How to spend a day on the Danforth
The Danforth is the gateway to east-end Toronto, stemming from Bloor St. as you cross the Don Valley over the Bloor Viaduct. The bridge spanning the Don was completed nearly 100 years ago, spurring a massive construction boom that gave way to the bustle of the Danforth of today: Thriving restaurants and shops lining the avenue, with parks and residential enclaves tucked above and below.
The area's Greektown moniker surfaced thanks to an influx of Greek (and other Mediterranean) immigrants in the 1950s and '60s. That presence still endures to this day, with countless Greek eateries and shops standing strong in the neighbourhood - but as the area has diversified in recent years, more varied businesses and influences have trickled in.
The Danforth east of Pape all the way to Main has begun attracting businesses catering to a younger crowd - and the largely-residential Pape Village, which stretches up to O'Connor, is also home to a few hidden gems.
Here's how to spend a day on the Danforth, from morning to late night.
BREAKFAST AND COFFEE
The Danforth isn't nearly as brunch-crazed as other spots in the city. What we do have, however, are some good ol' greasy spoons. My pick is the New York Cafe; despite the name, and the giant mural of Lady Liberty inside, it's the ultimate Greek diner. I'd grab the peameal bacon, which is served up in thick, steaklike slabs, or maybe a cheese-saturated feta and spinach omelette. If it's before 4pm on a weekend, I'll head around the corner to the Old Nick just-heavy-enough weekend brunch (and a little hair of the dog).
Caffeine cravings are an easy fix in this neighbourhood: North of the Danforth, there's Broadview Espresso (home of a delicious medium roast and some fun monthly art exhibits), or I'll swing south and grab a latte and a spot on the patio at Rooster Coffee House. Further east, there's Crema's Danforth location or the recently opened Marvel Coffee.
Time to make the most of the Danforth's pockets of green space. Even as a local, the view of the downtown skyline from the western edge of Riverdale Park never gets old. Withrow Park is a few blocks east, and Monarch Park lies between Greenwood and Coxwell; all are lovely for a leisurely stroll or a morning jog. (If I'm near Withrow, and it's a double-coffee kind of morning, the adorable Riverdale Perk is always worth a visit.)
The gyros will always be there, but there are plenty of eclectic lunch options out this way. Off The Hook on Broadview makes some of the city's best fish and chips (curry mayo on the side for dipping is necessary). If the weather cooperates, I might pull up a spot on the back patio of Allen's, and indulge in one of their ground-in-house burgers (cooked medium, natch). Further east, Greenwood Smokehouse boasts another great back patio, plus a menu of slow-smoked Southern favourites (including meatless options for vegetarians).
SHOPPING AND CULTURE
The neighbourhood is known more as a culinary destination than a shopping hot spot, but there's still gems to be found. A stroll up the Danforth means digging for literary gems and cheap used albums at Book City and Mike's Music, or eclectic fashion finds at El Pipil or Parade. If I'm out near Coxwell, I might hop into Len to check out their selection of fun Canadian-made gifts.
The Danforth has tons of nail salons, but you might not know that the otherwise decidedly un-fashiony corner of Danforth and Pape is home to the city's undisputed best spot for manicures, Tips Nail Bar. A favourite of fashion-industry types, they've got a solid rep for intricate nail art and long-lasting manicures.
If you're craving sugar, the Danforth has dozens of options: loukoumades at Athens, baklava at Serano, pastries at Hansen's Danish Pastry Shop, croissants at Patisserie La Cigogne or gourmet donuts at Von. (I like their tequila, lime and salt-flavoured "One Night Stand" donut: Far less regret-inducing than actual tequila.)
True to the area's name, you can't swing a raccoon in this neighbourhood without hitting an incredible Greek restaurant - most of the city's best Greek spots are clustered here. Everyone has a favourite, but my current top pick is Mezes - the last time I was there, I chowed down on a plate of moist chicken souvlaki and a massive side of grilled veggies, and rolled out of there on the best food high I'd had in months.
Greek aside, The Wren is a Western-style saloon with a locally-focused menu and a solid selection of craft beer. There's also some fabulous Ethiopian to be had at Rendez-Vous, take-out pizza at the Danforth Pizza House and great Indian dishes at Poonam Delite, available either a la carte or as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
DRINKS AND ENTERTAINMENT
In recent years, the Danforth Music Hall was reduced to a big, beautiful, empty husk by cash flow issues; mercifully, it's once again a thriving music venue, where acts like Arcade Fire, Cat Power and Stars all show up on the marquee. If there's nothing going on that night, I might pop into Dora Keogh a couple doors down for a whiskey or a Guinness, some live Irish tunes, and a little lively bar conversation. You'll likely leave with a good buzz and a few new friends.
Further to the east, there's the Only Cafe, a scrappy, artsy little neighbourhood hangout with nearly 200 beers between the taps and the bottle selection; eccentric cocktail bar Sauce on the Danforth; and the Linsmore Tavern (established 1934), where the regulars are friendly and the Labatt is $1.15 for a seven-ounce glass.
LATE NIGHT EATS
Things tend to shut down fairly early in this neck of the woods, but Square Boy (beloved for their old-school square cheeseburgers and grilled Greek classics) is open until 1am, Tzatziki (shiny, new gyro joint) is open until 2am, and Alexandros (grimy, old-as-the-hills gyro joint) keeps the fires burning until 5am.
What did I miss? Add your suggestions for how to spend a day on The Danforth to the comments.
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