Hangout Handbook Toronto from East to West

Hangout Handbook Toronto from East to West
Photo: Zahra Siddiqui
In our annual Hangout Handbook, Exclaim! asks some of our favourite artists to discuss an ideal day in their hometown. Here, Tanika Charles takes us on a trip across Toronto.

One of my favourite spots to eat breakfast/brunch is The Hothouse Restaurant and Bar (33 Church St.). From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday, you can enjoy some of the best in brunch cuisine and enjoy a little live jazz as well. I'm usually stuffing my face with the amazing, caramelized pecan French toast and washing it down with a Pimms cup so I rarely hear what's playing in the background. I'm sure the band is lovely.

After brunch, we head to St. Lawrence Market (93 Front St. E.), since we're in the area. A huge indoor market with fresh fruit, meat, cheese stands and trinkets galore! Bustling but not too busy, great service from the vendors and who doesn't love shopping for unique items! Vintage clothing, shoes, even furniture.

We trek to the Scarborough Bluffs, home to the Guild Inn aka Guildwood Park (201 Guildwood Parkway). On my very first real tour of Toronto, I was introduced to a few places; the other places were neat, but this historic and scenic park stood out the most. Beautiful sculptures and remnants of Toronto's old downtown buildings that have since been demolished. Great walking and biking trails and a breathtaking view of Lake Ontario.

Since we're in a bit of a hiking mood (gotta work off brunch, y'know) we head to another little unknown area in the city, Glen Stewart Ravine. This area in summer is simply stunning. Winter too! The greenest of green trees and grass, a babbling pond and all the lovely sounds of birds singing and creature rustling in the leaves. Every time I walk through it, I'm always in awe of how serene it is and so close to my home. Definitely a little getaway.

With brunch digested and feet a bit sore, let's head to Hogtown Smoke (1959 Queen St. E.). I think we need to eat a big lunch because we'll be dancing it off later! This spot is a carnivore's dream. I'd encourage my friends to try the Signature Smoked Brisket with the Cornbread and Root Beer Baked Beans. Throw some Blueberry BBQ sauce on that bad boy... whooooweee... I'm drooling, right now. So good.

Being a musician, I'm always looking for really great deals on clothing. There isn't a particular area in the city that I prefer shopping in, but there are stores that I frequent. If there happens to be a deal, even better. Cabaret was a hot spot! Known to outfit some major stars, Tao and the Cabaret team always made sure I had the best dress for my event, and the service was out of this world. It has since closed down but they still have the goods online. 

Original (515 Queen St. W.) is another spot that, until recently, I'd never set foot in. This shop is WILD! Think Alice in Wonderland. The most outrageous dresses and shoes you can think of. Stunning, of course. The owner was a stylist and also the funniest guy with a treasure trunk of stories. A ten-minute visit can easily turn into an hour. Fun! Heading further west, you'll come across another amazing vintage store, 69 Vintage (921 Queen St. W.). I've yet to leave that spot empty handed. It's also close to Trinity Bellwoods. A park located right downtown, it's a pretty great spot to meet up with friends, enjoy a picnic or just bask in the sun. A little bit of green in a concrete setting.

Before we head out for the evening, we should relax and rest up. Ideally, my perfect day would start out with a kickboxing class and yoga. but with all the walking we've done, I'd consider that exercise and we deserve a treat! Head to Body Blitz (471 Adelaide St. W.; 497 King St. E.), a women-only spa, and float. Also known as sensory deprivation or R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy), it involves lying in a salt water solution in a pitch black tank. It is one of the most effective means of stress relief and relaxation available. For 60 glorious minutes, you float in total darkness (a little scary at first) and you completely relax in peaceful silence.

One of the best nights that I've had in Toronto happened when I was introduced to The Big Sound: a bi-monthly Motown night held at The Great Hall (1087 Queen St. W.), featuring a 25-piece band performing the hits of the era for your dancing pleasure! It's always sold out and all of the classics sung by local talent, including Gary Beals, Maylee Todd, Wade Brown and *ahem* myself! Definitely an event not to be missed.

Let's finish off the evening with a few drinks at 416 Snack Bar. Great music, drinks and food. If you're lucky, you can catch my favourite band, Re.verse playing live instrumental hip-hop/neo-soul here. Since 416 Snack Bar is located on the West End, a long boozy trip on the Queen streetcar back to the East End (my hood) is the best way to end the day!

Tanika Charles independently released her latest album, Soul Run, in the spring.