One of the great centers of arts and culture in North America, Toronto is also one of the world's foremost gay destinations, hosting a famously large Gay Pride celebration each summer and cultivating a lively scene in the traditionally gay-nightlife neighborhood of Church Street Village as well as in more eclectic, indie-spirited, mixed neighborhoods like Queen Street West, which hosts its own queer-minded arts and cultural festival in August, and Leslieville. Indeed, in this guide to Toronto gay nightlife, you'll find not only the usual Church Street dance clubs and video bars but also a mix of restaurants, cafés, and mixed bars elsewhere in the city.
For details on where to meet other guys and hook up, check out the Toronto gay bathhouses and sex clubs guide.
Long one of Toronto's favorite men's cruise bars, the Barn Nightclub (418 Church St., 416-593-9696)—historically known as the Barn & Stables—remains a reliably good spot to meet other guys on the make, especially in the third-floor Loft area and super cruise-y darkroom. This three-level club has a cabaret with drag shows, a pool lounge, and a bar on the ground floor. The second level is a spacious dance club. Weekends are popular, as are Wednesday "college nights," which bring in a predictably youthful crowd.
Reopened new ownership a few years ago following a lengthy closure, the adjoining Crews & Tangos bars (508 Church St., 647-349-7469) underwent an ambitious refurbishment and are looking better than ever. These friendly, eclectic hangouts have always been—and continue to be—popular for drag shows and known for drawing a diverse mix of lesbians, gay men of all ages. This attractively furnished bar occupies a vintage townhouse in the Gay Village and also has a restaurant serving light casual fare and a pretty back patio.
You may recognize Toronto's biggest and busiest gay nightclub, Fly 2.0 (6 Gloucester St., 416-410-5426), from scenes in the U.S. version of Queer As Folk—scenes intended to be Club Babylon in Pittsburgh were actually filmed at Fly (the entire series was filmed in Toronto). Fly is Toronto's true warehouse-style dance club—it hosts huge parties throughout the year and is always packed on weekends, with some of the world's top DJs frequently guest-spinning. The 12,000-square-foot club opened in 1999 and is open primarily on Friday and Saturday nights but also at other times for special events and parties.
Fly also has a restaurant up front, Fire on the East Side, which is open daily for lunch and dinner and has an attractive patio seating area facing the street. The food is contemporary, with a Southern and Latin flare—braised beef chicken poutine with aged cheddar, Jerk chicken taquitos, Louisiana crab cakes with ancho mayo, and lobster-shrimp-crab etouffee among the favorites.
It's in a slightly off-the-beaten-path neighborhood called Corktown, about a 10-minute walk southeast of the Church Street Gay Village and roughly five blocks east of downtown's Eaton Centre shopping mall, but for seriously amazing Thai food, it's worth venturing to Mengrai Gourmet Thai (82 Ontario St., 416-840-2759). The rambling restaurant occupies a vintage beer warehouse with wood floors and exposed-brick walls, and chef owners Allan and Sasi run both a restaurant and a cooking school out of the space.
This is by no means your run-of-the-mill order-by-numbers Thai food. Chef Sasi deftly prepares a rich blend of inspired dishes—pictured here is an appetizer sampler plate of mango salad, a taro yam roll (my favorite), a shrimp triangle wrapper, and a crisp dumpling. Other notables from the kitchen include the dramatically presented royal-style lemongrass coconut soup served inside a freshly hollowed-out coconut (go all out and order this with fresh lobster), red chicken curry with lychee, fillet of striped bass with tamarind-coconut curry, and lemongrass or green tea creme brulee for dessert. You won't go hungry here.
For a memorable, high-end dining experience near Toronto's Theater District, it's hard to beat Nota Bene (180 Queen St. W, 416-977-6400), a sleek and bustling restaurant just west of the Financial District, at the very beginning of the offbeat Queen Street West district. The modern, high-ceilinged space with clean lines and warm lighting opened in 2008 and is staffed by a knowledgeable, enthusiastic crew. Chef David Lee, renowned for his work at Splendido, is the culinary talent behind Nota Bene.
Less expensive than many of the city's top restaurants (and slightly less dressy, too), Nota Bene is still definitely apt for a special occasion, but with most dinner entrees priced below $30. Lee's menu changes often but has featured the likes of Nova Scotia lobster salad with maple bacon and buttermilk dressing, hamachi ceviche with jalapeno and lime, charred sea scallops with king oyster mushrooms and pineapple and coriander salad, papardelle pasta with rabbit soffrito and house pancetta. Two- and three-course pre-theater, available only when there's a performance at the nearby Four Seasons Centre, are an excellent deal. Nota Bene has an exceptionally extensive wine list, including a great variety of vintages from Ontario, and the cheese plate is one of the best in town (it's pictured here, mostly with a selection of Quebec cheeses). Save room for the panna cotta with sour-cherry compote.
As the once forlorn and dowdy Ossington Strip, just off funky Queen Street West, continues to develop plenty of cachet among hipsters, artists, gays and lesbians, design-minded types, and other trendy sorts, hangouts like the slick yet laid-back Reposado Tequila Bar continue to pop up. This bustling storefront space carries Toronto's biggest selection of fine tequilas and also turns out small plates for noshing (cheese, tequila-cured salmon, picante crab cakes, chorizo with feta, and so on). Purists sip tequila here unadulterated with mixers and dilutants, but Reposada does mix a wonderfully refreshing top-shelf margarita. There's also good beer on tap and some wines and champagnes by the glass.
You'll find quite a few diverting galleries, design shops, cafes, and bars up and down Ossington, between Queen Street and Dundas Street (the latter puts you squarely into Toronto's Little Portugal neighborhood).
If there's a single bar in Toronto that's visited by more gay guys, tourists and locals alike, than any other, it's Woody's (465 Church St., 416-972-0887) and its adjoining "brother" bar Sailor, which have been raking in the crowds along Church Street in the Gay Village for eons (well, more than two decades anyway). The multi-level complex comprises five different bars, some geared toward dancing to DJs, others feature hot go-go boys, and others airing saucy and dishy videos on TV monitors. It's your classic something-for-everyone gay hangout, and although the crowd skews young and male, Woody's and the Sailor eagerly welcomes all. The bars were featured prominently in the U.S. version of the gay TV classic Queer As Folk, making them all the more popular with visitors.
There's not really a bad night of the week to drop by these bustling bars, but the "best" contest nights are particular popular - Thursdays it's "best chest night", and on Fridays and Saturdays there are "best ass" contests.
A 15-minute walk down Church Street from the Gay Village and a similarly short stroll east of Toronto's downtown business district, the cozy Wine Bar at 9 Church Street (416-504-9463) is one of the city's foremost venues to sample local, farm-to-table cuisine paired with both Ontario and international wines. The menu is made up of small to medium-size plates of regularly changing fare, most of it priced around $8 to $15 per plate - consider tempura soft-shell crab (pictured here0, crisp pork belly with white-bean ragout, grilled local asparagus with Dijonaise and chives, roasted quail with root-vegetable slaw and sage butter, and a fantastic cheese plate. You'll typically find wines by the glass from such far-flung spots as New Zealand, South Africa, Greece, and France's Rhone Valley.