Small town in the middle of The Big Smoke
Keith Carman – Metro Toronto
“We totally stumbled into this area but it kept us here because we love it so much,” beams graphic designer/Annex resident Dee Loft. “The streets are gorgeous, the architecture is beautiful, there are students everywhere … it’s just a great vibe.”
Sometimes the most enduring, meaningful relationships are those we come across unexpectedly, as Loft’s experience with the Annex asserts. Initially moving into the area out of convenience — three subway stops and vicinity to school — she and her husband have called the community home for seven years.
One of Toronto’s most diverse yet laid-back neighbourhoods, the Annex prides itself on a wealth of established trades operating in century buildings, creating a virtual smalltown aura in the confines of The Big Smoke. Proponents for independence, the Lofts frequent the district’s ample small businesses, mourning those that have been taken over by chains.
“The area has always had a casual feel to it that I hope it can keep thanks to some of the Mom ‘n’ Pop stores. There was an air around some places that they were grungy but good and that’s lost to the higher-end shops/restaurants replacing them,” she says.
Boasting a variety of commerce and entertainment, the Annex is a melting pot for everyone from students to seniors.
A young professional herself, Loft points out some of her haunts, including Lee’s Palace as her preferred live music venue, while shopping for records at Sonic Boom reveals both a huge selection and a friendly, knowledgeable staff.
“Not only that but with the great selection of vinyl and shows they have in the basement, it’s great,” Loft smiles, noting that her favourite shopping memory actually involves getting lost in the labyrinthine Honest Ed’s bargain shop. “I had to call my mother who was like, ‘Good luck with that,’” she laughs.
With everything from inexpensive bites to fine dining, Loft notes that the Annex serves a variety of palates.
Pointing out the dichotomous, she mentions Sarah’s Falafel as the quick counterpart to recently-founded Hey Lucy’s more luxurious experience. Still, the couple finds Acme Burger’s decadence and prices most alluring.
For drinks, Loft notes that despite being tucked away in a back alley The Green Room is a enjoyably off-the-beaten-path bar/eatery. Still, despite its array of diversions and focus on local support, to Loft, the Annex’s single most endearing aspect is its greenery.
“There are parks and schools everywhere with huge, hundred-year-old maple trees. You’ve also got U of T here, which brings in students and musicians, particularly at the corner of Bloor and Spadina where they play. But my favourite spot is this little side-street community garden (on Madison Avenue just north of Bloor). I stop there on my way home from work every day. It’s so gorgeous because the canopies block out everything. When I’m there, I totally forget that I live in a big city sometimes.”