Our hotel pro takes us from an iconic Toronto diner to a foodie tour through Kensington Market to a next-level spa experience, then authentic cask ales, and more.
Matt Scriven is at the centre of it all. Through his job as front office manager at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Toronto, he gets to look out at the city from its very heart. "It doesn’t matter what you’re into," he says, "Toronto has it on offer."
“The thing that makes Toronto unique is that there's something for everybody. You want a museum, go to the ROM. You've got deep pockets, go to Yorkville and buy some red bottom shoes. You're a runner, take a run along the boardwalk down on the lakefront. There's just so much inclusiveness and something for everybody. You’ll never be bored in Toronto.”
Designing his guests’ perfect day in TO is Matt’s specialty but we wanted to know how he’d spend his own perfect day in the city — from morning to night. We asked him for his best Toronto insider tips and he did not disappoint.
Grab an old-school style breakfast at Fran’s
A Toronto institution, Fran’s has been around since 1940, serving up classics like bacon and eggs with a no-frills cup of freshly brewed coffee or a stack of buttery pancakes dripping in maple syrup paired with a whipped-cream-topped milkshake.
Musician Glen Gould was a Fran’s regular, stopping by at 2 am for plates of scrambled eggs (bless the person who invented the all-day breakfast). Decades later, there are several Fran’s locations across the city, but Matt sticks to the Victoria Street outpost around the corner from DoubleTree by Hilton. “Definitely start the day off there to get that ready-to-go energy.”
Treasure hunt in Kensington Market
Matt says that Kensington Market is where he sends visitors to get a feel for Toronto’s true character. “When I explain it to guests in the hotel who have never been to Toronto before, I use the terms lightly, but I say that if you go to Kensington Market, you're gonna get a mix of ‘hipsters and hippies’ coming together in this really cool multicultural, entrepreneurial, free-spirited, three block neighborhood.”
Foodies will love the market’s culinary hotspots like Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Cheese Magic, Blackbird Baking Co. and Golden Patty Bakery (for next-level Trinidadian doubles, Jamaican patties, and jerk chicken). Meanwhile, those in search of vintage finds will no doubt unearth treasures at Courage My Love, Bungalow, and Victory Girl Vintage.
“If you want a Toronto vibe,” says Matt, “go there. You get all kinds of characters that go to Kensington Market — and that's visitors coming into the city and locals mingling together.”
Refresh and recharge at Elmwood spa
After a morning of wandering, the smart traveller gets some relaxation time. Matt’s go-to spot is the Elmwood Spa, just a few blocks east of the market. “My wife and I love doing spa days together and this particular spa is great. They have a water therapy room that's included if you have any of their services. You have a mini pool, a steam room, a hot tub, and there's a little sitting area where you can put on robes, read a magazine, get a glass of wine, or have a beer.”
Sip an authentic English ale at The Queen and Beaver
Spa-ing can really spark an appetite so head to The Queen and Beaver for proper British pub food like an order of fish and chips served with mushy peas, BBQ beef short rib pie, or a peppercorn and stilton sausage roll (Matt’s personal favourite).
“There aren't a lot of bars and pubs in Toronto that do it,” says Matt, offering a brief lesson in beer history in reference to the traditional cask ale still served by The Queen and Beaver’s veteran bartenders, “but before kegs had CO2 back in the day, it was a crank system on a beer keg.”
Do it up in the Distillery District
There’s a reason that international film studios flock to Toronto’s Distillery District to shoot scenes that feature the area’s stunning backdrops. From Chicago to X-Men, the pedestrian-only zone on the city’s east side has been the setting for dozens of big budget Hollywood projects. It’s also the perfect spot to spend an afternoon — any time of the year.
“It's Old Toronto: cobblestone roads, really cool old brick buildings. There's a lot of funky art shops there as well as Mill Street Brewery, which is right in the middle of everything. There's also a really good Mexican restaurant called El Catrin. The food's amazing, to begin with, but that restaurant itself is phenomenal,” says Matt, referencing the neon artwork adorning every wall and the beautiful, spacious terrace offering al fresco dining (and margarita-drinking) options.
No matter where you decide to let your time in Toronto lead you, says Matt, “You're going to be a part of something cool. You're going to see something you've never seen before. A lot of people ask me where to go and I say, ‘Listen, just go out there, open your eyes and open your ears and you're gonna find your way to something that you've probably never seen or done that's gonna make your trip special. I love being able to give a recommendation to one of our guests,” he continues, “and then get a chance to see them afterwards and hear them say that it was amazing. It's really cool.”