Best of the City 2014: Fun
Rock ’n’ Horse Saloon
250 Adelaide St. W., 647-344-1234
A night at Rock ’n’ Horse Saloon feels like a scene from Footloose: line dancers tap steel-toed boots to Brooks and Dunn, bartenders in 10-gallon hats pour beers, and a rotating slate of heart-on-sleeve country crooners twang their guitars on stage. The bar’s most gimmicky (and awesome) attraction is a mechanical bull that thrashes, bucks and throws riders into a pit of blessedly soft padding—an indignity best cured with another shot of Knob Creek. For saddle-shy spectators, the bull-riding competition on Tuesdays is better than Netflix.
The Bar With No Name
1651 Bloor St. W., 647-729-2737
Two years ago, Pat McGann and his friend Kirk Bryan teamed up to open a place devoted to retro gaming and snacks, Big Bang Theory–style. Their High Park pub is known for its Wednesday game nights—dedicated to such nerdy throwbacks as Nintendo 64 competitions and Magic: The Gathering tournaments—but it’s enough of a neighbourhood secret that you won’t have to wait in line for a table on the backyard patio. Donkey Kong and Pac-Man masters, take note: the top scorer gets a free pitcher.
1330 Queen St. W., 416-627-3459
There’s only one way to avoid Grand Electric’s blockbuster lineups: book the whole patio. Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan, the entrepreneurial taco tycoons who run the Parkdale resto-bar, have started offering what they call “garden parties” on the fairy-lit back terrace. It’s scruffy Parkdale culture condensed: for $32 a head, they’ll host a raucous fiesta for up to 20 guests, serving up tacos, ceviche and dessert. Alternatively, for a flat rate of $220, they’ll roast an entire 20-pound suckling pig for Lord of the Flies–style carnage. There are stiff margaritas and bourbon-spiked lemonade—a step up from your average BYOB barbecue.
H20 Float Spa
138 Danforth Ave., 647-349-0426
Curved, white and glowing with LEDs, H20’s egg-shaped pods look intimidatingly sci-fi. Once you climb in, though, apprehension melts into slack-muscled bliss. Each pod contains more than 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts dissolved into the water, creating an effortless Dead Sea buoyancy. Better still, both the water and air are heated to skin temperature, which gives the impression that you’re floating at zero gravity. Adherents swear a 90-minute session facilitates meditation, soothes muscles and regulates sleep-wake cycles. From $59 per session.
The Dock Ellis
1280 Dundas St. W., 416-792-8472
Little Portugal’s new spot hits the perfect balance between two Dundas West prototypes: trendy snack bar and fratty sports pub. The Dock Ellis, named for an infamous Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who may or may not have thrown a no-hitter while tripping on LSD, serves craft beers, super-strong brown liquor cocktails, and booze-friendly grub like devilled eggs and fried chicken. But, unlike its hipster brethren, the Dock Ellis has TVs—nine in total, plus a giant pull-down projector in the back. Drop in solo during the week for a beer and the Jays, or brave the crowds on Sundays during NFL season, when the bar hosts $18-a-head football brunches.
The Theatre Centre
1115 Queen St. W., 416-538-0988
Last March, the long-homeless Theatre Centre moved into cushy new digs in the Carnegie Library on Queen West. The beaux arts library, built in 1909 by the Scottish steel tycoon, received a $6-million makeover for the occasion: the old wainscoted reading room has been fashioned into a grand 220-seat auditorium. Even better than the sparkling space is the terrific programming, which has so far included a provocative production of Cock, the 2012 Olivier winner from British playwright Mike Bartlett, and Promises to a Divided City, an interactive, immersive new show from Darren O’Donnell’s Mammalian Diving Reflex company.
1564 Queen St. W., 647-352-8815
Toronto is flush with Prohibition-style bars serving up classic cocktails and a Capone-era cool factor. At Geraldine, a new Parkdale gin mill, bartenders wear suspenders, oysters arrive on silver trays and guests head-bop to foxtrot jazz. The retro cocktails are a safe choice, but the absinthe fountain is more fun: the spicy emerald elixir is available either straight or mixed into a makeshift slushie with fig syrup, crushed ice, bitters and fresh mint.
2241 Dundas St. W., 416-534-4560
While school’s out, keep kids away from their iPads with a trip to MakerKids, an intensely creative DIY emporium. Amateur Elon Musks are invited into a room full of supplies to bring techy fantasies to life: crayons for drafting, wood for chiselling prototypes, 3-D printers for making new shapes and easy electrical kits for robotics. Drop-in sessions Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. $10 per hour.
Kenilworth Ave. and tennis courts, 416-834-5801
Every week, a group of eight students swim out into Ashbridges Bay for stand-up paddleboard yoga classes. Participants spend the first two classes just trying to stand on the anchored boards. Once they’ve mastered that, they move on to planks, downward facing dog and headstands. The workout is surprisingly playful: newbies are constantly wiping out, but the water provides a softer landing than a wooden studio floor. $30 per class.
1027 Finch Ave. W., 647-476-4434
At this uptown, upscale Russian bathhouse, friends and families settle in for an afternoon of socializing, sweating and cooling plunges. Sanduny offers wet and dry saunas, and traditional Russian massages, where spa staff lash your body with bamboo whisks and oak leaves to improve circulation. Post-shvitz, guests can sip pints of Baltic beer and snack on every imaginable Russki cliché, including borscht, stroganoff and platters of pickled herring. $40, or $350 for 10 visits.