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Spotlight On: Dundas St. W.


For as long as I can remember Dundas St. has been a bit of a wasteland - a vast stretch of unattractive and unfashionable shops and functional, formerly stately family homes to the west, and rundown, drug-infested doorways to the east, with the Eaton Centre marking the halfway point between the two. But the street is in the midst of a renaissance, with new shops, bars and restaurants attracting a far hipper clientele. As part of a weekly, 5-part series on newly-emerging neighbourhoods, I began by looking at the Dundas W. strip.

Is Dundas St. W. the new, hipper-than-thou destination? It's certainly starting to look that way. The area between Bathurst and Ossington, otherwise known as Little Portugal, has long been about as unfashionable as it gets in this city. Packed with Portugese bakeries, churches and tiny, family-owned groceries, the area was a no-mans land between other, cooler neighbourhoods. But as Queen St. goes increasing mainstream (it's basically like shopping at Yorkdale mall now) and College Street becomes more and more generic (do you even know which hip, Italian restaurant you're in anymore, once you're seated at your table?), the young and entrepeneurial have looked to Dundas' lower rents and vacant store fronts to set up shop.

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It only takes one business to take a chance at creating something new. And on Dundas W., that one business was Saving Grace (907 Dundas St. W.). Now open for about five years, the locals have long flocked to this tiny, streamlined cafe for fantastic sandwiches and brunch. With it's pale wood countertops, funky, undone vibe and extremely hospitable service, a meal at Saving Grace is like snacking in a cool friend's kitchen. Gleefully discovered by the stay-at-home yummy mummies of the Trinity Bellwoods area, the location is now so busy on the weekends that it's almost impossible to score a table mini review.

Others quickly took note. Next on the scene was

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Georgie Bolesworth, (891 Dundas St. W.) a clothing store for the fashionista-in-the-know. Owned by stylist Georgia Bloom, the store is widely celebrated for its committment to Canadian designers and its racks filled with up-to-the-minute yet timeless pieces. Georgie Bolesworth alone makes the cruise over to Dundas W. worthwhile.

A mere two stores down is Sunshine Deli (903 Dundas W.). This location features an eye-catching display of vintage shoes filling the store windows. Just a hop away is Skirt (903 Dundas W.), known for its tapestry purses, vintage beads and a line of funky aprons (clever sayings include "Will Cook for Shoes"). Other shops rounding out the Dundas West experience include Model Citizen (913 Dundas W.) - owned by local cutie Julian Finkel, the location features clever ties and t-shirts and once-a-month learn to silk screen classes - and Clandestino (at Dundas and Crawford).

No neighbourhood rebirth would be complete without a handful of cool locations to get a drink, and Dundas West has those too. Cocktail Molotov (928 Dundas St. W.) has been the spot for hipsters for a couple years now, one of those small, hidden gems where those in the know can sit and lament that the place was way cooler back before "everybody" knew about it. Directly across the street,

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The Chelsea Room offers a similar vibe. I prefer The Press Club. A little further east than the others, this bar's mismatched furniture, scaled-back bar and comfortable backyard patio are completely unpretentious - still waiting to be discovered. The daily absinthe special only adds to its charm.

While most the homes facing the street are still neat little bungalows and large Victorians in a state of (slight) disrepair, evidence of gentrification is cropping up. Obvious signs of renovation abound and one wonders if this neighbourhood will soon be able to claim the insane real estate prices of Little Italy and Parkdale before it. I noticed several empty storefronts and delapitated buildings, but how long will that last before more newcomers start buying them up?

It may depend on area residents. According to one bar manager, the locals are quietly resisting change. Zoning regulations currently prohibit new construction over three stories high, so a condo boom is unlikely for the moment. Residents have also opposed several recent applications for liquor licenses, so new bars may be slow to follow. But patience is key, he asserts. Dundas Street W. is changing, many would say for the better. Who can resist the emergence of cool? And why would you want to?


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