TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX is a new film screening, exhibition and concerts hall… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)
Toronto tends to be blase about its stars — Rachel McAdams' regular vintage-shopping jaunts in the city's popular Kensington Market attract about as much attention as anyone else's — but whatever see-and-be-seen attitude the city does hold surges to a fever pitch during the annual International Film Festival. This year marks the 36th edition of TIFF, and whether you're looking to rub elbows with Clooney & Co. or want to duck away from the hubbub for low-key cocktails and charcuterie, the following list offers some of the best that Toronto has to offer.
Luma at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
Since its opening last year, the Lightbox has more than proved its mettle as the festival's glittering new central hub. Luma, the second-floor lounge adjacent to screening theaters, offers a hefty card of Canadian and international wines, as well as witty movie-themed cocktails (Fellini's Bellini, with prosecco and seasonal peach nectar, aligns nicely with the current Lightbox exhibition celebrating the maestro's body of work), and humble-yet-highbrow snacks like brisket sliders with truffle aioli. 350 King St. W.; (416) 968-3456; http://www.TIFF.net.
The rooftop cocktail lounge of this downtown hot spot offers a glorious view of the skyline and a staff that's just as easy on the eyes. Other draws include the Counter, a 24-hour diner offering low-key fare including a killer seafood salad, an outpost of Scott Conant's celebrated Scarpetta restaurant, and a spacious new yoga studio that will surely attract some upper-crust chakras looking to recharge spiritually during the film fest mayhem. 550 Wellington St. W.; (416) 640-7778; http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/toronto/thompson-toronto.
Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters
Brewing premium coffee has become a sort of sport in Toronto, with (usually bearded) proprietors struggling to outdo each other in pursuit of java-obsessed downtown clientele. This tiny second-floor spot — located two blocks west of the Lightbox, an ideal stop between screenings — is one of the front-runners, with a meticulously roasted espresso and huge, artful sandwiches. 96 Spadina Ave.; (416) 907-8524, http://senseappeal.ca.
Though Conant's Scarpetta gets a lot of the hype, Buca is an oft-cited challenger for superlative rustic Italian fare in the downtown core (with star power to boot — Megan Fox and Bill Murray were spotted during TIFF last year). Tucked in an inconspicuous alley between a nightclub and a children's publishing house, the handsome brick-walled room is just as attractive as its offerings. Start with nodini, warm, salted knots of soft, chewy bread soaked in olive oil, and follow-up with one of the frequently changing seasonal entrees, like fresh handmade orecchiette with zucchini blossoms and Nova Scotia lobster. 604 King St. W.; (416) 865-1600; http://www.buca.ca.
The new kid on the party block, the Ritz is set to make its red-carpet debut during this year's TIFF. By day, the hotel will host film press conferences, but by night, stars and their hangers-on will flock to TOCA, its fine-dining enclave, which features a proudly Canadian menu packed with homegrown ingredients, an expansive cheese cave and downstairs bar offering standout cocktails like the Chili Lychee Collins, with Grey Goose and maple-glazed chili peppers. 181 Wellington St. W.; (416) 585-2500; http://www.ritzcarlton.com.
With a carefree vibe that's somewhere between family-owned pub and upscale frat party, this side-street gem, which used to be known mainly for its nightclub-like exuberance, reinvented itself last year as a dining destination with serious culinary cred. Chef Carl Heinrich's passion for farmhouse cuisine is evident on the sizable dinner menu, which treats the lowly turnip with much loving enthusiasm. 488 Wellington St. W.; (416) 979-1990; http://www.marbenrestaurant.com.
The Black Hoof
It may have borne witness to Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel's rumored recent reunion (over tacos!), but the Hoof is one gastro-boîte that doesn't need celebrities to power its buzz factor. Since opening in 2008, the dimly lighted, intimate room has grown into one of the city's most respected restaurants. Featuring house-cured meats, luscious bone marrow and much more, the Hoof is a bona fide meat-lover's dream. A bonus: Its newly opened sister cocktail bar, serving the city's best Manhattan, is right across the street. 923 Dundas St. W.; (416) 551-8854; http://www.theblackhoof.com.
Splashy meets low-key in the merger of hotelier Michael Achenbaum (president of Gansevoort Hotel Group) with hipper-than-thou local influencer Matt George (the multi-hyphenate proprietor of nouveau-riche speakeasy Goodnight). Together, the duo will be responsible for two of the festival's biggest invite-only parties; A-listers will congregate at Goodnight's postage-stamp-sized space, located behind a graffiti-marked wall in a gritty downtown alley. Call it the best of both worlds. 431 Richmond St. W.; (647) 963-5500; http://goodnightbar.com.