Named for its location—amid a criss-cross of railway lines—the Junction is one of Toronto’s most vibrant West End neighbourhoods. Just north of High Park, and south of the Stockyards District, it was once home to factories, mills and meat packing plants. Today it’s like Etsy come to life, with independent businesses offering everything from beard trims to book-club cocktails, from vintage vinyl to vegan cinnamon buns.
As a Torontonian, I love this tight-knit hub of creativity. Here are some of my suggestions for a day of eating, drinking, shopping and having fun.
Morning Meals in Junction
9:00am: Start with a morning latté and pistachio cake at Full Stop, a retro airport-themed café with a jet-plane mural and glossy orange departure-lounge seating that make you feel like you should have your boarding pass handy.
10:30am: Ready for something heartier? Hit iconic Junction deli When the Pig Came Home. Go with a chalkboard menu staple, like smoked meat (made with tender beef cheeks instead of brisket) or house-cured peameal bacon on bun. Or make like a true Junctionite and try something from the handwritten butcher’s paper list taped to the wall—“Sandwiches Named After Famous People.”
This off-menu menu immortalizes rogue orders from regulars like Edward (a teacher), Ryan (an estate agent) and Tyler (a 12-year-old kid). Just don’t ask for the Benwich when it’s busy! Created as a hangover remedy, it has no fewer than 13 artery-clogging ingredients including a French toast milk bun, maple kale crackling, and double-smoked bacon.
11am: Browse Smash, a vintage store that’s popular with film set designers. An art history major, owner Paul Mercer has an eye for one-of-a kind finds like a gargantuan 1930s hairdresser’s unit, store-front signs salvaged from historical buildings and a Steve McQueen-worthy vintage motorbike. My favourite take-home: a poster from the in-house screen print shop.
11:30am: Miki Rubin and Heather Phillips, the co-owners of ARTiculations, are both sculptors and Junction residents devoted to their artsy hood. “It’s so community oriented here—my kids go to school with my customers’ kids,” Miki says.
Visit ARTiculations for the juried exhibitions, fun stationary, and drop-in workshops in everything from Letterpress to Pointed-Pen Calligraphy. Another big draw? Charlie, the goldendoodle in residence.
Noon: An entire wall at Grasshopper is plastered with the vibrant colouring-book pages of neighbourhood kids. This vegan spot serves up Japanese-American comfort food like smoky mac and cheese with quinoa pasta, kimchi fries and Japanese curry bowls. Health nuts will love the juices, smoothies and kombuchas, but you can also booze up your meal with craft cocktails, microbrews and organic wines.
1pm: Save space for a sweet treat from the original Bunners Bakeshop, a vegan and gluten-free bakery. They’re famous for their cinnamon buns, but Sarah at the counter recommends the Josephine Louise. It’s a red-velvet whoopee-style sandwich cake with a chocolate-dip coating, named in honour of the Joe Louis—a junk-food snack found in every self-respecting corner store.
2pm: There are cutesy flower stores, an espresso bike store and even a dog lounge in this hood, but for a little bit of everything, go clothing and gift shopping at The Beau & Bauble and its little brother store Beau Men’s. Kate Elia, a former costume designer, owns and curates both boutiques. Find irreverent greeting cards, lip tints by French Girl and Toronto-made jewellery at the Beau & Bauble. At Beau, bestsellers include neck-nuzzle-inducing Duke Cannon solid colognes and fish-emblazoned tin cups and coffee flasks.
Shave and a Haircut
3pm: Short back and sides with your Americano? Gentlemen can prep for a night out with a straight razor shave and moustache trim at the Nite Owl Barbershop. Enter via Pacific Park Social, a coffeeshop, paninoteca and mini-Italian grocery store, to get to the barber’s at the back. The aroma of toasting Italian cheese and charcuterie sandwiches switches to the siren song of the tobacco, leather and bay rum notes of Crown Shaving Co. After Shave Tonic, as you pass from one business to the next. “It’s their sexy sauce,” says one customer, from his time-warp leather barber’s chair.
Dinner and Drinks in Junction
Early evening: The best place to begin a Junction bar hop is at Shamone, maybe for the DJs spinning old-school hip hop or 80s disco, maybe for the risqué art (He-llo, naked conga line!), and definitely for the house cocktails and free snacks from 4-8.
6 pm: At Famous Last Words, book nerds can order from a book-inspired cocktail menu at a bar tiled with 10,000 British Scrabble pieces. There are drop-in book clubs, launches and trivia nights for all, and when existing book clubs call ahead, bartenders will create a custom cocktail for them. “They’re reading Dune Messiah,” says bartender Aleks Russell nodding over at the group in the back corner. “I made them a drink with 43 Copper Pot whisky, sweet vermouth, citric acid, coffee syrup, saline, and cardamom bitters. It’s based on a drug consumed in the novel, called Mélange, that they describe like a bitter spice.”
8pm: The Hole in the Wall is a long and skinny corridor of a bar with comfy leather banquettes and a gloriously oversized Art Déco light chandelier. In the evenings they serve fancied-up pub grub like Buffalo duck confit wings, Spicy Chinatown Calamari and escargots, and there’s live music.
It’s tight inside, so you may end up sitting with people you don’t know—a good way to meet the locals. Finish the day by sipping a local craft beer from Junction Craft Brewing, which nods to the neighbourhood’s railway roots with names like Trainspotter Craft Lager, Stationmaster’s Stout, and Engineer’s IPA.
Top image: Pacific Park Social