One of the fastest-growing cities in North America is transforming itself into a genuinely hot destination.
David Cicconi
| Credit: David Cicconi

Toronto the good is no longer Toronto the boring. One of the fastest-growing cities in North America is transforming itself into a genuinely hot destination, by throwing off some of its British colonial reserve, extending its bar hours, and playing host to several annual International Arts Festivals—from photography to film to caribana. Toss in a weak Canadian dollar (and an empty suitcase for shopping) and Toronto might even be—dare we say it—fun, eh?

The Four Seasons Hotel (21 Avenue Rd.; 800/819-5053 or 416/964-0411, fax 416/963-6902; doubles from $285), prized for its world-class service, has had a lock on visiting celebrities, heads of state, and power brokers for almost 25 years. The luxury chain (which is headquartered in Toronto) has begun a $5.6 million renovation on this 380-room property. Despite the construction, the fine dining continues at the hotel's Truffles restaurant and Studio Café (home to the city's power brunches).

With butlers for all 28 suites, the Windsor Arms (18 St. Thomas St.; 877/999-2767 or 416/971-9666, fax 416/921-9121; doubles from $195) draws the famous — Elton John, Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas — who come for its elegant exclusivity. Other stars flock to Club 22, the hotel's chic lounge: Brooke Shields cut a rug at her birthday party there.

The Park Hyatt (4 Avenue Rd.; 888/591-1234 or 416/924-5471, fax 416/924-4933; doubles from $165), host hotel to the Toronto International Film Festival for the past three years, has the city's largest standard rooms (Jennifer Lopez recently took a suite). Its Stillwater Spa — an Egyptian-styled pool room for aquamassages, where private cabanas have flat-screen TV's to watch while your nails dry — is alone worth the stay.

The Metropolitan Hotel (108 Chestnut St.; 800/668-6600 or 416/977-5000, fax 416/597-6351; doubles from $110) is Chinatown's (and Hollywood's) best-kept secret. Favored by Disney execs, it's home to the sublime Lai Wah Heen restaurant.

The grande dame Fairmont Royal York (100 Front St. W.; 800/441-1414 or 416/368-2511, fax 416/368-9040; doubles from $145) is the choice of Andrea Bocelli and 'N Sync when they play the Air Canada Centre or the SkyDome.

At Susur (601 King St. W.; 416/603-2205; dinner for two $150), local legend Susur Lee puts his own twist on the tasting menu: he serves the courses in reverse order, from rich entrées to light appetizers.

On the 54th floor of one of the tallest buildings in the financial district, Canoe (Toronto Dominion Bank Tower, 66 Wellington St. W.; 416/364-0054; dinner for two $205) dishes up Maritime lobster and foie gras from Quebec. Bay Streeters — Toronto's masters of the universe — crowd the wood-paneled bar overlooking Lake Ontario.

Everyone wants in on the buzz at little Teatro (505 College St.; 416/972-1475; dinner for two $65), whose tables are so close together you can practically steal from your sexy neighbor's plate.

After a day of shopping and gallery-browsing along Queen Street West, stop for a pizza at the Italian-chic Terroni (720 Queen St. W.; 416/504-0320; dinner for two $50). Or visit its hot new uptown location (1 Balmoral Ave.; 416/925-4020), where lines are out the door.

Corbò Boutique (131 Bloor St. W.; 416/928-0954) started as a shoe store and is still the most savvy edit in the city (Ann Demeulemeester, Miu Miu, Michel Perry).

Sartorially discerning men such as Denzel Washington and Eric McCormack head to Harry Rosen (82 Bloor St. W.; 416/972-0556).

i-cii (99 Yorkville Ave.; 416/925-3380) attracts fans of the avant-garde (Commes des Garçons, Martin Margiela) to its gallery-like concrete space.

The two hippest boutiques of nearby Hazelton Lanes, TNT Woman and TNT Man (87 Avenue Rd.; 416/975-1810; 416/975-1960), have expanded their Paris-meets-L.A. selections (Joseph, Paul & Joe, Seven Jeans). Across from the Lanes, Marlowe (38 Avenue Rd.; 416/928-3110) offers discreetly elegant Italian suits and wisps of cashmere.

Kate Hudson and rocker husband Chris Robinson are just two of the celebs who've recently jammed into the white-hot Rain (19 Mercer St.; 416/599-7246). The dramatic industrial space, a former women's prison, has 10-foot waterfalls and a seventies-style chandelier.

Knock back a few litchi martinis and catch the latest foreign flicks at the see-and-be-seen Kubo (155 Dalhousie St.; 416/366-5826).

Amber (119 Yorkville Ave.; 416/926-9037) is the favorite late-night, low-key hang of the city's fashion swells.

At the plush Hotel (77 Peter St.; 416/345-8585), a swank boîte, you might spot a quasi-famous face — such as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

Bars, clubs, and alfresco dining along College Street make Little Italy a street party of European café culture. Bar Italia (582 College St.; 416/535-3621) is an unpretentious classic for a glass of wine and a panino cubano. Sotto Voce Wine & Pasta Bar (595 College St.; 416/536-4564) has a prime corner patio for the sipping-and-scoping crowd. Cozy up at a table for two with a couple of whiskey sours at Souz Dal (636 College St.; 416/537-1883), the darkest bar on the block, with the longest cocktail menu.

Pulling in A-listers for 10 days of parties, premieres, and more than 300 films, the Toronto International Film Festival (early September; 416/968-3456) deserves its hot reputation; American Beauty and Boys Don't Cry debuted here. The rest of the year, Toronto is in the movies, masquerading as Boston (Good Will Hunting), New York (Finding Forrester), and other cities. Filming is big business here — 65 percent of the shoots are American features, movies of the week, and TV series. Best places for star-spotting: Joso's (202 Davenport Rd.; 416/925-1903; dinner for two $82), where Elizabeth Hurley couldn't get enough of the Adriatic menu; the always-packed Sotto Sotto (116A Avenue Rd.; 416/962-0011; dinner for two $62); and Bistro 990 (990 Bay St.; 416/921-9990; dinner for two $60), across the street from the Sutton Place Hotel (955 Bay St.; 800/268-3790 or 416/924-9221, fax 416/324-5656; doubles from $164), a favorite of many in-town celebrities.