Presenting: Toronto’s Distillery District – A Unique Vision and 13 Acres of Historic Victorian Industrial Architecture Create One of North America’s Hottest Entertainment Districts

In the narrow passageway between the Cooperage Building and the Stone Distillery Complex Mathew pointed out a sculpture called “Bronze Tree Root”, one of many traveling exhibits of artwork that find a temporary home at the Distillery District. Along the way Mathew pointed out “Sport”, a retail shop focused on the rich history and tradition of sports, often frequented by women who are looking for the perfect gift for their husbands. We also saw “AutoGrotto”, a retailer specializing in automobile and motorcycle memorabilia and collectibles. Our stroll continued to the Cooperage Building and we entered the “Sandra Ainsley Gallery”, a gallery representing the works of major contemporary Canadian, American and internationally recognized artists working in glass and mixed media. The backdrop of exposed industrial brick, wooden beams and strategically placed lighting provides a perfect setting for hundreds of unique sculptures and art pieces that range in price from several thousand to about a million dollars. The beauty and innovative design of these items is striking and discerning art collectors from all over the world visit Toronto’s Distillery District because of its 14 galleries and its dozens of artists studios.

Outdoor patio of the Boiler House Restaurant

Among other tenants, the Maltings Building houses an unconventional clothing retailer called “Lileo”, featuring some of the most original names in denim, apparel for men, women and children, as well as footwear, accessories, books and much more. We turned eastwards and strolled up Tank House Lane. Mathew introduced me to the “Boiler House”, one of Toronto’s finest restaurants. With several restaurants, cafes and bakeries, the Distillery District offers a broad range of fine dining, casual fare and very affordable bakery food. Diverse culinary pleasures are available at every price point. Just down the street is “Archeo’, a restaurant featuring Italian cuisine where no dish costs more than C$14. Mathew and his partners made a commitment to ensuring that affordable dining options would be available to all visitors. In addition to exceptional, reasonably priced Italian cuisine, Archeo offers unique design features: oversize archival photos of the distillery are used as partitions between the tables, acting as unusual aesthetic and innovative room dividers.

Interior of Archeo

During our stroll up Tank House Lane, Mathew informed me that the cobble-stoned streets of the Distillery District are real brick pavers from the 1850s that used to be located in Cleveland. When Cityscape bought this complex, there were only dirt roads that had to be dug up to install modern gas, sewer and electrical lines. When it came to repaving the developers were looking for historically authentic material and found it when the City of Cleveland was selling off its unused stock of brick pavers. The developers wanted to use authentic historic paving material which had to come from another northern city in order to provide sufficient durability. So they went all the way to Cleveland to secure this batch of historic brick pavers.

To give me a real taste of the Distillery District, Mathew took me into “Soma”, manufacturers of some of the best chocolate, handmade truffles, praline, cookies and fresh churned gelato in Toronto. Soma’s craftsmanship and dedication to quality has made them winners of the “Toronto Choice Awards” for best chocolate. Mathew invited me to taste a “Mayan Chocolate Shot”, which was an espresso-size cup full of the most aromatic medium-brown liquid chocolate I have ever tasted. The intriguing taste is derived from a blend of authentic Mayan chocolate, spiced with Australian ginger, Madagascar Vanilla, orange peel, chili and Soma’s unique blend of spices.

Soma – chocolate artisans

Further down Tank House Lane is the “Young Centre for the Performing Arts”, a 50,000 square foot state of the art, brand new performing arts facility and the result of a unique partnership between George Brown College and the Soulpepper Theatre Company. Performing arts are big in the Distillery District: it just hosted a Dance Festival and also is the venue for an annual Opera Ballet Festival. The district’s three indoor and one outdoor theatres delight performing arts aficionados with their diverse offerings.

We turned onto Brewery Lane and walked through the “Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill”, one of Toronto’s most popular fresh fish and seafood restaurants. The Barrel Shipping Room is a magnificent setting for dining or after work drinks and even in the middle of the afternoon this restaurant was very busy. The 100-seat outdoor patio was positively packed with people enjoying the sunny afternoon.

The Pure Spirits Building

Mathew pointed out that each business inside the Distillery District has one or two artifacts from the original distillery operations, and the “Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill” features an original wooden armoire and a wooden hatch from the pre-restoration era. In a hallway behind the restaurant I saw a colourful ornate safe that Mathew informed me was once owned by William Gooderham himself, who incidentally also founded the Bank of Toronto which later became the Toronto Dominion Bank. Throughout the entire district, the integration of historical elements and the modern adaptation of the original architecture is a phenomenal example of architectural revitalization. I enjoyed the historical setting without ever feeling like I was in a museum.

Right opposite this restaurant is the home of the “Mill Street Brewery”, Toronto’s most award-winning micro-brewery, which is just adding a brew pub to its facility. Walking further south the laneway opens up into large square that is used for various outdoor performances throughout the year. Then heading back west we walked down Case Goods Lane which on the right hand side features “Grand Piano Pastries”, a café with exposed brick walls and an Old World atmosphere. Next door is “Pikto”, a gallery featuring internationally renowned and emerging photographers that holds monthly photo contests.

Interior of the Grand Piano Pastries Café

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