Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto

Post Published October 13, 2023

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Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - Kensington Market: Toronto's Hippie Haven Brimming with Vintage Finds

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in TorontoNestled amongst the bustling city blocks of downtown Toronto lies the eclectic neighborhood of Kensington Market. This bohemian enclave oozes a retro, artsy vibe reminiscent of the 1960s counterculture movement. As soon as you step foot into its vibrant streets, you'll be transported back to the Summer of Love.

KensingtonMarket oozes with charm and charisma unlike anywhere else in Toronto. The explosion of color assaults your senses as you wander past its rainbow-bright Victorian row houses. Psychedelic street art and quirky graffiti decorate the brick walls. Hippies, hipsters, and bohos fill the sidewalks. The alluring aromas of street food waft through the air. Reggae beats drift out from hidden record stores. It's a feast for all your senses.
But the true treasure of Kensington Market lies inside its eclectic shops. Nearly every nook and cranny overflows with rare vintage goods passed down through generations. Sifting through the curated clutter feels like a thrilling old-school treasure hunt. The sheer variety and volume of items for sale boggles the mind.
Vintage clothing boutiques offer the finest fashions from the '50s through the '90s. Cabbagetown Mews stocks pristine condition retro dresses, while Flashback sells gently used Levi's jeans and leather jackets. You'll swear you've time traveled browsing their racks. House of Vintage specializes in one-of-a-kind statement pieces, while Exile showcases funky boho-chic apparel.

Beyond apparel lies a mind-boggling array of goods. Pedestrian Sundries overflows with antique cameras, typewriters, and vinyl records. Courage My Love dazzles with sparkling estate jewelry. Gypsy Stop's shelves groan under eccentric home decor, including lava lamps, kitschy ceramics and groovy posters. The gracious proprietors love sharing tales behind rare finds.
For music lovers, Kensington Market is vinyl heaven. Sonic Boom houses 200,000 records spanning every genre. Tiny Record Shop features affordable used vinyls. June Records boasts rare first pressings. You're guaranteed to discover new old gems to spin.
Of course, no trip to Kensington Market is complete without browsing its vintage furniture shops. Spice Traders stocks mid-century Danish pieces, while Black Arts Vintage Furniture specializes in industrial decor. Pandemonium deals in rare kitsch, like '60s bubble lamps. Even if your budget is small, these shops provide inspiration and eye candy.
What truly makes Kensington Market special is the sense of community amongst shop owners. Many shops have been family-owned for generations, passed down to sons and daughters. Proprietors take pride sharing their knowledge. Bargaining is not just welcomed but expected. Prices stay affordable so all can participate.

Visiting Kensington Market feels less like shopping and more like hanging with old friends. Take time to chat with the shopkeepers. Ask about items' origins. They'll happily spin a yarn about pieces' providence and past lives. Let serendipity guide you to unexpected treasures.
Of course, hidden gems extend beyond Kensington's shops. Splashes of street art transform alleyways into art galleries. Craft breweries like Saulter Street Brewery quench thirsts. Patios like Detour's spill onto the sidewalks. You never know what delightful surprises each corner holds.
No two visits to Kensington Market ever feel the same. As a true vintage paradise, its character and offerings evolve daily. Part of its allure lies in the thrill of the hunt. One weekend you may discover the perfect 1950s necklace, while the next you'll stumble upon psychedelic Beatles posters. Locals explore regularly just to see what appears.

What else is in this post?

  1. Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - Kensington Market: Toronto's Hippie Haven Brimming with Vintage Finds
  2. Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - West Queen West: Boutique Central for Local Designs and Gifts with Heart
  3. Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - St. Lawrence Market: A Foodie's Paradise of Multicultural Flavors
  4. Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - Yonge Street: Main Drag of Canadian Brands and Classic Souvenirs
  5. Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - The Distillery District: Industrial Chic Hub housing Art Galleries and Cafes

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - West Queen West: Boutique Central for Local Designs and Gifts with Heart

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto

Beyond Kensington Market's vintage treasures lies Toronto's coolest emerging neighborhood - West Queen West. Once a downtrodden stretch of warehouses and factories, this revitalized hipster haven now thrums with youthful creative energy. Funky boutiques, contemporary art galleries, and farm-to-table eateries fill its vibrant streets. For travelers seeking local designs, artisan crafts, and gifts with heart, West Queen West hits the mark.

At the pulse of West Queen West beats its independent shops showcasing up-and-coming fashions, home goods, and crafts. These creative entrepreneurs offer an authentic glimpse into Toronto’s emerging talents. Boutiques like COUlprit Designs sell stylish unisex apparel printed locally in small batches. Their quality basics get remixed each season in fresh colors and patterns. Nearby Tiny Tomboy stocks a well-curated selection of Canadian-made jewelry, ceramics, stationery and textiles. Owner Julie rotated wares regularly to showcase new makers.

For stylish leather goods made ethically in Ontario, Lost + Found is a must-visit. Their supple, vegetable-tanned leather bags prove both sustainable and swoon-worthy. You'll also discover minimalist designs in brass, porcelain and wood from local artisans. These makers imbue craftsmanship and livelihoods into every piece. Gift them knowing purchases support hardworking artists.

Those seeking stylish apparel with a social conscience should peruse Gotstyle's racks. Their edgy streetwear gets ethically produced in small batches in Toronto. Many incorporate upcycled materials or support noteworthy causes. Their goods make perfect gifts for the woke fashionistas in your life.

Gift-givers seeking feel-good finds should also browse West Queen West's plentiful vintage and thrift shops. These once-loved goods get a new lease on life while keeping textiles from the landfill. Robber's Roost’s well-curated mid-century collectibles make perfect conversation starters when gifted. You can also find stylish recycled apparel at Community 54 and Turnbull's eco-boutique. Giving pre-loved treasures imbues gifts with even more heart and soul.

Beyond boutiques, West Queen West houses a thriving arts scene filled with inspiring galleries. MOCCA, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, provides the perfect introduction to the country’s vibrant creative talents. Their rotating exhibitions feature diverse mediums spanning photography, sculpture, painting, and installation art. Many spotlight Aboriginal and Indigenous artists.

For edgier contemporary works, loop through the galleries clustered on Dundas and Ossington. You'll discover thought-provoking pieces commenting on pressing social issues. Paul Petro Contemporary Art favors challenging installations and multimedia works. Birch Libralato represents conceptual mid-career talents pushing creative boundaries. General Hardware Contemporary deals in surreal sculpture and avant-garde abstraction. prepare to ponder perplexing postmodern perspectives.
Should these esoteric offerings overwhelm, re-center yourself at West Queen West's charming shops stockpiled with feel-good gifts. The Ten Thousand Villages location sells fair trade crafts handmade around the globe. Their embroidered textiles, beaded jewelry, woven baskets empower disadvantaged artisans worldwide. You can also pick up smile-inducing happy hippo coin banks at Preloved. Their quirky animal ceramics charm kids and adults alike.

West Queen West also houses a hive of makers crafting small-batch goods filled with heart and soul. At Tiny Tomboy, you'll find smile-making ceramics like rainbow-glazed planters. The Kit sells self-care sets pairing scented candles with uplifting poetry and rose quartz. Even a humble bar of fresh handmade olive oil soap from Soap Lab makes a thoughtful gift. Give goods imbued with mindfulness, creativity, and care.
When hunger strikes after hours of boutique browsing, West Queen West offers delightful dining options championing nutritious, sustainable fare. Fresh Restaurant plates seasonal vegetables in creative preparations accented by foraged greens. Their clean, vibrant dishes celebrate the bounty of Ontario’s fields and forests.

Those seeking hearty comfort fare can tuck into Farmhouse Tavern’s locavore lunch and dinner menus. Their burgers get grounded by buns baked fresh in-house. Platters come piled high with hand-cut fries or their signature Little Inn salad topped with buttermilk dressing. Tuck into local craft brews on tap to wash it all down.
You’ll find cafes and bakeries galore satisfying cravings for baked goods prepared fresh daily. Glory Hole Doughnuts fry hot-to-order cake and yeast-risen rounds, then glazes or fills them with creative flavors like espresso-bacon. Nearby Le Gourmand whips up French macaron, eclairs and citrus tarts almost too gorgeous to eat. Take a box to gift - their beauty brings instant joy.

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - St. Lawrence Market: A Foodie's Paradise of Multicultural Flavors

Of all Toronto’s culinary treasures, none compare to the bounty found at St. Lawrence Market. This sprawling complex has nurtured the city’s multicultural food scene for over 200 years. Step inside on a Saturday morning and feast your senses on a global cornucopia of flavors.

The intoxicating aromas hit you first - whiffs of steaming dim sum, sizzling sausages, and simmering stews. Vendors call out deals in a cacophony of languages. Their booths overflow with gorgeous, just-picked produce from local farms. Cases brim with handcrafted cheeses, artisanal breads, and cured meats. It’s a foodie paradise certain to satiate any craving.
While sprawling in size, St. Lawrence is best explored one bite at a time. As you wander the stalls, let your appetite guide you to whatever intrigues your palate. Chat up the vendors and have them select their finest fare to sample. The interactions make for the market’s magic.
For an old-world European experience, start your mornings right at St. Urbain’s Bagel. Their bubbly boiled then wood oven-baked bagels rival any found in Montreal. Opt for the classic sesame or poppyseed or go bold with pumpkin spice. Pair it with a smear of their house-made whipped cream cheese, smoked salmon, and a squeeze of lemon.

Next head to Olympic Cheese Mart to taste Ontario's finest fromages. Owner Bassem captures his Greek heritage in Mediterranean offerings like haloumi, kefalotyri and aged manchego. For local flavors, sample squeaky fresh ricotta or the Niagara region's creamy comte-style cheese called Fifth Town. Bassem and his brothers happily offer pairings with olives, charcuterie and preserves.
O’Byrne’s booth should be your next stop to sample Ireland in Toronto. Their impressive butcher case overflows with traditional Irish sausages, black and white puddings and rashers of smoky bacon. For a quick bite, grab their hearty Irish breakfast sandwich oozing with sausage, egg and melted cheddar between pancetta-studded soda bread. Lucky customers may get serenaded by O'Byrne's own live bagpiper.
Further global flavors await at European Quality Meats. Their Polish kielbasa and Hungarian paprika-spiked kolbasz will transport you straight to the old country. Don’t miss their award-winning Canadian peameal bacon cured in-house. Ask for thick-cut slices to construct the ultimate bacon sandwich.
Once your taste buds acclimate to the intensity, it’s time to explore the market’s international offerings. For Indian, fill up on samosas and biryani at My Market Pavilion. At Silk Road, choose from steamed and pan-fried Chinese dumplings filled with pork, chicken, shrimp or vegetables.

Experience the Middle East at Aladdin’s Fine Syrian Cuisine. Their thyme-infused Spinach Fatayer pastries pair perfectly with house-made hummus and baba ghanoush. Or sample Mexico at La Tortilleria. Their tender carnitas and barbacoa tacos satisfy cravings for slow-cooked meats.
Seafood lovers will think they died and went to heaven exploring St. Lawrence Market’s fishmongers. Diana’s Seafood transports you to Greece with glistening octopus, whole fried fish and seasoned Mediterranean mussels. Canadian Seafood Company highlights fresh regional catches like just-caught lake trout.

No matter what you crave, the hardest part is choosing with so many options! Once you’ve filled your stomach, it’s time to fill your market bags. The vendors proudly peddle plenty of pantry goods to take home and gift.

At the Stonemill Bakehouse booth, pick up artisanal loaves of their country white sourdough, Ontario ancient grain bread or whole wheat seeded rye. Tuck an envelope of their fluffy English muffins and buttery croissants in your bag too. At Pasta Mista, scoop handmade gnocchi, tortelloni and pappardelle to boil back home. Their traditional Bolognese sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes tops it all off.
For bold global seasoning blends, sample spices at the Sarika booth. Their signature Garam Masala, Tandoori and Jerk Seasonings infuse rich aroma and heat into proteins and veggies. Ground Sumac provides tangy citrus flavor. Harissa paste adds Tunisian zip. Buy a few to keep your home cooking worldly.

At Mustafa’s Fine Foods, you’ll find Middle Eastern delicacies like figs, Medjool dates and floral water. Scoop Turkish delight candy in rose, pistachio and lemon flavors. Their hearty dips include eggplant and charred red pepper. Tahini Sauces come infused with za’atar and garlic. Pair them with their fresh baked pita for an impromptu mezze feast back home.
Before leaving, swing through the market’s southern building to peruse their ever-changing producers. On any given Saturday you’ll find myriad local makers selling small-batch honeys, preserves, maple syrups, baked goods, charcuterie, beers, wines and spirits. It’s the perfect place to grab edible Canadian souvenirs to gift or stock your own pantry.

St. Lawrence Market offers much more than sustenance - it provides a meaningful window into Toronto’s diverse food culture. As you explore the stalls, take time to engage with vendors about their fare. Let them wax poetic about preparation techniques, secret family recipes, and personal anecdotes. Their pride and hospitality enrich the experience as much as the incredible flavors.

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - Yonge Street: Main Drag of Canadian Brands and Classic Souvenirs

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto

Of course, no visit to Toronto would be complete without an excursion along Yonge Street. This vibrant thoroughfare serves as the city’s commercial spine, buzzing with throngs of both locals and tourists. While modern high-rises now flank its sides, Yonge still holds plenty of old-school charm. A stroll down its bustling blocks offers a perfect primer into quintessential Canadian brands, classic souvenir shops, and local landmarks.

At over 1,800 miles long, Yonge proudly claims the title as the world’s longest street. But within Toronto, it’s just over 20 blocks that comprise the action. Yonge Street begins at the edge of the harbor at Lake Ontario before cutting straight through the city’s core up to College Street. This central strip constantly thrums with activity, inviting exploration by foot.

For visitors, Yonge offers a comfortable, convenient way to orient oneself within Toronto while checking classic tourist sites off your list. The street provides a direct route to many of the city’s top attractions. Must-sees like the iconic Toronto Eaton Centre, buzzing Dundas Square, and the majestic Massey Hall all lie on or just steps off Yonge.

But beyond concrete jungles and modern shopping malls, traces of Yonge’s rich history reveal themselves to those looking closely. Oozing old-school cool, the Flatiron Building still turns heads with its dramatic triangular design. Dingy 1960s facades hide gem retro diners. The Elgin & Winter Garden Theater’s lavish interior transports you back to the roaring 1920s.

Yonge also provides prime people watching as Torontonians from all walks of life mingle on the sidewalks. Crisp professionals in custom suits strut alongside bohemian buskers and hipsters. You’ll hear snippets of conversation in languages from around the globe. The joyful chaos feels quintessentially Canadian.

For visitors eager to take home quintessential Canadian souvenirs, Yonge offers ample options. The street’s lengthy history as a shopping destination means plenty of classic souvenir shops line its blocks. Pop into TIME Square Gift Shop at Yonge-Dundas for maple syrup candies, Roots sweatshirts, and plush Canadian moose. Or peruse the CN Tower Gift Shop across the street for skyline keepsakes.

At the corner of Yonge and Gerrard lies Moretti’s. Proudly family-owned for over 50 years, the shop stocks wares handcrafted by Canadian artisans. Browse local pottery, indigenous dreamcatchers, woolen Hudson’s Bay blankets, and Inuit carvings. Their knowledgeable staff provide history behind regional crafting traditions. It’s the perfect place to find authentic indigenous crafts respectfully sourced.
For Olympic enthusiasts, the sporting goods store Olympic Hub dreams come true. Browse Team Canada hats, mitts, jerseys and more. The shop’s owner Peter is a wealth of information, having served as Team Canada’s equipment manager for decades. Customers rave over his encyclopedic knowledge and helpful recommendations for winter sport gear to embrace the great Canadian outdoors.

While Yonge offers plenty of chain shops found worldwide, local businesses also still thrive. At the corner of Yonge and Wellesley lies Maple Leaf House. This cozy Canadian tchotchke shop stocks souvenirs you won’t find back home. Peruse replica vintage cannery labels, Hudson’s Bay blankets, and prints celebrating unique bits of Canadiana. Their jams spotlight uniquely northern flavors like blueberry butter tart and cranberry maple syrup. It’s the perfect place to find niche gifts for the Canuck-loving friends in your life.
Beyond souvenirs, Yonge offers ample opportunities to savor true Canadian bites from beloved eateries. While ubiquitous coffee chain Tim Hortons now dots Toronto, their original shop still slings coffees on Yonge. Pay your respects to this Canadian institution by joining the line for Timbits and a Double Double.

No visit to Yonge would be complete without stopping for peameal bacon sandwiches and strawberry lemonade on the patio at St. Lawrence Market. This charming century-old food hall serves as ground zero for Toronto’s local food scene. Beyond world-class peameal, you’ll find stalls slinging pierogies, steaming Chinese dumplings, warm bagels, melt-in-your-mouth Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, and buttery Nanaimo bars.
Scone lovers shouldn’t miss Nadège Patisserie, just off Yonge on Temperance Street. This Parisian-style pâtisserie crafts ethereal scones in ever-changing flavors. Their decadent topped with housemade lemon curd and seasonal fruit jam pair perfectly with steaming London Fog tea lattes. It’s no wonder locals queue out the door on weekends.

No trip along Yonge is complete without topping your day off with a nostalgic meal at Fran’s Restaurant. This beloved diner first opened in 1940 and still turns out hearty plates of meatloaf, chicken pot pie, and apple pie 24 hours a day. Slip into a vinyl booth or sit at the counter for old-fashioned service and piping hot, rib-sticking comfort fare. It’s the quintessential greasy spoon beloved by generations of Torontonians.

Old School Cool: Hunting for Vintage Treasures, Feelgood Gifts, and Hearty Eats in Toronto - The Distillery District: Industrial Chic Hub housing Art Galleries and Cafes

Just east of downtown Toronto lies the dynamic Distillery District, an arts, culture, and entertainment hub housed within a National Historic Site. The 13-acre area encompasses the largest collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America. Towering brick warehouses and rugged cobblestone streets transport visitors back to the late 19th century when the Gooderham and Worts Distillery pumped out whiskey and dominated the local economy.
While those heady distilling days have passed, the Distillery District has been reinvigorated as a thriving pedestrian-only village. Cafes, galleries, live theaters, and boutiques now fill the restored buildings. Outdoor gathering spaces host festivals and events year-round. In summer, jazz bands serenade from porches while shaded patios overflow with the chatter of contented diners. In winter, Christmas market stalls vend handmade gifts and warming drinks to rosy-cheeked shoppers bundled in woolens.

By day, the Distillery provides the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll away from downtown’s hustle and bustle. Visitors can easily lose themselves for hours wandering the charming cobblestone lanes and admiring the worn brick facades etched with painted signage and lined with flower boxes. Peek inside ground floor windows to glimpse trendy shops and cozy restaurants. Outdoors, discover eye-catching art installations integrated seamlessly amongst the heritage architecture.

While the Distillery District delights by day, its chic charm heightens once the sun sets. As evening encroaches, strings of sparkling lights flick on, casting a magical glow. Hidden courtyard nooks become illuminated. Bars start to buzz with patrons toasting the end of another day. An air of lively revelry takes hold, inviting all to join in celebrating the night.

No matter when you visit, culture lovers will find plenty to appreciate at the Distillery District’s collection of contemporary art galleries. The renowned Corkin Gallery represents top Canadian photographic, video, and mixed media talents. Recent exhibitions featured Inuit artists like Annie Pootoogook capturing daily life in the North in prints and drawings. Nearby Olga Korper Gallery deals in provocative installation and conceptual pieces sure to incite discourse.

For more traditional arts, stop into the Distillery’s outpost of the noted Canadian Art Museum. Their collection includes important landscape paintings capturing the rugged natural beauty of the country over two centuries. Walking the galleries feels like visual time travel through Canada’s formative years. Don’t miss Group of Seven founding member Lawren Harris’ iconic sweeping vistas of the Rockies and Algonquin Park.

Beyond visual arts, the Distillery District houses several exceptional performing arts theaters. Visitors can catch live music, dance, comedy shows, and theatrical performances on the stages of the renowned Soulpepper and Young Centre theatres. Enjoy an improv comedy revue by Second City alumni or take in a chamber music recital by world-class musicians. Programming options run the gamut to suit all interests.

Once darkened, the Distillery’s romantic industrial alleyways invite evening strolls after dinner or drinks. Duck into the charming nooks between buildings to steal a kiss or sway arm in arm with your sweetheart. Listen for echoes of laughter tumbling from lively patios. Inhale the enticing scents of chocolate and coffee as you pass by cafes. Peek into softly glowing shop windows at handmade wares. Let the Distillery District’s enchanting ambience sweep you away.
Of course, no visit to the Distillery District would be complete without experiencing some of its excellent dining and drink options. On nearly every corner lies a cozy cafe, buzzy restaurant, or lively local pub waiting to welcome hungry and thirsty patrons. In true Canadian spirit, you’ll find cuisines from around the globe like taquerias dishing Mexican flavors, French bistros, and ramen bars steaming Japanese noodle soups.

Be sure to join the queued crowds at Cluny for buttery croissants, macarons, and French pastries served in an airy boulangerie space. Nearby Paris Paris doles out crispy crepes while Prague Restaurant’s hearty menu of schnitzel and goulash transports you to the old country. Those seeking Asian flavors will adore Kanpai Izakaya’s fusion sharing plates and Sushi Kaji’s nigiri crafted with pristine fish from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market.

Of course, Canada’s beloved brews get poured plenty of places to please local palates. Mill Street Brewpub serves their signature lagers and ales with pub grub favorites like fish and chips or burgers. At Steam Whistle Brewery, take an enlightening tour then sip their crisp pilsner straight from the source. Or belly up to the bar at Pure Spirits for signature cocktails starring top-shelf Canadian whiskey, vodka and gin. No matter your taste, the Distillery District is sure to please.

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