The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is the best time of year to see and be seen in the city. Still, sometimes you just want to escape the flashing bulbs of paparazzi cameras and deafening cheers of George Clooney fans and retreat to somewhere quiet, somewhere that stays quintessentially Toronto even as the film world descends. There are many under-the-radar gems to visit for a delicious meal or retail therapy—you just need to know where to look. Here are my personal favourite places to go in Toronto, all within five kilometres of the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Eating and drinking
Harvest Kitchen on Harbord Street is one of my go-to brunch spots. It caters to everyone, with a wide variety of vegetarian and meat-lover options. Harbord has recently started to come alive with new restaurants and niche shopping like Caspar Haydar Design, a haven for serious home decor. If you’ve been invited to an intimate cast party, Caspar Haydar will have the perfect host or hostess gift that you can grab after brunch.
L’unità has some of the best authentic pizza in Toronto. Steps from Bloor-Yorkville, the centre of shopping and celebrity sightings, L’unità has an unassuming front door that is easy to miss. I love to grab a quick, casual dinner there when I need a break from the constant canapes of TIFF.
Joso’s has been around for 35 years for a reason. It has weathered all of Toronto’s food trends (quinoa! kale! bacon in everything!) with an unwavering commitment to serving the freshest seafood in the traditional style of the Dalmatian Coast. I love Joso’s for an intimate date night far from the flashing lights. The Nero Risotto is not to be missed.
Summer’s Ice Cream
True to its name, Summer’s Ice Cream is only open in the warmer months of the year and serves the season’s greatest dessert: ice cream. The family behind Summer’s takes pride in making the best tasting ice cream and frozen yogurt in Toronto. They use only premium ingredients and make everything in-house, including the cones. Down a flight of stairs in the heart of Bloor-Yorkville, Summer’s is deliciously hidden in plain sight.
Up too late partying with film festival A-listers? You will need an A-list coffee to wake you up, and Boxcar Social in Summerhill is the place: the coffee is selected from the best roasters around the world. If you need some hair of the dog to pull you out of your post-premiere haze, they also have a vast selection of whiskeys, wines, and craft beer. I have a sweet tooth, and love going to Boxcar because they serve homemade Pop Tarts and Ruffles Rice Krispies from Little Italy’s Bakeshoppe (my favourite). Boxcar Social recently opened its summer location called The Slip at Harbourfront Centre, for when you need your coffee close to the waterfront and far from the red carpet.
Alexander McQueen. Ann Demeulemeester. Haider Ackermann. Céline. The store has the best in contemporary fashion, and also boasts its own brand of leather and silk leggings. This is one of my favourite stores to find pieces that have a hint of an edge, that hang just right, and that help me feel like I can hold my own at any TIFF party. I have had some of the pieces I’ve purchased at 119 Corbo for years, and I keep going back there because the store never lets me down.
Yorkville Village is a complex in Bloor-Yorkville with a great collection of shops all under one roof. For men, Philip carries exclusive contemporary designers from Europe. For women, TNT is where I go for last-minute premiere looks from designers like Alexander Wang, IRO, and Mary Katrantzou. Yorkville Village even has something for the four-legged stars of the film festival: Prettie Yiji offers accessories for dogs.
The Cat’s Meow
If you want to be sure you are the only person wearing a certain dress at a TIFF event, buying vintage is your best bet. For more than 10 years, The Cat’s Meow has collected and curated vintage Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès pieces from the 1920s to the 1980s, with a focus on the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. The owner, Louise Cooper, personally selects each item, and the friendly staff will help you navigate the vast selection.
Kaner’s Handbags and Shoe Repair
I found Kaner’s by following the Holt Renfrew personal shopping assistants as they scurried there to get their VIP clients’ shoes and handbags fixed. Kaner’s is hidden away in the underground below Bloor Street, very close to Bay subway station. The staff at Kaner’s are experts at bringing well-loved Pradas and Louboutins back to life.
Health and beauty
Beglammed makes getting red carpet-ready as easy as ordering Uber Eats. You can download the Beglammed app or book online, and with just a few clicks, hair and makeup specialists come right to your hotel, home, or Airbnb rental. Whenever I have TIFF parties to attend, I skip the salon and get a Beglammed team to come to me.
Just north of Yorkville in Summerhill, you’ll find Gee Beauty: a one-stop shop for the best, most exclusive beauty goods, plus services including facials and makeup applications. I always stock up on my favourite Oribe hair products when I am in the neighbourhood.
Ultimate Athletics offers the most amazing workouts in the city—and you don’t need a membership to drop in. The studio’s boutique and home-like atmosphere makes everyone feel special, and their trainers really know how to motivate people. Try Vlad’s spin class or Paula’s Reformer class.
Even among the craziness of TIFF, in between the parties and premieres, there are places to escape—to experience the “regular” Toronto. Refresh and freshen up, then scoot right back into it all.
Wanderlust? Keep reading.