Neighbourhood Watch: The Danforth

I'm not Greek, I don't like Greek food, and I never notice anything. Those are the three key factors of my life on the Danforth.

My ex-girlfriend used to call me the least observant person alive. She moved onto the Danforth while we were together, at which point I'd been living there for a couple of years; we'd stroll down the street together and she would ask me about restaurants and stores that seemed interesting... and I would confess to never having seen any of them before.

So I suppose for the first couple of years that I lived on the Danny, I didn't interact with it much. This changed in 2004 with the Euro Cup win; there was about a month there where you couldn't live within a kilometre of Danforth Avenue, north or south, without interacting with it in some way, because those soccer games pretty much hijacked the neighbourhood on three separate occasions. And I don't mind: any part of town that can spontaneously turn into an all-hours ten-thousand-strong street party is just fine with me.

Sure, my current roommate lives in fear that someday the Greeks will win the Cup again and that he (a relatively new Danforth dweller) will be forced to bear the ignominy of 12 hours of unbroken honking and cheering. (He hates people.)

But if that's your attitude about it, I'm willing to posit that you're living in the wrong part of town. The Danforth is an enthusiastic community. It's where I lived during the blackout (free drinks on the street and all the ice cream you can eat!), it's where I lived during the Euro (dancing with total strangers in a confetti-strewn neon wasteland!), and it's where I've lived every other time for the past five years.

No, I still don't know the neighbourhood very well. I just went to the Burrito place for the first time last week, and the fact that there's a second Starbucks just a block north of my house was news to me.

Being not so into the Greek food, I tend to gravitate to the neighbourhood's non-Greek eating establishments, with the strong belief that if you're going to make it as a non-Greek restaurant on the Danforth, you gotta have your shit together. This tends to prove true. The Family Thai is fairly solid Thai. Katsu Sushi gets the job done every time. Seven Numbers is the best Italian food my Italian grandmother didn't personally prepare. And our team of Vietnamese Pizza Pizza employees cannot be beat for speed or quality on a Friday night walk-in.

Sure, the tiny little IGA at Pape can only cover the barest essentials of a wannabe chef's grocery list, but the Sun Valley right next door will fill in a lot of the blanks (for a price), and the cheese shop down at Chester is just about the best one I've ever been in in my entire life. (It even gets my mother's seal of approval, a woman who was once described by a world-class fromagerie owner as a woman who "certainly knows her cheeses.")

What the Danforth is dying for is a coffee shop that is not a Timothy's, Second Cup, or Starbucks. There are a few smaller cafes here or there, but nothing like the independently owned crawl-into-a-corner-and-read-for-a-year installments down in the Beaches, which are just a bit too far to be convenient for a Danforther. In lieu of something nice and grotto-y, the Timothy's at Carrot Common certainly serves, but let's face it, their coffee is terrible.

Oh right: the Carrot. Your one-stop shop for seventy-five thousand varieties of tea, an organic roast chicken that will knock your balls off, and various yoga equipment. We all know it's there, and we all shop there, and we somehow all seem to forget that it's ours. The Carrot is the Danforth's non-denominational pimp strut: if we're cool enough to rate this place, we've got the Annex beat six times over.

I ended up living on the Danforth largely by accident, but now can't imagine liking any other part of the city nearly this much. With a big "shimmering veil"-enforced Viaduct keeping us connected to, yet distinct from, the rest of Toronto, the Danforth retains the vibe all its own - and I couldn't be happier.

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