Toronto Patio Guide: The Annex
Eclectic doesn't quite describe the patio diversity in the Annex. Outdoor dining and drinking spaces run the gamut from quaint and shady green bistro rooftops to street-side beer-swigging courtyards, complete with molded plastic furniture. No doubt, there's a patio for every budget and lifestyle. What else would one expect from an area where students, transient musicians, and affluent homeowners clash? It's what we love about the Annex - a neighbourhood as eccentric and charming as intentionally mismatched socks.
Here's a compilation of the best patios in the 'hood bordered by Dupont and Harbord, Markham and Madison - a whopping 17 of them in all:
Home of arguably the best mac and cheese and beer selection in the city, the Vic is one of those places you wish that no one else had discovered. The cat's out of the bag, though, and this Markham street bar is hopping every night of the week. Unlike many Annex patios, The Victory's sidewalk seating isn't bordering a busy street. Try their unusual on-tap selection, like Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion, while admiring the quaint residential surroundings.
A little taste of France in the Annex? Tati Bistro may be a nice compromise if that Parisian dream vacay is a bit out of budget. Sure, you'll want to have the funds to indulge in the works, from cheese fondue to escargot to vin rouge, but it beats airfare any day. The second-floor patio is romantic beyond words (mais oui!), and is nicely tucked in among the trees away from street traffic.
While the Central may have minimal curb appeal, the interior has a wine-bar feel: a gorgeous main room that you wish was your uber-sexy exposed-brick loft apartment. The Italian-inspired restaurant and live music joint has two outdoor spaces with everything one would want in a patio experience. Pick The Central over the others for maximum sun-soaking opportunities on the second floor patio.
An Annex hot spot, Future's cafeteria-like atmosphere and self-serve policy make it a favourite with the late-night exam-cramming crowd. But once Toronto shakes the winter blues, the patio fills with a more diverse clientele drawn to the people-watching opportunities and full-service menu. A veg-friendly mushroom gravy is a must-try, and an essential part of the to-die-for poutine. Adjoining Labrynith is an unpretentious martini lounge sharing Future's laid-back patio vibe.
To the north, away from the Bloor bustle, sits Diverso by Ferraro. The sunken location, once occupied by similar restaurants of varying names, is surprisingly sunny. The uncovered patio, of course, offers the best in ray-catching dining. Expertly crafted Italian and pub grub are no surprise, coming from the owner's 17 years of experience at Eglinton Ave.'s Ferraro 502. The diverse pizza menu has something for everyone.
Most loved for its healthy breakfast and brunch options, Grapefruit Moon is surprisingly a fully licensed restaurant with lunch and dinner menus, too. Its off Bloor location gives it an our-little-secret cool-factor. The tiny patio might actually induce adolescent flashbacks of skipping class to hang out in a friend's garage. The vibe is chill, despite the busy Bathurst view. The veggie-skewed menu is prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Don't be shy with the "secret" hot sauce. Honestly, put it on everything.
Urban legend or not, many have explained away bad behaviour by the supposed "dirty pipes" servicing the on-tap selection at Green Room. But whether or not the beer actually causes inflated inebriation, the rumours have not hurt business. In fact, this back-alley haunt has maintained popularity for its bohemian hideaway allure. The quirky and completely enclosed patio is a surprising find in this otherwise basement-like space. It even has a trickling fountain feature. Enjoy all-day breakfast without street noise or auto exhaust.
A pub for grown-ups, Harbord House is a welcome low-key alternative to some of Annex's main-drag watering holes. Balcony-style patios are the perfect place to sip a late-afternoon pint. Squint and you might think you've stumbled into the Muskokas. The House's patriotic on-tap selection is all-Canadian.
Opened just last December, Hey Lucy's second location occupies the space formerly belonging to Mel's Delicatessen. While the interior may be suffering from animal print overkill, the patio space is easier on the eyes. If the patio is full, however, grab an inside booth next to the oversized open windows and reap all of the benefits of outdoor eating. $3.99 Martini Wednesdays and other boozy specials have ensured a constant full house for this Annex newcomer.
Delta, Delta, DELTA! If you get this early-90s SNL reference, you're probably too old to be hanging around the Maddy on a Friday night. U of T undergrads descend upon this popular sorority-strip watering hole nightly, filling it to capacity despite its incomprehensible size. For the rest of us, The Madison's gorgeous historic digs offer patio spaces (yes, more than one) perfect for off-peak and post-work pints. (Coincidentally, the real Delta Delta Delta occupies a house just up the street).
One of the most upscale eateries to grace this list, Messis is an elegant dining establishment that's low on snobbery. The twinkle-y patio is completely secluded from Harbord traffic by immaculately manicured shrubs. This outdoor space has all of the fresh-air benefits of most patios, without the onlooker factor. Try the phyllo pastry dessert!
Paupers Pub has a Madison feel but is decidedly less freshman. If seats on the sizable (by Annex standards) street level patio are limited, patrons can climb three flights of stairs to the pub's rooftop. This secondary patio space is preferable due to its separation from traffic noise, and cozy cottage feel. The only drawback: no people-watching privileges.
Yet another Markham Street gem, Southern Accent brings New Orleans to Toronto. Enjoy Creole and Cajun dishes on the amply sized, covered patio. The gaudy mardi-gras interior just adds to the experience. If you disagree, don't worry: the feather and tinsel décor doesn't spill onto the all-weather patio.
Stick-to-your-ribs goodness at unbelievable prices makes Butler's Pantry a favourite among struggling artist-types and broke students. But, the shady green off-Bloor patio and home-cooked tastes draw a wildly assorted and loyal crowd. Belly-filling complete meals can be had for well under ten bucks. On warm weekends, the cash-strapped can enjoy a guilt-free patio brunch until 4pm - really, really decent lattes are among the cheapest in the city at $2.50 a pop.
By The Way Café is decidedly down-tempo compared to the area's raucous pubs, gritty bars, and overstuffed sushi restaurants. The meager capacity is practically doubled in summer months with the addition of its partially covered patio space. Don't be fooled by its café designation - By The Way serves up full meal and drink menus: no-frills breakfasts, middle-eastern share plates and a full wine list.
This understated Harbord Street resident is an unlikely choice for Sunday brunch, considering the Annex's impressive roster. You might discover it by accident after skipping the easily 30-minute waits at other brunch hot-spots. You'll be glad you did. Their Huevos Rancheros are worthy of seconds. The pretty side street patio is lush with flowering potted plants and is an easygoing spot to gobble up perfectly crafted Latin and Peruvian dishes.
OK, so this relatively new restaurant doesn't have a patio just yet. It's not due to a lack of trying. Annex Live owner Graziano Marchese, has been fighting Brunswick Avenue residents and city council for a patio permit since opening the eatery in 2009. It has been a blow for this long-time Annex business owner, who operated much-loved Dooney's for over 20 years. The good news? Marchese's outdoor space has recently received approval! And the bad? Heavy restrictions have imposed a curfew and capped seating at 11 people.
A special thanks to Bud Light Lime for sponsoring this section. Watch for 12 more neighbourhood patio profiles in the weeks to come.
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