Where to eat, go book shopping and catch some culture in a charming, low-key Toronto neighbourhood.
Known for its indie style, lively street vibe and eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, the Annex is a gathering place for students at the nearby University of Toronto (Canada’s largest university), as well as the culture mavens who come for an indie documentary and stay for shopping and a schnitzel.
Some of them formed an attachment to the neighbourhood back when they were students. Once you’ve spent a day exploring quirky-cool Annex mainstays, you might find you never really want to leave either.
The Annex is reachable by subway via Spadina or Bathurst station, or the 7 Bathurst bus or 510 Spadina streetcar. The main action on the Bloor Street West strip happens between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue. Here’s our three-part guide on how to spend a perfect day in the Annex.
Step 1: Eat something filling
Future Bistro (483 Bloor St. W.) is an Annex staple beloved by locals and university students for its comforting food and atmosphere. Pay at the cash, find your own place to sit and wait for your food. This spot offers a good breakfast portion for a decent price, filling Eastern European (schnitzel, pierogies), and a wide variety of baked goods.
The schnitzels are gargantuan yet surprisingly delicate on the palate at Country Style Hungarian Restaurant (450 Bloor St. W.), where you can also stuff your plate (and belly) with the likes of cabbage rolls and goulash.
For perhaps a lighter bite, By The Way Café (400 Bloor St. W.) has been loved by locals since 1979. It offers Mediterranean food with an Israeli influence, plus a patio to enjoy during the warmer months.
Step 2: Go shopping
There’s plenty you can buy in the Annex—from clothes at Common Sort (444 Bloor St. W.) to bicycles at Sweet Pete’s (517 Bloor St. W.) and Curbside Cycle (412 Bloor St. W.)—but the neighbourhood is an especially great place to shop if you love reading.
Start your browsing at Thunderstruck Books (386 Bloor St. W.), which specializes in comics, manga and art books. Consider seeking out a souvenir copy of Scott Pilgrim, which was largely set here in the Annex—you’ll recognize a few spots around the neighbourhood if you’ve seen the film (see Lee’s Palace, below).
Next, get lost for a couple of hours at discount bookstore BMV (471 Bloor St. W.). With around 1,400 square metres (15,000 sq ft) of bargain reads, films and music to explore, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy discovering something unexpected here.
If you’re sniffing out an especially unique second-hand read, Seekers Books (509 Bloor St. W.) fills its basement space with thousands of titles across all genres, including an impressive selection in unusual and esoteric subjects like alien encounters and the occult.
Step 3: Be entertained
The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.) is a century-old movie theatre that’s always screening something interesting, whether it’s an independent film festival or a documentary. It’s the central hub of the annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival each spring.
Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor St. W.) was originally built in 1919 as a movie theatre, but since 1985 it has enjoyed a second life as a beloved concert venue. A number of iconic acts have played here, including Oasis, Blue Rodeo, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins … and Scott Pilgrim and his band Sex Bob-Omb.
Getting to the Annex
Bathurst or Spadina subway stations. Or take the 7 Bathurst bus or 510 Spadina streetcar.