Canada, the country closest and yet more alien to me than some an ocean away. I know nothing about Canada and that is entirely my fault. Toronto is just about an hour flight and yet I had never thought once about heading north. Perhaps that’s solely on me, perhaps it’s an American notion to not give our northern neighbors a thought when it comes to international travel. I dropped in midday on a Thursday for a brief trip that lasted just over twenty-four hours. Now that’s obviously not enough time to atone for my neglectful ignorance of the country. I like to think I made it count though. Spending my time in the West Queen West area, surrounded by the littles (Little Portugal, Little Tibet, and Little Italy). I found a melting pot of cultures made up of restaurants, bars, shops, and life itself seemingly waking up from nearly two years of a pandemic induced coma brought on by Covid-19. Here is where I stayed, and here is where I went. Cheers, Richard.
You will find that I bounce around when I’m on the road. Restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, while not all are great, there are plenty of them that deserve your patronage and simply not enough days in a life to try them all. When it comes to a hotel or inn, I feel the opposite way. All too often I’ve stayed in an overpriced corporate cattle box, so when I find a cool boutique place to sleep while away from home, it becomes the only spot I want to lay my head when traveling. The Gladstone House may just be perfect. With a bar and café that feels like it could be nestled into a side street in Paris, they churn out great cocktails and cuisine with service to match. The vibe not only attracts guests from the rooms above, but locals as well. It is a bar scene that could stand alone in another property, it just so happens to be part of one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at. To be honest, any hotel that places a billiard table in the middle of a floor for anyone to play eight ball on has me wanting to extend my stay. That pool table is on the third floor. The fourth floor has a quiet little library that’s nice to unwind in. The rooms have an artistic flare showcasing local artists and all the amenities anyone needs. All this is tied together with one unique showpiece that gets you excited about something that is ordinarily mundane…riding the elevator. That’s right, the elevator is an attraction and it’s beautiful. It’s older than any I have ridden in the States and has been restored and maintained, showcasing the splendor of a simple engineering service that we take for granted. It gives the impression that Gene Wilder may join you for a ride and trigger the ornate contraption to shoot through the roof. The front calls it down for you and there is always someone inside to run it properly. The Gladstone House is it for me. I don’t want to stay anywhere else in Toronto and neither should you.
Deep down, I’m a publican. Pubs will always be a part of who I am and who I want to be. A good pub can make a neighborhood worth living in, especially in the parts of the world where the cold sets in for nearly half the year. Everyone needs a place to gather, watch the match, have a pint, and in times of turbulence start planning the revolution. I give you the pub, a perfect setting for everything mentioned. Dog & Bear is a solid pub. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is and while that may not sound like a compliment, it’s probably one of the best I can pay to any public house. Don’t try to wow me. Just be what you are supposed to be, and the rest will sort itself out. The burger reminded me of, and this is almost blasphemous to say, In & Out’s, which is legendary. Now before you get all flustered about that last sentence, I will repeat one key word. REMINDED. It’s not the same burger, but it’s a damn good one and it clicked in my head the same way a Double Double did when I would roll around San Diego slightly stoned in my youth. Wash that down with a local beer while watching the Bundesliga and bantering back and forth with the bartender plus a few old bar flies, and ladies and gentlemen we have checked all the boxes. The only knock against the place is that they pull for Manchester United. Well, we can’t all be perfect, can we?
One thing is constant in my travels. I want to find spice that doesn’t punch me in the face and leave me begging for a glass of cold milk but instead delivers real flavor and balance. Any cook can toss an abundance of tongue destroying peppers in a dish, but real masters of the Scoville scale can hit you with heat that is delicious and fruit forward while dancing with other ingredients. That is what originally attracted me to Oddseoul on Ossington Street. It’s a tight, little, dark, divey, Korean fusion late night haunt. Give me old school hip hop on about half a dozen old boom boxes wired to the wall please. I’ll have some cold beer that doesn’t break the bank and lets all have a shot or two. Play the music loud and serve fantastic chow until its technically tomorrow. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Oddseoul apparently doesn’t think so either. Now full disclosure here, I had a few cocktails prior to pulling up a stool at Oddseoul so I was already a little on my way. I ordered a few dishes, passed in the menu, and spaced the name of this one mushroom and fried rice dish that blew my mind and sent me deep into a buzzed food euphoria. That doesn’t happen too often to me. The pork belly tacos were decent, but that first dish was a showstopper. After eating, drinking, and exchanging the normal industry tales of drunken patrons and nights that last until the birds are singing and the sun is rising, the bartenders took one last sip of whiskey with me, and I was ready to call it a night. Dives are a dying bread to a degree. It is one of the great tragedies of the nocturnal world in my humble opinion. While not exactly a dive, Oddseoul has that same loveable feel to it. Couple that with great Korean cuisine that pushes the envelope a bit, and you got a spot worth enduring the slightly hazy morning after for.
I don’t pretend to be an audiophile. I haven’t the budget to splurge on a hipster godfather record player. Maybe one day I will, but I’m not there yet. Still, there is a decent enough turntable plugged into the living room back home and it’s been enjoyable to drop a Rolling Stones 33 on it from time to time. Searching for vinyl city to city is always fun so while I won’t dive deep into my musical taste, I will recommend a shop for you to thumb through. Rotate This on Ossington has been spinning and selling music from Mozart to Wu Tang Clan for nearly a century. I was thrilled to fine some Flamin Groovies bootleg records amongst the stacks, and I carried them awkwardly through the airport and on the plane all the way back home (Next time I’m going to bring a bigger bag). There is nothing wrong with Spotify and the likes of streaming, but more and more I find myself wanting to play half an album, pick it up and drop the needle on the other side while decompressing. When in Toronto, check out Rotate This. It’s good for your ears.
Until next time. Enjoy the trip.
– Richard Beeson