesting the way our permanent war economy drains resources that would otherwise go to decent social services. Specifically, the organization wants a return of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, an end to the production and export of weaponry and a break with the U.S. on illegal detentions and torture. Last month it was at the office of Defence Minister Bill Graham. Check homesnotbombs.ca after the January 23 election for next month's location.
We heart Valentine's Day
I t's the time of year when chocolatiers and florists are laughing. Even the animals are getting into Valentine's Day . The Toronto Zoo (316A Old Finch, 416-392-5900) features a Love At The Zoo event February 11 and 12 . Kids 12 and under who bring a valentine for their fave critter get in free. Prep for the big day when NOW publishes its annual Love And Sex issue , February 9 .
If it's winter, spring's coming
Those who just can't bear the ice and snow can always take solace in the fact that spring's not far behind. Proof? The Toronto International Bicycle Show celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with another bike blowout (the good kind). The show hits the National Trade Centre (Exhibition Place, bicycleshow.com), with street riding competitions and exhibitors showing bikes, accessories, clothing and more. March 3 to 5 . Strongest sign of spring? The spring equinox , of course. Celebrate March 20 with the High Park Equinox Tour - make your own lantern, join the parade, drink hot chocolate at Colborne Lodge . www.toronto.ca/museums
Skate and spin
This season Harbourfront makes a point of featuring local DJs at the Natrel Rink . Check out the scene February 3 , when Phantasm , Simon Jain and Tommy Gunners give skaters a welcome change from the dreary waltzes traditionally associated with gliding around on blades. 416-973-4000, www.harbourfrontcentre.com