Written by Jesse Trautmann
If your image of Toronto is a staid, cozy British version of an overgrown frontier town, read on. One of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities boasts a very active major gayborhood, several minor ones, world-class restaurants, spaces made famous from TV’s Queer as Folk — and even an all-S&M bed-and-breakfast.
Toronto’s Pride Week and the concurrent Prism series of parties put this city on the world stage as one of the best destinations for gays to play, party, work, live or just visit. Toronto beat out the competition to host WorldPride in 2014, making Toronto even more of a must-visit destination for those from the Lower 48.
The queer hub of the city is primarily located in what’s known as “The Village” at Church and Wellesley Streets. The Village is made up of gay bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and community organizations. Toronto, however, wasn’t always so gay friendly. Prior to the 1970s, the gay scene was strictly underground.
A pivotal event, which galvanized the gay and lesbian community in the city, was the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids. The subsequent outrage led to political uprisings through the 1980s and 1990s. By the millennium, a burgeoning gayborhood formed on and around Church Street.
Over the last decade, the queer scene has branched out across the city including The Annex, Leslieville, and Queen Street West. The latter neighborhood gave birth to a new movement of non A List-type queer and queer friendly clubs and bars. Whether you call it hipster, trendy, or indy, the common denominators are fun and fresh.
Oh, and don’t get hung up on Toronto’s cold winters! There is plenty to do and see even when the thermometer goes into single digits. As for summer, Toronto has an awesome summer with temperatures hitting the mid-90s. That means a gaggle of cuties at Hanlan’s Point, the gay nude beach. So go easy on those Tim Horton donuts.
WHERE TO DRINK
465-467 Church Street
The city’s most popular gay bar may be famous for its star turn in Queer as Folk, but it’s infamous for its drag shows and the Thursday night Best Chest Contest.
457 Church Street
The local leather and fetish hangout has special events almost every night.
Churchmouse & Firkin
475 Church Street
A great sit-down, low-key atmosphere to grab some pub grub and beers with friends.
Crews & Tangos
508 Church Street
Woody’s only real rival in popularity boasts a mixed, more rowdy crowd. Fair sized dance floors in the back room and on the second floor have their own DJs. The main room has the finest drag shows in town.
120 Church Street, 2nd floor
The city’s only pansexual nightclub brings in a mixed crowd from all aspects of the queer scene. Catch Sodom, a popular “haute couture meets DIY fashion” party, and Queer Idol.
489B Church Street
One of the older bars on Church Street that is great for those who like beer and traditional pub games like darts and pool.
Slack’s Restaurant & Bar
562 Church Street
This hoppin’ lesbian bar serves serious martinis on weekends and classy food during the week.
72 Carlton Street
Zipperz is a piano lounge with a more mature crowd. Cellblock in the back has a large, stainless steel dance floor and Top 40 beats. Don’t let the name fool you: The patrons are mixed and moderate.
518 Church Street
The Church Street location for this pub chain boasts a popular unique patio in the heart of the Village.
1192 Queen Street West
This hipster lesbian bar attracts an eclectic crowd to booze it up with local DJs.
1100 Queen Street West
The young come out to dance and drink and be social. Anything goes — queers included.
1214 Queen Street West
Known as just “the Gladstone” to pub crawlers, this is a great place to get a beer during the week and some karaoke or dancing on weekends.
692 Yonge Street
Newly relocated to Yonge Street, Zelda’s has kept its trailer park theme along with its zany drag shows and wacky performances. Cheap and cheerful food and “Zeldatinis” guarantee a fun time.
379 Yonge Street
Toronto’s only male strip club offers a mix of gay and straight naked hunks on the pole. Ladies allowed after 9 p.m.
996 Queen Street East
This bar, lounge and patio is filled with live performances, club nights, and fundraisers.
WHERE TO DANCE
The centerpiece of Toronto’s dance scene is the annual Prism Festival. This series of parties during the city’s mega-Pride Week brings in the world’s top DJs and has become a “don’t miss” destination for Canadians and those who live in the Lower 48 alike.
El Convento Rico
750 College Street
Toronto’s hottest Latin club and queer-friendly mixed crowd. Out-of-this-world drag shows every weekend.
8 Gloucester Street
The original Babylon from TV’s Queer as Folk is Toronto’s weekly mini-Circuit party, where shirtless boys can be found dancing the night away on most Saturday nights. Great resident and frequent guest DJs provide the throbbing music on an impressive sound system.
418 Church Street
Opened in 1975, the Barn is Toronto’s original cruising bar, with dancing every night and special parties including College Night Wednesdays.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street
On Friday and Saturday nights, this theater is transformed into a fun, Top 40 pumping dance club with a mixed crowd of twentysomethings.
WHERE TO SHOP
Out on the Street
551 Church Street
This century-old townhouse has three floors filled with stylish clothes and gay novelty items.
501 Church Street
A one-stop shop for all your gay XXX DVDs and sex toys as well as hip jeans, underwear and slutwear.
WHERE TO PLAY
540 Church Street, Level 2
Open 24/7/365, Toronto’s newest gym, sauna, and bathhouse joins the family of Steamworks locations in Chicago, Seattle, Berkeley, and Vancouver.
105 Carlton Street
With an emphasis on safe sex, this upscale men’s bathhouse prides itself on its welcoming environment, cleanliness, and superior service.
WHERE TO EAT
546 Church Street
Great Thai fast food right in the Village. Try the Hot and Sour Soup.
642 Church Street
Just north of the Village, Spirits has a newly revamped menu. Excellent pub fare at a great price.
603 Yonge Street
Great for dates, Brownstone prides itself on its extensive menu and elegant candlelit ambience. Covering cuisine from traditional Italian to Greek and North African influences. All of their dishes are made from fresh market ingredients.
499 Church Street
On the expensive side but is worth it. This restaurant converts into a hip martini bar later.
538 Church Street
A fixture of the gay community for 20 years, the eclectic Mediterranean décor and menu, cozy solarium, beautiful seasonal patio and martini bar make this the place to see and be seen.
Fuzion Resto-Lounge & Garden
580 Church Street
Ultra swank, Fuzion is classy yet laid back. The menu features local produce and game from Ontario farmers. If you’re visiting during the summer, make sure to hang out on the patio, which is the closest Toronto gets to a Caribbean vacation.
Hair of the Dog
425 Church Street
The food is amazing, the portions are generous, and the attention to quality means consistently delicious meals. It’s a downtown hot spot and a great place for dinner and drinks before dancing.
399 Church Street
If you’re hung over, beat it with a big breakfast: good, strong coffee and large portions.
Church Street Diner
555 Church Street
Everything is simple but very good, and the prices are great. The atmosphere is clean and bright. The servers are fantastic — and so is the meatloaf!
WHERE TO STAY
35 Dundonald Street
Right in the Village, this has been voted “Best Bed and Breakfast” for eight years in a row by the gay community. It offers an oasis of calm in a busy yet exciting area of downtown.
Alan Gardens Bed & Breakfast
106A Pembroke Street
This renovated century-old home in historic Cabbagetown combines modern conveniences with all the comforts of home.
Aberdeen Guest House
52 Aberdeen Avenue
A fountain welcomes you to this peaceful, gracious home on a quiet “mews” street in historic Cabbagetown, which is just minutes from the Village.
Banting House Inn
73 Homewood Avenue
Each of the nine rooms expresses its own unique decor, with en suite — some rooms with separate entertainment areas and private entrances — or shared baths. Parking and an extensive continental breakfast buffet are included.
107 Gloucester Street
A uniquely erotic B&B where you can reserve a room, the Dungeon, or the whole place. Everything’s here for that “special” party, from complimentary condoms, lube and gloves to soundproofing; plus high-speed Internet, satellite TV, and free local calls and more.
15 Charles Street East
This downtown hotel boasts spacious, tastefully decorated rooms. Suites have separate living and bedroom spaces.
Courtyard by Marriott
475 Yonge Street
Experience the largest Courtyard by Marriott in the world. Located downtown. the full-service amenities include pool and hot tub.
30 Carlton Street
This brand-new, re-branded old Days Inn is not your parents’ Holiday Inn: sleek and modern.
Park Hyatt Toronto
4 Avenue Road
If you’ve got the money, stay in ritzy Yorkville. The Park Hyatt combines understated sophistication with distinctive regional character.
90 Bloor Street East
This upscale Bloor Street hotel offers ultra-comfy bedding and 42-inch LCD TVs in every room. It’s a bit away from the Village; you’ll need to cab it or take public transit.
300 Jarvis St.
Renovated in the summer of 2008, the Ramada is a boutique-style hotel, centrally located in the Garden District of downtown Toronto. The hotel boasts 102 spacious and comfortable non-smoking guest rooms and suites.
WHAT TO SEE
Don’t forget to get out of the clubs early enough to take in all the touristy sights. Catch the latest show at one of the many theaters, including the Cannon, Princess of Wales, or Royal Alexandra. Art lovers, don’t miss the Royal Ontario Museum or the Art Gallery of Ontario. Both museums have recently undergone multi-million dollar expansions. Also try to take in Casa Loma and of course the iconic CN Tower.
If you’re tight on cash, you can still window shop in chic Yorkville and on Bloor Street. During the summer, grab the ferry boat to the Toronto Islands. Or head east of the Village and take in the horticultural wonders of Allan Gardens.