Sunday, November 17, 2013


Executive summary by darmansjah

At the corner of sassy and folksy

But “livable” is the buzzword for a neighborhood called Leslieveille, just south of Little India along Queen Street’s east end. Torontonians bristle at New York comparisons, so I’ll say it fast and duck: if hip, established Queen West is the West Village, then cheap, cheerful, and DIY Queen East is Brooklyn-its more livable cousin.

But not long ago, Leslieville had a reputation for pverty and crime, Nathalie-Roze Fischer is a French-Canadian-Haitian-Italian Torontonian (self-description: “Canadian mutt”) who set up a clothing and accessories shop, Nathalie-Roze and Co., in 2006, renting an apartment nearby. “My mom said: ‘You’ll be mugged!’”

Fischer was ahead of the curve. Leslieville has become the best destination for shoppers who eschew chains. In part, Leslieville grew to serve the film industry. At  the south end of the neighborhood, closer to Lake Ontario, massive studios host film and TV shows in production, lured by the city’s tax credits. Leslieville are used to streets blocked off with cones and trailers-streets that could pass for New York or Chichago.

Nathalie-Roze and Co., champions Canadian designers and offers crafts courses at night. Fischer show me canvas bags and buttons that flag-wave for the neighborhood: “Leslieville is for Lovers” and “Lesbiville.”

We settle down to brunch at linoleum-topped tables at kitschy Lady Marmalade (Torontonians are committed brunchers). Over French toast, Fischer describes her clientele as “renegade, self-employed, and wired.”

The day before we met, the coffee shop Mercury Espresso hosted a “pop-up” food event, announcing on Twitter that two chefs were coming to sell Cuban sandwiches and sticky toffee pudding for ten bucks. “I basically ran over there,” Fischer says with a laugh.

As we walk along Queen East, pas furniture and clothing stores, we hit two different “Back in ten minutes” sign. The streets are wide and tree-lined. “It’s a nine-block town. All the things you want from a big city, but you have this genuine charm. There’s no attitude; no one checks out your shoes before they serve you. Not that that’s happening on Queen West, but…” She trails off, hinting at a playful east-west rivalry.

World culture and natural history are on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in a daringly angular space designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.

The neighborhood of early 20th-century duplexes has attracted young families priced out of more established areas. The streets are crowded with baby strollers, and retailers want them to roll in. at Doll Factory by Damzels, a store showcasing the rock-and-roll in-house fashion line Damzels in This Dress, Ramones onesies share shelf space with feather-covered boots. Baby on the Hip carries designer slings and pacifiers so pretty they look like sculptures.

Fischer advises checking out Leslieveille’s many vintage design stores. We stop longest in Love the Design, a curated curiosity shop. I covet a pair of shiny reindeer antlers before being distracted by beautiful handmade stationery.

Vintage furniture is stacked at Guff, an eye-catching store in Leslievville

When the stores close, the bars and restaurants open. Worn-out shoppers can dine at Ascari Enoteca, a wildly popular wine bar and pasta restaurant where images of famed Italian Formula One driver Alberto Ascari peek out from every surface. At the east end of Leslieveille is the hobit-like Ceili cottage, a Celtic bar with live music in a shack with oyster shell cemented into the walkway. This past winter, the owner kept people coming to the popular outdoor patio by erecting a yurt there instead, with seating for up to 30.

Nightlife continues at a local watering hole, the Avro, where you’re likely to encounter a whimsical theme event, such as letter writing night or an all-Canadian-albums party (you must love Corey Hart to endure this). I decide to have a beer at the bar, where I spot a jar of glittering loonies and toonies (one-and two-dollar Canadian coins) on the counter. I ask why it is there. “It’s our community jar, for local projects like gardens and art,” says the bartender.

Sitting on my barstool in quiet Leslieveille, I’m aware that I am in micro-Toronto, a neighborhood village sprung into existence by the creative industry, at least in part. Meanwhile, in a different village in this same city, A-list celebrities are celebrating an international film festival. Toronto is a tale of many cities-in one.

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