Groups of people hanging out in a park

Socially Distanced Fun in the Sun

How to make the most of the weirdest summer ever

Torontonians are kind of obsessed with summer. Those precious 92 days are measured in a series of hallowed rituals: the glittery street orgies of Pride, the feathered splendour of Caribana, lineups at Canada’s Wonderland, Tiny Tom doughnuts at the CNE. Of course, none of these traditions are possible in the dystopia that is 2020, the year of six feet apart. But Torontonians are a resourceful breed, and many of our finest impresarios and entertainers have come up with new summer staples. We scoured the city and found outdoor neighbourhood drag shows, curbside classical concerts, cute roadside taco trucks, retro drive-ins and a host of other ways to lap up the hot weather without triggering a second wave.

Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus
Five Retro, Romantic Drive-In Theatres

5 Drive-In
This theatre has three screens showcasing a variety of visual treats. Films might include cult classics like Jumanji or newer movies like Jon Stewart’s Irresistible. And if country music is your jam, they also screen pre-taped concerts by artists like Garth Brooks for $135 a pop.

CityView Drive-In
Nightclub king Charles Khabouth has opened a new drive-in experience in the parking lot across from Rebel Nightclub and Cabana Pool Bar. He’s installed a 238-foot stage and three large LED screens, and will host concerts and movie nights in the space. Coming up on August 6: a performance from Indigenous DJ crew A Tribe Called Red.

The Mustang Drive-In
This County drive-in has been around since the 1950s, and its new owners are committed to making it a must-visit tourist destination for nostalgia hunters. Shows run Wednesday to Sunday, and recent showings have included cult favourites like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, The Goonies, Space Jam and Mean Girls. Each show is $30 per carload.

Downsview Park
This year, Downsview is morphing its usual picnic-on-the-grass movie nights into a car-friendly format. Every other Friday until September 4, the park will show a film chosen in partnership with Made Nous, an organization that celebrates the work of Canadian filmmakers. Screenings are free, but viewers must reserve spots online.

Port Hope Drive-In
This al fresco theatre is operating at half capacity, allowing 200 cars to park in every other space. Their concession stand hawks candy, ice cream, chicken nuggets and fries, and they’re playing feel-good films like Happy Gilmore and Uncle Buck. On Fridays and Saturdays, anyone looking to relive their college debauchery days can catch a screening of Animal House.

Photograph by Jessica Lee
An Outdoor Drag Show

Sofonda Cox
Forget RuPaul—this summer, you can hire Toronto queens to sissy that walk outside your house. Drag fans can book local legend Sofonda Cox for personalized porch sets. Cox will show up equipped with a portable speaker and mic (and several costume changes) to dazzle you for a set of songs by request—specialties include Rihanna, Beyoncé, Tina Turner and Lady Gaga. For a preview, you can stream her Friday-night curbside extravaganzas, hosted by Sean Teperman and his partner, Josh Petrie (who performs as Jessyca Prosecco), outside their house in North York, available weekly on Instagram and Facebook Live. Prices vary.

The immersive van Gogh exhibit

An Underground Exhibit

Immersive van Gogh
Toronto Star Building, 1 Yonge St.
Post-Impressionism gets the VR treatment in this experimental art experience, housed in the cavernous spaces once home to the Toronto Star’s printing presses. Set to a rather cinematic soundtrack by the Italian contemporary composer Luca Longobardi, the exhibition features Vincent van Gogh’s most famous works—including The Starry Night and Sunflowers—projected onto massive screens that invite visitors to experience his kinetic brushstrokes from a striking up-close perspective. The production is available two ways: either as a drive-in presentation, where audience members can view the paintings from inside their vehicles, or as a walk-in, which allows patrons to take in the art from the safety of social-distancing circles beamed onto the floor. $35–$40 for walk-in, from $95 per car for drive-in. To September 30.

Photo by Daniel Neuhaus
A Private BBQ in Kensington’s Coolest Backyard

Cold Tea Bar
60 Kensington Ave.
Condo dwellers and other backyardless Torontonians take note: Cold Tea, the low-key Kensington bar, is offering up its adorable secluded back patio for private events. For a fee, you and up to 24 of your closest pals get a fully stocked cash bar (complete with bartender and barback), a DJ and the sweet relief of knowing you won’t have to clean up before, during or after your party. While there’s no in-house kitchen (and you’re not allowed to bring your own snacks), the Cold Tea crew offer the option of adding on a catered menu from select outside restaurants. $500–$2,000.

Photograph by Lyle Bell
A Drive-In Concert

July Talk
Stardust Drive-In Theatre, 893 Mt. Albert Rd., Sharon
For some musicians, the limitations of Covid have provided fodder for creative innovation—for example, the venerable Senator on Victoria Street is keeping a safe distance between artists and listeners by hosting jazz acts on its second-floor balcony every Friday between 4 and 6 p.m. On a much larger scale, the Canadian indie band July Talk is making the most of their penchant for drama and spectacle: on August 12 and 13, they’ll perform onstage for a crowd of fans safely contained in their vehicles at the Stardust Drive-In near Newmarket. August 12 and 13.

Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus
Four Must-Visit Roadside Pit Stops

Though most travel is still off-limits, a picturesque road trip might quell your wanderlust. Here are five pop-ups, food trucks, ice cream bars and takeout windows, all within an hour or two of Toronto.

For ice cream
Hewitt’s Dairy Bar, Hagersville
If you visit this quaint institution, a helpful sign will advise you to “keep one cow apart” from other patrons. Hewitt’s Dairy Bar has been around since the early ’60s, and it now offers a rotating selection of more than 60 ice cream flavours, from your classic vanilla to Christmas pudding.

For sandwiches
Flossie’s Sandwiches, Hillier
This P.E.C. favourite started out as a food truck before landing a permanent spot. Pork features heavily in the menu—the signature sandwich, When Porky Met Petunia, includes a house-made sausage patty wrapped in bacon—and there’s a mushroom melt
for vegetarians.

For pizza
Pop-Ups On the Bay, Belleville
This summer festival, spread along Belleville’s waterfront, features nine local shops spaced 20 feet apart to allow for physical distancing. Among the vendors are Royal Haveli, a favourite for Indian food, and Brick Oven Pizza, which serves up Napoli-style thin-crust pies.

For tacos
Rey Ray’s, Port Hope
This food truck is both tiny and beloved, so the kitchen often sells out well before closing. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to pre-order. The small menu features a variety of tacos, like charred chorizo and pineapple or chicken tinga with pickled onion, and a Mexican salad with pico de gallo, avocado and a zingy jalapeño-lime dressing.

Three stunning socially distanced gallery shows

Three Stunning Socially Distanced Gallery Shows

Owen V. Gordon
BAND Gallery, 19 Brock Ave.
Tucked into a black Parkdale Victorian, BAND (Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue) feels less like a gallery and more like a collector’s parlour. Visitors can book appointments to see Jamaican-Canadian Owen V. Gordon’s kinetically colourful paintings and collages. To September 27.

Steven Beckly
Daniel Faria Gallery, 188 St. Helens Ave.
This west-end gem welcomes a limited number of guests most afternoons—no appointment necessary. On display is Steven Beckly’s The heart can’t wait, a gorgeously romantic vision animated through photos, sculpture and assemblages. To August 22.

Diane Arbus
Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W.
The AGO’s pre-Covid shows will run until fall, which means you haven’t missed your chance to catch its stellar Diane Arbus retrospective. The gallery is booking tickets that grant access for a designated entry time. Enhanced cleaning standards are in effect and visitors are asked to wear masks. To November 8.

An operatic serenade

An Operatic Serenade

Tapestry Opera
Way back in March (remember March?), the Italian tenor Maurizio Marchini delivered a moving rendition of “Nessun Dorma” from his Florence balcony, creating one of the pandemic’s first viral moments. Four months later, Torontonians can get their own operatic serenade with Tapestry Opera’s on-demand recitals. Their singers will primarily be performing for long-term care homes and essential workers—patrons are encouraged to sponsor a show—but private bookings are also available, featuring fan favourites from classic opera and Broadway musicals. $150.

A romp through lavender fields

A Romp Through Lavender Fields

Terre Bleu farm
2501 25 Side Rd., Campbellville
At Terre Bleu, some 60,000 lavender plants and 400,000 sunflowers make for an ideal #nofilter backdrop. This year, owners Ian and Isabelle Baird are trying something different: anyone who signs up for their free email list will be able to access a limited number of admission tickets (recent customers get first dibs). Every other week, they’ll release a new block of tickets—each of which comes with delightful perks, like house-made strawberry-lavender fizzy water. The Bairds anticipate they’ll have space for about a 10th of their regular crowds to spread out across the 160-acre property for self-guided tours—following responsible distancing guidelines, of course. Bring on the panoramic selfies. $20 per person.

Photograph by Terry Lim
A Curbside Classical Concert

Pocket Concerts
Orchestras around the world have come up with ingenious virtual-concert strategies (livestreaming symphony halls full of plants, anyone?), but there’s no substitute for in-person classical music. Happily, some Toronto virtuosos are bringing personalized performances to homes around the city. Violist Rory McLeod and pianist Emily Rho, the married couple behind Pocket Concerts, usually play in Torontonians’ living rooms. In Covid times, they’ll send a chamber ensemble to play for 25 to 30 minutes on your porch (and they’ll book backup dates in case of rain). They’ll perform for groups of up to 10 people, with listeners scattered on the lawn and down the street. From $200 per musician.

Three perfect, park-ready baskets

Three Perfect, Park-Ready Picnic Baskets

Good Cheese
614 Gerrard St. E.
This fromagerie puts together everything you need for a Parisian picnic: a wodge of creamy brie, saucisson sec, cornichons and a bag of Neal Brothers chips. Bonus: they sell hard-to-find beer and wine to go, too. $50. Close to: Riverdale Park.

Alimentari Italian Grocery
325 Roncesvalles Ave.
Alimentari’s picnic parcels come with sandwiches made on fresh focaccia, a summery Caprese salad, hand pies for something sweet, two beers and a bottle of vino. $60 without alcohol, $80 with. Close to: High Park and Sunnyside Beach.

Celeb chef Mark McEwan’s gourmet grocery store offers three menus for its pre-ordered picnic spread. Each comes with a star protein (grass-fed beef tenderloin, Bandari chicken kebabs, Thai tempeh-and-cucumber skewers) as well as all kinds of salads and sides. $31 and up per person. Close to: Edwards Gardens and Sunnybrook Park.

Photograph by Dahlia Katz
An On-Demand Broadway-Calibre Musical

Porchside Songs
There’s nothing more Broadway than people breaking into song on the street. The Musical Stage Company offers safely distanced front-yard concerts featuring award-winning vocalists from hit Mirvish, Stratford and Musical Stage productions. Theatre lovers can choose from a selection of acts: Beau Dixon and Vanessa Sears offer a Black-themed journey through popular music, from Bob Marley to Beyoncé, and the Asian Riffing Trio (Colin Asuncion, Chris Tsujiuchi and Kevin Wong) bring a queer, boy-bandish twist to classic musical theatre numbers. $300.

Photograph by Johnny Lam
Three Elegant By-Appointment Wine Tastings

For DIY tastings
This adorable family-run winery in Hillier offers DIY tasting kits, with four mini bottles to be enjoyed in their picnic area. They also host a regular pop-up courtesy of Old Salt Cocktails, which features spritzes and quaffable glasses served al fresco. $15 per person.

For the waterfront view
Angels Gate
Come for the appointment-only by-the-glass tastings of this Beamsville winery’s lauded sauvignon blanc and muscato; stay to gape at the
glorious gables and graceful arched windows of their charmingly parochial mission-style building. $10 per person.

For the flights
Parties of four or fewer can make group reservations at this sustainably minded Niagara winery, which specializes in organic and biodynamic bottles. Tasting packages include two single-vineyard options and a heady-sounding reds-only flight. $15 to $25 per person.

Photo by Daniel Neuhaus
Five Gorgeous Patios for Distanced Burgers and Rosé

For the view
The Broadview Hotel, 106 Broadview Ave.
“Be social, be safe, be at the Broadview” reads the banner on the hotel’s website. To that end, the Broadview has launched an additional outdoor option alongside its formidable rooftop deck. It’s a laid-back beer garden and grill—think Beyond Burgers and Reubens, watermelon-feta skewers and potato salad.

For the schmooze
Bar Centrale, 1095 Yonge St.
Groups of six or fewer can partake in fritto misto and Caprese on the patio of Terroni’s Rosedale satellite. Management takes Covid precautions seriously: spots are available by reservation only; guests are asked to wear masks when not seated, and all bookings come with “out-by” time limits to ensure the team can effectively distance (and clean up between) guests.

For the glamour
Kasa Moto, 115 Yorkville Ave.
While Kasa Moto has a robust takeout program, wagyu and sashimi taste so much sweeter served on their expansive rooftop oasis. Make a reservation to secure a spot under one of the massive umbrellas that shade the streetside terrace, or angle for a perch on the patio under the stars—they’re open from noon until “late,” seven days a week.

For the secret garden
Baro, 485 King St. W.
Bedecked with foliage and rattan lanterns, the breezy covered rooftop patio of King West’s slick Peruvian joint is a blissful urban hideaway. It’s available for private events, but the rest of the time anyone can show up to partake in one of the unexpectedly potent fruity cocktails.

For the backyard vibe
Madame Boeuf, 252 Dupont St.
The madcap energy at Anthony Rose’s ramshackle barbecue joint is more subdued than in previous years (no bocce, alas), but the kitchen is still slinging ace burgers, dogs and fries. Order online before or when you arrive, then grab a seat, wait for the text letting you know your food is ready, and dig in with gusto.