Oh, the Drake. The oh-so-hip Drake. With its overpriced cocktails and soggy patio cushions. With its pseudo-celebrity clientele and its hooker-ridden history. (That's right, people. Ten years ago the Drake wasn't the swank place it is today. It was a run-down dive filled with hookers and drug users. Now, it's not so different, just supposedly legit.)

But I'm not here to talk about the Drake, I'm here to talk about the Drake Hotel General Store.

Located just a bit east of the hotel and bar itself, The Drake General Store is a tiny place, and it's not overstuffed. Actually it resembled a small local vintage shop more than it does a major biz (which, I suppose it is, in a way).

They stock adorable, kitschy housewares and gifts, and a few small vintage treasures. Stuff in Pendleton's Glacier Park print, which resembles the Bay's signature stripes, great little things like bird-head juicers (which I blogged about on the Chic page awhile back when I first saw them.)  And while the stock is a little dusty and unassuming, it's definitely not cheap. Mid-range to high-end prices abound.
Everything beautifully curated, and I love the merchandising and displays (if you like rustic interiors with urban edge, it's an inspiring place to visit,) but still, I'm not sure about it.

I often think about buying something at the DGS, but I rarely do. It's not that I don't like the it, as I said, I do, but my biggest beef with the shop is that it makes me feel uneasy. It's so small and so quiet, and whenever I'm in there, it's empty except for a cheerfully hip shop girl who ignores me (which I like) as I poke around. It's the sort of place that is so close and familiar, I feel guilty just touching things on the shelves, and I feel like I should apologise when I want to leave without buying anything.

Maybe the place just isn't for browsers like me. Maybe you have to go in with more purpose.

As far as reviews go, this is not so informing, I know. Nonetheless...

The Drake General Store
1150 Queen St W
Toronto, ON M6J1J3
(416) 531-5042

* Photos of the Queen St. store from the DGS website.
When my local LCBO store redesigned its interior a few weeks ago, I was pleased. The previous space, located on the ground floor of the St. Clair/Bathurst Loblaws was always horribly cramped and crowded. (Hey, it caters to the residents of Forest Hill and we all know how much the rich like to drink.)

A few small changes and a little more space would make all the difference. Or so I thought.

The truth is this: while the store is now somewhat less cramped than it was, and while it's definitely more organized, it's a really disappointing store. In addition to having very little in the way of good wine, and a bare bones stock of hard liquor, members of the staff are terribly rude. One middle aged woman, in partular, is so abrasive, I've wanted to walk out without my purchase numerous times, just to spite her. She also insists on carding me every time I'm in there (which I've been regularly for the past several years) even though she knows me, knows I'm more than a decade past being underage, and despite the fact that I'm often overloaded with groceries. She seems to take pleasure in making me struggle and fumble for my ID while I juggle my bags. Once, she actually laughed.

A liquor store is a basic thing. As long as you can get your booze, you really can't complain about much, but this store is lame. Will I stop shopping there? No. It's the closest booze-broker I've got, and a girl needs her social lubricant. Sometimes, no matter what it costs.

LCBO Store # 2
St. Clair & Bathurst Loblaws (Forest Hill)
296 st. Clair Ave W
Toronto, ON M4P 3N3
(416) 653-0220

Before I begin, I should explain that I'm not really reviewing Anthropologie here. Seems like there's little point. Everyone seems to know the store. It's whole boho-chic aesthetic, no matter how contrived and mass-manufactured, is beloved. Nothing I say about it is going to make much of a difference, so in this post I'm going to limit myself to comparing the currently operating Toronto locations: the Yorkville location and the one at the Shops at Don Mills mall/pavilion.

The Don Mills store is better. It is WAY better. It is objectively, definitely, most-assuredly better. Why? Mostly because it's way bigger, and at Anthropologie, that makes a difference. When your aesthetic is about colour and clutter, you need space to show the excess off to its advantage. The Don Mills store has that. The Yorkville store, on the other hand, is woefully crowded and far less appealing to navigate.

The Don Mills store is the perfect, sprawling space for Anthropologie's massive art pieces (huge birds made out of paper, most recently), and the massive vintage (or faux vintage) cabinets they use to display product.

The staff is nicer up north too. I'm not sure why. Maybe Yorkvillians are just inherently snootier than the rest of the city (and the stores feel like they have to have the staff to match).

Having to go upstairs to see all the merch at the downtown Anthropologie is a pain, and while the staircase is wide and sweeping, there's less stock overall. I like to see the biggest selection possible in any given store, and the downtown location just doesn't have it.

Finally, the Don Mills store has way more clearance products on offer. While the sale sale tables at the downtown location are often picked clean, leaving dregs and broken bits among only few good finds, uptown you'll find plenty of discounted items for sale, and few broken or damaged bits. Best buys from the sale table in my opinion? Quirky accessories and hardware for the home (like drawer pullls). 2 drawer pulls can equal a matching set at a massive discount and stock like this regularly goes on sale to make way for new merchandise but will look relatively timeless in your home.

Anyway, I'm not going to ramble on. My advice is to make the trip uptown if you want to do the Anthropologie thing in Toronto. It's worth it to avoid the disappointment that is downtown.

Anthropologie: Shops at Don Mills
19 Clock Tower Rd
Toronto, ON M3C 0E1
(416) 449-6666

Anthropologie: Downtown
78 Yorkville Ave
Toronto, ON M5R 2C2
(416) 964-9700

* Photos of a few of my favourite products from the Anthropologie website.

Finally got around to trying last year's new hipster foodie hangout in my 'hood: The Stockyards. My partner had already been and while he had good things to say... well, he's a guy. I had to check it out for myself.

I admit: I was satisfied. I ordered a classic burger and fries. The fries were thin-cut and plentiful. They were a teeny bit soggy, but I sort of liked them that way. Greasy and decadent instead of crispy. The burger tasted satisfyingly homemade, and it was nice to eat real, full-fat ground beef instead of those pasty patties you get at most places. I was a little bummed that I couldn't really pick my own condiments, but I admit that the burger was good without any special extras.

The man reports that his pulled pork was delicious and I believe him. (I don't do the sweet meat thing, so I didn't have a bite.) We both admired the plates of fried chicken going by and resolved to try those next time. (Note that it takes a good 15 to 20 minutes if you want friend chicken, though.) And speaking of wait-times, we arrived on a weekday during what I suppose was the lunch rush and had to wait a good 15 minutes just for our basics. That said, considering that you get something freshly made, the short wait is worth it. The best part of the meal besides the burger was our drink: an unusual iced tea infused with ginger. Very refreshing, if a bit overpriced at about $2.50.

Facts worth knowing: this is NOT really a sit down place. They only have counter seating, and few spaces at that. They have weird hours and are closed Mondays. And they don't take reservations. Oh, and they are often sold out of pastrami (in fact, someone was bemoaning that while we were there). The Stockyards powers explain the pastrami problem here.

The staff is lovely -- really friendly and upbeat, and the vibe is nice and rustic-casual. They've done cute things with vintage and salvaged decor, using old barn board instead of cheap baseboards, and barn board on the ceiling as well (creatively slotted in in place of the acoustic tiles that used to be there) and lining one wall with the sorts of mirrors that used to be part of one-piece country dressers. It's all very cute.

It may seem overpriced, but if you're not full when you leave, I'll eat my hat. The bottom line is that this place is good. My only reservation is the fat-content. I felt a bit more guilty with every bite.If you don't mind the assault on your waist line, I say go. Go at least once.

The Stockyards
699 St. Clair Ave W
Toronto, ON
M6C 1B2
(416) 658-9666

* Image from the Stockyards website.

I love my local Sally Anne.

Is it the best thrift store around? No. Does it always yield something wonderful? Certainly not. Is it big? Nope. Do I like it? Yes.

When it comes to Salvation Army, sometimes proximity is what matters most. My local version of this classic charity shop (Toronto Central -- Wychwood) is smallish, relatively dingy, and like most thrifty places located in major city centres, often picked fairly clean of the very best items. You will always (ALWAYS) have better luck thrifting in a small town than you would in the Big Smoke. But nonetheless, I find this Sally Anne to be a fairly solid budget-friendly shopping alternative.

In my opinion, this location is strong in two ways and weak in one:

1. Strong: Furniture
They seem to get in an abundance of dressers, wardrobes and chairs. All could use a bit of spit and polish, but they get more solidly made pieces that old Ikea, which is always a good thing. And of course, like every SA, they sell brand new mattresses, boxsprings and metal frames at good prices.

2. Strong: Tableware
I don't know if it's because the neighbourhood just ins't as interested in entertaining as I am, but this Salvation Army always seems to have a pretty good selection of glasses and dishes of all sorts. I've found some really lovely pressed glass, plenty of milkglass and pyrex, and a variety of pretty mugs and bowls. Every trip yields a different selection, but different pieces are all very well organized by type and colour, which is nice.

3. Weak: Clothes
There are very few dresses, the denim selection is fairly awful, and few shoes are worth a second look. Purses are rarely in good enough condition to consider and there just aren't very many of anything. That said, I think kids' clothes are worth a peek if you have little ones, and I've had a bit of luck with shirt and jackets (stuff that doesn't necessarily have to fit perfectly, you see).

Anyway, shown below is just one furniture find I made at the Wychwood Salvation Army just last week. I didn't buy it, so it may still be available if you're in the neighbourhood.

665 St. Clair Ave W
Toronto ON M6C 1A7
(416) 651-2825
When CocoaLatte opened a few months back, I admit, I was suspicious. The Hillcrest neighbourhood (St. Clair West, really) has been going really yuppie as of late, and I feared that CocoaLatte, with it's robin's egg-ish exterior, would be another expensive addition to what used to be a really adorable and organic hood.

Not so!

The place is lovely. Small and quaint. Family owned, with very friendly staff. Some lovely features of the building have been preserved (like the stained glass store-front window uppers). They have table service, but you go to the counter to pay. The coffee is nice, and the sandwiches solid (if a little small). It's become one of my favourite places to go for breakfast. I like the Early Start, which comes with 2 eggs, toast, and a choice of meat (try the choritzo). Again, the portions are not large by any means, but they're enough and I'm happy to pay a few more dollars for the atmosphere.

The back patio is small, but cosy, done all in wood. Last time I was there, I signed a petition that I hope will allow the joint to keep the patio open because apparently, the neighbourhood is being rezoned and they might not be allowed. I'm crossing my fingers.

What I love most about CocoaLatte is that the family business feeling really shines through. Though it's pretty, it's not pretentious at all. The interior is done up largely in inexpensive IKEA (featuring the finds like the chandelier, chairs and canvas map shown below), and it works. The owners are also clearly trying hard to make a go of things with a website and even a blog (which I'm not sure they've quite got the hang of updating yet). None of it is perfectly done, but the effort is nice to see. And don't mind the typos. At least the place is online.

Things you should know before going: no poached eggs. No way to boil water, apparently.  Egg-white-only options for the calorie conscious are available, but there's an extra charge. The joint is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm (open 8 to 8 Monday to Saturday in these summer months). Pop in one evening for a gelato. The line is sure to be WAY shorter than one at nearby Dutch Dreams, and the experience much nicer.

I love it when a small local business is easy to support. CocoaLatte has everything going for it.

671 St Clair Ave W
North York, ON M6C 1A7
(416) 729-8696 

*First photo from the CocoaLatte website.
Bowling is underrated, it's true. But I don't suggest you take it too seriously. (Erin H. might disagree.)

I personally think the best thing about bowling is that everyone is allowed to suck. I actually think it's preferable to suck. Good bowlers make me nervous. Bowling skills seem to me to be a sign of bad character. I mean, clearly, if you're good at bowling, you've misspent a good portion of your life. Right?

Am I wrong? Am I a snob?

I don't care. I like bowling!

Toronto is not a great place to partake of this activity, alas. There are few places. Bathurst Bowlerama is my favorite, only because it's the one closest to me and has a little of everything. The have both 5 and 10 pin lanes (on different floors) and they're open late on the weekends for "cosmic" bowling. (You know, black lights, awkward pop dance music, etc.)

There's a bar with beer and stuff like Smirnoff ice, as well as snacks like grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. The last time I was there, the bartender refused to serve me at first. I gave him my ID, which clearly showed me to be 28, but he wasn't buying it. It was a bit weird, frankly. (I guess I look young. CURSE that adult acne!) But a little convincing from my friends mellowed him out and he ultimately gave in. Thank goodness. All my gutter balls made me crave a Grolsch (or 5).

I personally don't recommend a weekend visit. Cosmic bowling is much more expensive than regularly-lit bowling and frankly, not worth the bump. If you go with a good group, it's just as much fun to bowl in the bright lights. Be aware, the place closes at 11 during the week, so don't be too late. And if you DO go on the weekend, there might not be lanes available. Call in advance. Then bowl. Bowl your little hearts out.

Bathurst Bowlerama
2788 Bathurst St
North York, ON M6B 3A3
(416) 782-1841 

*Photo by Bill Silvermintz from Stock Xchng.

I am addicted to Eastern Twist. It is, far and away, my absolute favourite place for neighbourhood takeout right now.

Located at the intersection of Bathurst and St. Clair West (though I know there's another location in the east end somewhere) this is a restaurant that's easy to overlook. It's small. Tiny, in fact. And it's not air conditioned, so the poor staffers roast in the summer.

But the service is wonderful and the food... the food!

It's rare to find quality take out, but this is it.

What do they serve?  Savory stuff from from India, Guyana, Pakistan and I think Iran and Burma too. The truth is, I am partial to the Butter Chicken, which comes as a large helping on a bed of rice with a side salad and another side of VERY spicy carrots (that are amazing, but if you fear the spice, you can get all salad instead), all for about $11. (It's not especially inexpensive, but don't let that put you off.)

Doing a quick Google search on the place reveals a few useful details. Judy Gerstel, in a review in the Toronto Star says, "the synergy of the menu and the story behind it couldn't be more Canadian. This is a kitchen made of a melting pot, simmering with the influence of three continents and the flavours of five countries counting Canada because, after all most of the ingredients are local."

As with the prices, don't let that sort of offensive, vapid statement put you off. Melting pot indeed.

Anyway, Eastern Twist on St. Clair is the second location for this family owned business, which makes it even more appealing. (Gotta support the little guy, after all.) Anyway, the bottom line? Delish.

Eastern Twist
505 St. Clair Ave W
Toronto, ON M6C 1A1
(416) 531-9305

*Photo from Eastern Twist website

UPDATE 2013: Eastern Twist has changed ownership and completely altered the menu. You can now get all kinds of poutine (like with butter chicken on top), which is fine, but a little soggy and not my favourite. Luckily, my favourite dish - butter chicken on rice with salad and achar lives on. And you can still get the wraps, which are amazing.

Spadina Flowers doesn't have everything. It's a little place, with decent floral-fridges and plenty of staples (roses, mixed bouquets, potted orchids, and nice hydrangeas and plants, but not too much else). My experience has been that you have to keep an open mind, because stock changes a lot. It obviously depends on a lot of factors: season, etc.

My only real problem with the place is that they carry pet fish - betta splendens, otherwise known as siamese fighting fish - in small, plastic cups. This is sad. As a pet owner, I don't like to see the fish stocked in this way. It's not a nice way for them to live. Furthermore, the practice of selling bettas in floral/plant arrangements (which was a fad a few years back) is problematic. Florists will tell you that these little guys will just eat the roots and stems sitting in the plant water (and they will) and need no other care, but this is both untrue and fairly cruel. They are carnivorous fish and need protein and real attention to be healthy. That said, sometimes I want to buy a betta as a gift and it's nice to know that Spadina Flowers has them. (And it's also nice to feel like I'm making a rescue of sorts.)

But back to the flowers: as I said, they're okay, and this is one of the few places to get them in the neighbourhood. On Valentine's Day, it was funny to see every second man carrying arrangements in the same wrapping. They'll make bouquets in any style you like, and if you want foil balloons and the like to go along with your flora, they'll oblige.

My advice is this: pop in if you need a hostess gift or something, but don't hold fast to your preconceived ideas of what you want. You'll probably find something you like, but it might not be what you envisioned in the first place.

It's a good option, but not a flower-lover's dream.

Spadina Flowers
360 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M5S 1X1
(416) 929-7144

*Photo by Kay Pat from Stock Xchng.