Canada's largest city is a mecca for young people from all over the globe who are trying to live out their dreams, so it's no wonder that it's become a major hub for cutting-edge contemporary art. Strolling the West Queen West district is one of Frommer's favorite experiences in Toronto, as it's perfect for hopping on and off streetcars to check out the latest installation or design shop full of quirky, global goods.
The Drake Hotel turned Toronto's design district from a destination to a place where trendsetters cheerfully lay their heads at night. But it's only one of three art-themed lodgings on a three-block stretch of Queen Street West that is crammed with art galleries and trendy-yet-affordable little restaurants.
The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street W, Toronto ON M6J1J6; www.gladstonehotel.com; rates from C$175/US$162), like the Drake, is a former flophouse turned into a combination art hotel and event spaces. But where the Drake seems to specialize in music and film -- with music every night -- the Gladstone focuses on the visual arts. Like the Drake, the Gladstone has more public spaces than private. There are two bars, an "art bar" with exhibitions and a "melody bar" with live music of varying quality. A café on the first floor serves healthy if not cheap breakfasts (tofu scramble for C$11 and buttermilk flapjacks for C$10). At lunch, the fare turns to burgers and sandwiches, and things get whimsically Canadian for dinner with entrees like an updated version of tourtière, the traditional Québécois meat pie. If you don't like what they're serving, there are several Canadian and Asian restaurants on nearby blocks.
Up the handsome wooden staircase (the Gladstone's lobby is full of light, while the Drake's tends towards darkness) there are artists' studios and exhibition spaces on the second, third and fourth floors, along with 37 hotel rooms. When we stopped by, a sort of art flea market had taken over most of the second floor -- you could buy paintings, sculpture, jewelry or stuffed monster dolls made by local Toronto artists.
The individually decorated rooms, all with free Internet and high ceilings, can be reserved individually by picking them off the Gladstone's website. They vary quite dramatically in terms of color and design sense, so it's smart to pick your room -- you don't want to end up with the purple bordello room when what you really wanted was the white felt lodgings. Basic rooms vary in size, but they're all smallish and lack bathtubs. "Gimme More" rooms, for $20 more, get you a bit more breathing room and a tub.
Turn the corner and head up residential Beaconsfield Street to find the Beaconsfield Bed & Breakfast (38 Beaconsfield Avenue, Toronto, ON M6J3H9; www.bbcanada.com/beaconsfield; rates from C$95/US$87), which is affordable even on a more artistic budget. Bernie and Katya McLoughlin, a painter and a retired actress, have quietly welcomed guests to three rooms in their rambling, historic house for 20 years. In the meantime, Bernie has painted every room in the house: one room soothes with a trompe l'oeil sky and clouds, another has a trompe l'oeil window looking out onto a grassy field, and the winding staircase up to the third floor suite is covered in Mexican-inspired designs. (That suite, which has its own kitchen, living room and balcony, is rented out by the month during the winter, while the McLoughlins sun themselves in Mexico.)
Katya, meanwhile, has filled the rooms with visual 'easter eggs' -- a goose mobile hanging from the ceiling, for instance, or a spiral coat rack. It all makes for a tremendously romantic ambience (especially if you get that top-floor suite for C$150) but I'd hate to see what a toddler would do with the place. The McLoughlins serve whimsical breakfasts (ask them for Mexican food) downstairs each morning.
One last tip: the Queen Street streetcar is definitely fun. But if you're going to the Yorkville area or points north of the downtown core, it's faster to catch the #29 Dufferin bus to the subway along Bloor Street, as Queen Street is often choked up with traffic.
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