Toronto is one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the world. The city offers a welcoming world of arts, culture and culinary offerings with an abundance of LGBTQ diversions.
The TV series Queer As Folk immortalized Toronto’s Gay Village, and today it remains the heart of the city’s queer nightlife.
In fact, the Church and Wellesley neighborhood draws visitors from around the globe seeking its remarkable range of cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, and clubs, whether you are looking for piano cabaret at Statlers, leather at Black Eagle, drag brunches at Glad Day, the world’s oldest gay bookstore, or screenings at the legendary club Woodys.
Yet at the same time, it is but the start of exploring the endless urban life of the world’s most diverse urban areas: A growing number of queer-friendly bars and businesses have sprung up across Toronto’s many welcoming neighborhoods, offering much more for visitors to explore in multiple settings with a welcome rainbow of a citizenry.
Here’s our guide to the many sides of queer Toronto.
Queen Street West
Visitors are known to spend a whole day exploring Queen Street West, starting at the fountains and the giant Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips square – a favorite Instagram destination – and walking west to find chic designer clothing stores, restaurants that reflect the city’s incredible cultural diversity – serving pierogis, roti, arepas, poke, fried crab, and more – and the splendor of Trinity-Bellwoods Park, one of the city’s largest parks, before arriving in Queen West for a night of drinking and dancing. In fact, a section of Queen Street West has earned itself a reputation as Toronto’s other gay village, celebrated with the nickname “Queer West.”
One of the best places to start your exploration of the neighborhood is The Drake Hotel, a boutique hotel featuring local artist wall hangings, a bar, world-class restaurant and it’s own basement nightclub.
Queer West features Miss Thing’s, a queer-owned Hawaiian cocktail lounge with beautiful mid-century décor and its own dance floor; Lipstick & Dynamite, a grungy queer- and vegan-friendly rock ‘n roll bar, and The Beaver, an everyone welcome bar that offers a calendar of alt-queer events after dark, including comedy, karaoke, drag shows, and dance nights.
Known as Toronto’s film district, Leslieville is located close to two great places to enjoy the city’s lakefront shoreline. The Leslie Street Spit is a narrow park that stretches to the water, while the aptly named Beaches offers a taste of seaside living more than 800km from the sea.
The streets of this east end ‘hood showcase Toronto’s South Asian community, and you’ll enjoy the fragrance of Indian cooking alongside shops selling imported silks, fashions, and teas next to more traditional bars, boutiques, and bistros.
Wayla Bar & Lounge is Leslieville’s hot spot, a dance club inspired by the New York underground scene with themed parties several nights a week drawing in a diverse crowd of locals and visitors.
A few doors west is The Roy, a traditional Irish pub that offers hearty comfort food and craft beer. Further west is The Opera House, which is more likely to offer burlesque shows or Alyssa Edwards than a production of Don Giovanni. If you want to look your best for a night out, Fuss Hair Studio offers a safe space for LGBTQ customers.
North of Leslieville is Toronto’s Greek neighborhood, best known for its excellent restaurants and its Taste of the Danforth food festival every August. Toronto’s cultural mosaic of immigrant communities still provides much of the city’s character, color, and diversity.
The Danforth Music Hall is another of the city’s great event spaces, and a popular stop for emerging artists and Drag Race queens on tour. Stop in for a pint at Old Nick, a gay-friendly pub with a great beer selection, or catch a busking performance at tiny Alexander the Great Parkette, named for one of history’s most famous gay warriors.
The area offers the best views of the city from Riverdale Park, which also features hiking trails along the Don Valley and an outdoor pool that’s popular with queer residents of Cabbagetown, a picturesque nearby neighborhood that’s an oasis of leafy streets and old terrace houses, and not a cabbage plant in sight!
Kensington and Little Portugal
Toronto’s Dundas Street is home to Dundas Square, the city’s equivalent of Times Square, a bustling entertainment district with bright lights, bars, restaurants, and shopping options. But if you head west, you will find Toronto’s thriving Chinatown, bohemian Kensington Market, and Little Portugal, where you can pick up an egg tart or Piri Piri chicken.
Kensington Market is where people congregate to stroll tree-lined streets featuring amazing Victorian architecture. It is home to artists who show their work in cafes, galleries, and restaurants around the ‘hood. The Kensington scene features outdoor fruit markets, vintage clothing boutiques, and some of the best cuisines in the city.
The ‘hood is home to queer-friendly businesses with a more alternative skew to compliment the Gay Village, including Loveless, a charming and cozy café by day and a bar with custom cocktails by night, The Fountain, a bar and gallery that showcases the work of local artists in a relaxed environment, and TKVO, a queer gift shop that sells pins, patches, t-shirts, zines.
For late night entertainment, The Baby G is an indie rock music venue with regular queer dance nights that run as late as 4 am. On Bloor Street, you’ll find Bar Neon, a friendly Mediterranean-inspired bar known for its elevated bar food, including oysters and stuffed zucchini flowers.
No trip to Toronto would be complete without a stop to the CN Tower. It has the best view of the city and the Toronto Islands. Just a short walk from Toronto’s most famous landmark, you can catch a ferry to the Islands, and enjoy a great escape from the city’s vibrant streets. The islands include cafes, an amusement park, and a farm, not to mention bike paths and boat rentals, and an amazing place to take a picnic and a book.
The islands include a clothing optional beach, Hanlan’s Point, named for famous rower Ned Hanlan, whose beefcake statue greets visitors. On sunny days the beach is packed with queer folk of all shapes and genders looking for a perfect full-body tan. Hanlan’s Point also offers occasional late-night dance parties, including Pride events and the Electric Island concert series.
Toronto’s Gay Village may be the first stop for many visitors, but with queer-friendly spaces throughout the sprawling metropolis, Toronto offers a glimpse of a future where the big city and the gay village become one and the same.