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A guide to the arts, bars, cafés, and festivals of Toronto

Where to find good coffee, cheap drinks, and live shows across campus

A guide to the arts, bars, cafés, and festivals of Toronto

The opportunity cost of “staying in” — watching Netflix, studying, sobbing — is higher in Toronto than any other city in Canada. From great bars to quiet cafés and leafy parks, there are tons of fun, cheeky opportunities hiding mere blocks from your pillow.

Even though the city is hot, big, and overwhelming, the best thing you can do is surrender to it, lean into its swaying, sweaty crowds, and follow the wave. 

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)  

Thanks to a new initiative by the AGO, one of Canada’s best art galleries is now free for under-25s. Head in for an hour or two and poke around the huge collection of Canadian and international art, including the absurdly expensive “The Massacre of the Innocents.  The piece was sold in 2002 for 109.2 million USD, adjusted to inflation, and then donated to the gallery. 

The Royal Ontario Museum 

A huge, informative museum that you should visit at least once. It’s right next to Victoria College and it’s free on the third Monday of every month from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, and every Tuesday with a valid postsecondary ID. 

Nuit Blanche 

Nuit Blanche is a city-wide art festival that usually takes place around early October. There are some really cool exhibits to look at and take part in, unfortunately, the evening is often hijacked by brandy-sipping high-schoolers. With that in mind, plan out what you want to see beforehand, stay the hell away from Dundas Square — Toronto’s gritty, glitzy Times Square — and you should be fine. 

Jimmy’s Coffee 

Jimmy’s has a few locations across Toronto, but the best one is on McCaul Street, right on the university’s periphery. The drinks are cheap — around $2 for good, strong coffee — and it’s a great spot to study or bring a date. 

Boxcar Social 

A chill, hipstery outpost in uptown. Based next to the Summerhill subway stop, this cafe has a chic upstairs study space fitted with outlets, decent Wi-Fi, and great coffee. The pizza place next door is great too. 


If you need a break from campus, take the Spadina streetcar down to King, hop off, and dive into this clean, pricey slice of Silicon Valley. Quantum’s coffee is fantastic and it’s the best study café in Toronto, hands-down. Get there early to beat the New Balance-wearing ‘influencers’ who slip in around noon. 

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 

TIFF is taking place September 5–15, so you’ll be walking right into it. Lucky for you, TIFF is an amazing time, with the big, busy streets downtown blocked off for pedestrians, film screenings galore ­— some of them quite cheap — and celebrities descending on the city. Last year, Lady Gaga, Michael Moore, and Nicole Kidman showed up, with dozens more making cameos. 


This bar is infamous on campus. It sells some of the cheapest pitchers of beer in the city and some decent bar food too. There are always fellow Varsity Blues — usually pale, tired engineers from the nearby Bahen building — lurking around, and the staff is no-nonsense, efficient, and accommodating. 

Sneaky Dee’s 

A College Street staple serving up Toronto’s best nachos. Get the most expensive option and split it between five-plus people. Sneaky’s is also just a great place to meet up with friends, or to use as an outpost to start a Long Trek West. 

St. Lawrence Market

This market is near the lake, and serves as a gateway into the up-and-coming Distillery District. Try the famous peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery and grab some fresh fruit and veggies at the produce stalls. 

Kensington Market 

Kensington is Toronto’s most unique, dizzying neighbourhood. A carousel of art, people, fashion, and food, Kensington has been around for ages and its atmosphere is like no other. If you’re looking for a place to grab a drink, Cold Tea is lowkey and fun. Mare Pizzeria is the best — and cheapest — pizza in the area, and the market’s thrift shops are good and cheap.

Horseshoe Tavern

A legendary music venue, The Rolling Stones, The Tragically Hip, and The Police have all graced the Tavern’s stage, with live shows still raging every week. The area around the venue is great too, with places like Little Nicky’s, Alo, and The Black Bull, forming a fun and diverse ring around the Tavern. 

Trinity Bellwoods 

Bellwoods is fun in September, October, and April, and is popular with pretty much everyone. The cherry blossoms are one of the park’s biggest attractions, as are the baseball diamonds and soccer pitches. Keep an eye out for the volatile, swaying day-drinkers though.

One of the most underrated things you can do here is grab a book from Robarts and hit Bellwoods early. Reading some André Alexis under a big, old tree at Bellwoods was one of the highlights of my Frosh Week — and made me look super smart. 

50 years of A Space Odyssey

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

50 years of <i>A Space Odyssey</i>

Fifty years ago, the landmark science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey (A Space Odyssey) dazzled audiences worldwide.

The film was a collaboration between director Stanley Kubrick and science fiction writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke, who had set out to create the first ‘serious’ science fiction film. Up until that point, science fiction had not been considered a legitimate genre.

Over the course of the year, the film community has been celebrating A Space Odyssey’s 50th anniversary, including the premiere of a special 70mm original print of the film at the Cannes Film Festival.

According to the festival’s press release, “For the first time since the original release, this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. The original version will be presented to recreate the cinematic event audiences experienced 50 years ago.”

Recently, this particular print travelled through North America; I viewed it on June 9 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. I have always been of the opinion that the true way to view a film is on the big screen how the filmmaker originally intended.

True to A Space Odyssey’s quality, the best way to enjoy the film is to see it exactly how it was delivered in 1968. Everything in the film was louder, clearer, and sharper. HAL’s ‘eye’ is all the more frightening, and the Star Gate sequence is an auditory and visual ride.

With a screenplay co-written by Clarke and Kubrick and based on Clarke’s novel of the same name,  the film is a grand, sweeping piece of cinema that stretches from the dawn of mankind to first contact with extraterrestrial life.

Stanley Kubrick was a prolific filmmaker and known as a genius in the art of movie-making. During the development of his films he would completely immerse himself in the subject, with the aim of learning as much as possible, so the film would feel completely authentic.

A Space Odyssey was no different; he and Clarke would have long discussions on science, space, and physics, and solicited feedback from luminaries such as Carl Sagan. Kubrick had a ferocious, almost insatiable, thirst for knowledge that is evident in every frame of his films.

Kubrick and Clarke have created a film that still resonates with audiences today. It is a film so utterly mysterious and brilliant that critics and fans continue to discuss what it all means. To this day, A Space Odyssey is considered one of the finest films in the science fiction genre ever made.

The film’s sets were impeccably created, with the giant centrifuge spaceship where the crew lived as the showpiece. Kubrick’s team created a Ferris wheel-like design to simulate gravity in the scene where one of the astronauts jogs around the ship. A Space Odyssey is filled with other innovative design elements like the climatic final sequence through the Star Gate and the heavy emphasis on realism for a science fiction film.

A Space Odyssey is a visual masterpiece and an example of how well practical effects and creative ingenuity can work together to achieve a singular vision. It is a testament to the film’s quality and allure that, despite being 50 years old, it could pass for a 2018 release.

With the 50th anniversary of the film, it’s a good time to go back and re-watch a classic or see it for the first time. To enhance your enjoyment of the film, I recommend reading Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson. It chronicles the before, production, and after of the film, with brilliant tidbits and details about Kubrick and Clarke’s process of bringing the film to print.

2001: A Space Odyssey’s release was a true turning point for science fiction films. The film changed the way audiences perceive the science fiction genre and its artistic quality.

The film’s stature has risen since its initial release 50 years ago and I predict that it will continue to charm audiences 50 years from now.

Why TIFF matters

At their core, film festivals are a platform for small, independent film makers

Why TIFF matters

There are approximately 3,000 film festivals every year, with the most renowned being the Sundance, Cannes, Berlinale, Hong Kong International Film Festivals, and of course, our very own Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Every September, the City of Toronto hosts a 10-day event — with a plethora of actors, directors, and writers coming to the festival to discuss their art. Alongside the other international festivals, TIFF provides a platform for the films that do not fulfil the formulaic patterns of American studios like Hollywood.

Over the last 10 years, the cost of producing and promoting films has skyrocketed — meaning that independent creators are reliant on film festivals to exhibit and promote their work.

Film festivals enable artists to share their art without the monetary constraints. However, it is ironic that festivals, by upholding their curatorial responsibilities toward arts and culture, have evolved into a multi-million-dollar industry.

The relationship between large film companies and film festivals is often finely balanced between complementary and uneasy. This is because the lifeline of the festivals is the celebrities who star in the films. The celebrities attract media coverage, which in turn results in sponsors and funding.

This means that the already unstable relationship between art and business — which defines the whole film industry — is particularly strained at film festivals.

Unlike blockbusters — where their success is controlled by funding and release strategies — indie films are largely dependent on the reactions of festival directors, the response of the audience, and how much sleep critics can grab in between the midnight and 8:00 am screenings.

Living in Toronto, we have the privilege of an international film festival right on our doorstep. The festival even occurs before the semester is in full swing, so we truly have an abundance of time to amble along King Street West and enjoy the culture that is the driving force behind one of the world’s leading film festivals.

TIFF film review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Grolsch People’s Choice Award winner is a blisteringly hostile, cynical delight

TIFF film review: <i>Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri</i>

This year’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award winner stands out from previous winners of the coveted TIFF award, which include La La Land, 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech, and Slumdog Millionaire. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is possibly the most cynical and blisteringly hostile movie to win the award in years, and TIFF is all the better for it.

At the helm of this train of bitterness is Frances McDormand, who rampages through the film — and the small town inhabited by her character — in a fashion reminiscent of Michael Douglas’ adventures in Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down. Don’t be surprised when Oscar buzz starts surrounding McDormand, because her performance here might be her best since 1996’s Fargo. Here, McDormand’s archetype of Midwestern niceness is channeled into the embittered Mildred Hayes, whose daughter has been raped and murdered in her small Missouri town.

After months without news on the culprit from the police department, Mildred rents three billboards on a less-travelled road near the town and uses them to directly call out the police for their lack of results.

Director Martin McDonagh’s previous films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, were great, at least in part because they were about horrible people caught in situations of their own horrible making. Yet here, in what may be his best film yet, McDonagh manages to pull off an altogether trickier task: making his characters not just funny or mean but thoroughly unpalatable through the questions they and the audience are forced to answer.

In doing so, McDonagh masterfully applies shades of grey to seemingly every level of this film. What happens to our anger when we realize that the police might have already done all they could? What happens to our sympathy for Mildred when she reveals herself to be a deeply problematic, impulsive, and violent person — much like the people from whom she wants to protect her children?

Credit must also go to the rest of the cast. Aside from an incredible turn from McDormand, Sam Rockwell stands out too, funnelling his genial and oddball image into the role of a friendly small-town cop who is racist, sexist, xenophobic, and frighteningly familiar.

A viewer will recognize a union of great writing and acting when it’s a struggle to distinguish a singular standout performance. Woody Harrelson is surprisingly sensitive, John Hawkes is heart-stoppingly menacing, and both Lucas Hedges and Peter Dinklage exhibit remarkable range.

Thanks to McDonagh’s writing and other factors including Carter Burwell’s beautiful and thoroughly southern score, this is a world that feels incredibly lived-in. McDonagh’s theatre sensibilities shine through as he crafts a small town that feels as intimate as any stage. The characters are noticeably emotive, emphasizing soft sighs, awkward glances, and choking back tears. Mildred’s anguish is visible in her every line and expression.

In some ways, this movie is not without contradiction. It will make you sympathize with a racist, and it might even make you hate its protagonist. More than anything, it’s full of lively and engaging characters that the viewer will come to realize are simply tired of what life has thrown at them — whether it be death, sadness, boredom, or anything in between.

A lesser movie might simply explain that life is unfair and that forgiveness is all we have. McDonagh knows this and wisely shows people as being full of dimension and far from the platonic ideal of tolerance as their anger, bitterness, and passion bubble to the surface.

By leaning into the mess and embracing the flaws of all its characters, the movie becomes a richly complex and memorable — not to mention hilarious — work of art.

A guide to stargazing at TIFF

The hotels, restaurants, and boutiques where you're likely to spot celebrities

A guide to stargazing at TIFF

TIFF 2017 is in full swing. The festival, having opened last Thursday, includes a number of red carpet premieres, including directorial debuts by Brie Larson, Andy Serkis, Aaron Sorkin, and more, not to mention Oscar bait in the form of films such as the dreamy Call Me By Your Name and the Boston Marathon biopic Stronger.

For the diehards

In the past, some fans have gathered for stakeouts at Toronto’s airports, waiting for particular stars. A frazzled — but still handsome — Armie Hammer was spotted at Pearson on Friday, along with Charlie Hunnam. However, some celebs will go out of their way to avoid airport crowds, arriving on chartered planes and having border agents process them privately.

Most celebs will be staying in swanky hotels in the downtown core that will likely be on high alert for unwanted guests. However, some have bars and restaurants that are open to the public, like the Shangri-La’s BOSK, the Ritz-Carlton’s DEQ Terrace Lounge, or dbar at the Four Seasons. Stars like Jennifer Lawrence have previously been spotted at Soho House Toronto, which is members-only and has rules against cellphones and photography.

The festival’s red carpet premieres will also likely make use of the holding pens that have been set up on King Street West and throughout the city’s Entertainment District. Don’t expect to show up right before a premiere and be able to catch a glimpse of the limo exits, though — many fans will have been lining up since the crack of dawn.

For the foodies

Think of celebrities as tourists, albeit tourists with expensive tastes and the money to match. If you were visiting the city and had money to burn, you would likely want to visit the most upscale and exciting places Toronto has to offer.

Several cast parties are expected to take place at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, namely those for Downsizing, which stars Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Alec Baldwin, and Neil Patrick Harris; Battle of the Sexes, which stars Steve Carell and Emma Stone; and Disobedience, which stars Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz.

Fring’s, the King Street West eatery associated with Drake, is likely to be a hot destination for the duration of the festival, along with Cibo Wine Bar and Brassaii, where Jessica Chastain celebrated her birthday last year during the festival. Located right behind the TIFF Bell Lightbox, director Ivan Reitman’s restaurant Montecito is also a prime destination for celebrities.

For the fashion plates

Holt Renfrew’s Yorkville location is known for hosting VIP TIFF events and for being one of the go-to locations for red carpet fashion. Keep in mind that a stakeout here is risky, as it’s more likely you’ll see a designated personal shopper than an actual celebrity.

A guide to TIFF 2017

Our handpicked list of some of this year's biggest premieres

A guide to TIFF 2017

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of Toronto’s biggest attractions and one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people converge to attend hundreds of screenings at venues scattered across the city, often in Toronto’s Entertainment District.

Part of the reason TIFF has become such a noteworthy festival is because its fall timing runs close enough to awards season for the films to generate buzz. TIFF’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award has become an early predictor of awards season success, with past recipients including The Imitation Game, Room, and La La Land. In the nearly 43 years since TIFF’s founding, numerous Grolsch award winners have gone on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, the most recent one being 12 Years a Slave.

The scale of the festival is enormous: last year’s event featured 397 films from 83 different countries. TIFF’s programmers received 6,933 total submissions for consideration, 1,240 of which were Canadian.

Buying tickets

Individual tickets go on sale to the public on September 4 at 10:00 am. Prices range depending on whether your chosen film is on a weekend or weekday, or in the evening as opposed to a matinee. The lowest-priced tickets are $10 for those under 25 attending a weekday daytime screening, but prices may increase from the base fare due to demand for a certain film. Should you plan to severely neglect your studies, there may be package deals available.

Attending a screening

The importance of arriving early cannot be overstated. As stated on the TIFF website: “15 minutes early is on time. 5 minutes early is late.” The festival organizers recommend arriving an hour early. Except for Roy Thompson Hall and the Princess of Wales Theatre, the venues will not have assigned seating, so the lineups are the only way to pick your preferred seat. Above all, be prepared. Bring sunscreen, an umbrella — whatever you need to wait in line comfortably. Keep checking or the TIFF app to keep on top of the screening schedule. And of course, don’t forget your ticket!

The main events

Here are some of the biggest films set for screenings at TIFF, many of which are making their international or North American premieres. If stargazing is your thing, these are sure to be some of the splashiest red carpet events.

Untouchable, directed by Neil Burger (US)

This Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart flick is a remake of the French film The Intouchables, about a wealthy quadriplegic man and the unemployed former criminal who’s hired to assist him. It features Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies, and Aja Naomi King.

Breathe, directed by Andy Serkis (UK)

You might know Andy Serkis best as Gollum, King Kong, or Caesar, but here he makes his directorial debut with the world premiere of Breathe. The film, a biographical drama, will feature Andrew Garfield as a man who develops polio and becomes an advocate for the disabled against all odds along with his loving wife, played by Claire Foy.

The Catcher Was a Spy, directed by Ben Lewin (USA)

Paul Rudd plays Moe Berg, a professional baseball player who becomes a professional spy working for the Office of Strategic Services — the CIA before it was the CIA — during World War II. The film is based on Nicholas Dawidoff’s bestselling biography of the same name.

Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig (US)

Greta Gerwig, the star of films like Frances Ha and 20th Century Women, makes her solo directorial debut. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, and Tracy Letts, with Ronan playing a Sacramento teenager longing to escape to college in New York City.

Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino (Italy/France)

Adapted from André Aciman’s acclaimed novel of the same name, Guadagino’s coming-of-age film has already received rave reviews after premiering at Sundance earlier this year. The film, set in Italy in 1983, follows a young boy, played by Timothée Chalamet, who falls in love, or perhaps just lust, with his father’s older summer grad student, played by Armie Hammer.

Battle of the Sexes, directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (US)

Steve Carrell and Emma Stone reunite in this sports comedy-drama based on the iconic 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not to spoil this one.

First They Killed My Father, directed by Angelina Jolie (Cambodia)

Jolie cowrote this film with Loung Ung. It is based on Ung’s memoir of her childhood, which was spent under Pol Pot’s regime during the Khmer Rouge years. The film will be released on Netflix in late 2016 in both English and Khmer.

mother!, directed by Darren Aronosfky (US)

Aronofsky’s latest psychological thriller features a star-studded cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The film centres on a couple that is threatened by uninvited guests entering their home, and it will make its North American debut at TIFF after premiering at the Venice Film Festival.

Brain on Fire fails to bring the heat

Gerard Barrett’s film aims to bring awareness to rare disease

<em>Brain on Fire</em> fails to bring the heat

Critics everywhere are rolling their eyes at Brain on Fire: a medical thriller based on a true story. It follows Susannah (Chloë Grace Moretz), a reporter that is repeatedly misdiagnosed as she becomes increasingly ill.

The movie’s major criticisms are as follows: inadequate development of a main character; the medical procedures shown are done in cliché; the ‘cure’ in the movie is unrealistic, discovered by a ‘genius doctor’ — a medical Ex Machina.

But Brain on Fire was never meant to be a hard-hitting film, nor had it intended on revolutionizing script and plot elements. As director Gerard Barrett admits, “There were sacrifices that I had to make, to make sure that [the disease] was understandable. And that was important to me.”

In the film, Susannah, a young and ambitious journalist, has anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare auto-immune disease where the body attacks the brain causing partial inflammation and resulting in symptoms of psychosis. The disease was discovered as recently as 2006, and is not widely discussed in medical curricula around the world, making it a unique plot point for the movie.

Filming and pre-production took about three weeks in total — a small amount of time compared to most of Hollywood’s giant blockbusters. Instead of focusing on possible stylistic choices and narrative, Barrett kept things simple. He didn’t want the plot to be complicated, nor did he want to distract the audience’s attention from anything but the disease. Barrett said he wanted the audience to “just watch it, take it in, and use it in real life.”

At the same time, though, Barrett spread himself too thin. Had Barrett struck a balance between truth and artistic vision, perhaps the film would have been better received. As noble as it seems to want to use film as a platform to raise awareness, in doing so, Barrett neglected to engage in truly creative filmmaking.

Blair Witch drops the ball

The new installment pales in comparison to the original

<em>Blair Witch</em> drops the ball

As a recent fan of the original Blair Witch Project (1999), I walked into the remake with excitement and optimism — especially given the rave reviews it has received from horror film review sites. Perhaps it was partly due to this elevated expectation, but Blair Witch (2016) really did not live up to the hype.

Director Adam Wingard kept viewers on the edge of their seat with jump-scares every 10 minutes. Tension was emphasized by a soundtrack resembling the MGM lion roar and someone repeatedly dropping a bowling ball on the floor above.

While there were moments of hilarious genre self-reflexivity, Blair Witch went nowhere new, and certainly does not stay with the audience. The story is much the same as the original except this time it is Heather’s (Heather Donahue) brother, James (James Allen McCune), who is heading into the woods. He believes he has found evidence that his sister is still alive in the woods, and takes three friends, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Peter (Brandon Scott), with him to try to find her. The two locals, who were supposed to be their guides, end up tagging along for the trip too.

In this case, more is not better. Retelling the ‘lost in the woods’ story with double the cast and better film equipment gave way for a faster-paced movie. The film was rushed and lacked restraint, which was the best part about the original. The addition of the new camera angles and highly exaggerated soundtrack only exacerbated this flaw even further. Instead of a slow build-up, the film rams into high gear almost as soon as they enter the woods, and the jump scares continue right to the end with almost no variation.

There are a few gems in the film, such as the meta-humour in the scene where, after yet another person pops on to the screen accompanied by an inexplicably loud sound effect, Lisa, exasperated, exclaims: “Everyone stop doing that!” There are also some fairly inventive horror moments, such as the events surrounding Ashley’s foot wound — which simultaneously invokes body horror cinema and camp — and the claustrophobic shots of Lisa trying to escape the house through a very tight underground tunnel.

These moments, however, do not make up for the incessant and cheap jump-scares that comprise the bulk of the film. The story is almost an exact retelling of the original, but with none of the elegance.