Natasha Negovanlis’s Guide to Toronto for Gay Women

The T-Dot. Hogtown. Hollywood North. The Six. Whatever you call it, Toronto is by far, one of my favorite queer-friendly cities. Okay, so I might be a little biased because it is my hometown after all, but as the host-city of last year’s World Pride (which brought in over a million visitors) and home to one of the largest annual Pride weeks in the world, most queer people who have also spent time in this colorful, bustling town will agree that Toronto is definitely a metropolis worth checking out.

IMG_4658A distant view of Toronto’s skyline from the city’s East End.

Best known for its open immigration, cleanliness, and polite residents, Toronto is a place where diversity is celebrated and all are welcome. It is a mosaic of vibrant neighborhoods that are rich in culture, green space, and history, and it has become one of the most progressive cities in the world when it comes to queer rights. It has been a decade since same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada, and several decades since queer people in Toronto have felt confined to The Village. Today, queer business owners have spread across the city and most lesbian bars are now—well, they’re just bars.

Integration is a huge part of the Toronto’s evolution and reputation. So much so that rainbow flags are proudly displayed on the doors and windows of all kinds of establishments. What most people outside of Canada don’t realize though, is that Toronto is actually the fourth most populous city in North America. So unfortunately, I couldn’t list all my favorite hangouts without writing a novel, but here is my abridged tour of Toronto.

IMG_4493A rainbow flag welcomes all at a local pub in Kensington Market.

Starting with the West, the Roncesvalles/High Park area is by far one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. Roncesvalles is a street that runs North-South, in what used to be considered Polish Town, and is still home to tons of great Polish delis, plus third-wave cafés, bookstores, and unique gift shops like Another Story, with its huge feminist book collection, and Scout with its selection of same-sex wedding cards. It’s also home to The Revue Cinema (Toronto’s oldest standing cinema and a designated heritage site) which hosted this year’s Queer West Film Festival. And if you ever get a chance to visit in the spring, grab a sandwich from Dundas Park Kitchen and bring it to High Park where the cherry blossoms are breath-taking when in bloom.

Moving slightly South/East of Roncesvalles, Parkdale often reminds me of a smaller Brooklyn. Part of it’s charm is that it’s not completely gentrified yet, and it has tons of great antique shops, art galleries, bars, and restaurants to offer. One of my favorite Parkdale restos is Grand Electric for their tacos, and if you’re looking for cheap and stylish vintage finds, check out Public Butter or Common Sort. And if you’re traveling with a bicycle or looking to purchase one while you’re here, right next door to Common Sort is Bike Pirates which creates a safe space by hosting workshops for women and trans people only on Sundays.

Parkdale is also part of the “Queer West” area, which branches East of the hood, further East on Queen Street West. It has one of the highest lesbian populations in the city, so if you’re traveling alone and looking to meet someone new, grab a picnic blanket and hit up Trinity Bellwoods Park for babe-watching, or skip over to a karaoke or DJ night at The Beaver (yep, beaver) or The Gladstone Hotel. For sexy stuff, continue moving East on Queen Street West to Come As You Are; Toronto’s co-operatively owned, not-for-profit sex shop. And if you keep heading East, eventually you’ll hit the Entertainment & Fashion districts where you can attempt to stalk your favorite band at the Much Music HQ or check out The Black Market across the street, where there is an entire rack dedicated to shirts with LGBTQA slogans.

IMG_4514A display dedicated to the late Frida Kahlo, famous bisexual and feminist painter, in Toronto’s fashion district.