One the best attributes of Toronto is patchwork of distinct neighbourhoods, each with its own unique vibe and character. Koreatown is a favourite, running along the stretch of Bloor Street, between Bathurst and Christie.
While Koreatown proper has been around for a number of years, it really got established in the 1970s when changes to immigration policy created the opportunity for newcomers to settle in Canada. They were-and are today- a very tight knit community with an admirable entrepreneurial spirit that creates a truly special kind of neighbourhood.
Koreatown, of course, is home to some of the city’s best Korean restaurants. Streetscapes are dotted with other small, mostly family-run shops offering Korean fashions, food and other wares, along with salons and boutiques. It’s also one of the best places in town for a fun night out (K-Pop? Karaoke? Yes please!).
This neighbourhood is also an interesting study in gentrification and what it means for a neighbourhood to evolve.
One neighbourhood staple that is a perfect example of that spirit of fun is Clinton’s Tavern, which recently closed. In addition to being a landmark and hub of the neighbourhood, the no-frills, homey tavern used to host Choir Choir Choir. During Choir Choir Choir, for a nominal cover charge, patrons of the bar were split into choirs with a choir master, given lyric sheets and would get to work mastering three-part harmonies by the end of the evening. Genres vary, so there was always something entertaining!
If you fancy yourself more of a solo singer, you may want to check out one of the many Karaoke bars in Koreatown. At Echo Karaoke, there are coin operated booths that let you try out your Karaoke chops a deux or with a few friends, if you are shy about hitting centre stage.
Also in Koreatown is the Poop Cafe, a toilet-themed cafe which doesn’t take itself too seriously (think poop emojis everywhere, padded toilet bowls for seating, urinal-style glasses and small toilet bowls for serving). This place is kitschy and the fare is super delicious. There is Asian flair in the ice cream offerings for instance, with Thai ice cream rolls and Hong Kong egg waffles.
Another favourite is Snakes & Lattes Cafe, where you can sip on a coffee drink or alcoholic bevvy and nosh on appys or sandwiches whilst playing games with your friends from an extensive games library (including some classics) for a small charge. Not sure which game to play? Game Gurus also offer tutorials on games and will jump in to be an extra player as needed. Special events are hosted often and provide an opportunity for an old-school fun evening out.
Just on the edge of Koreatown lies the site where the iconic Honest Ed’s store once stood in Mirvish Village. It is ready for the next stage of its evolution, as the site has been slated for re-development. The land was purchased by Westbank Corp in 2013 and the store closed its doors in 2017.
The Mirvish Village Development will be mixed-use residential, retail and restaurant that spans five buildings, the tallest of which will be 26 storeys. There will be an expected 806 total units, likely to be completed in 2022.
The residential portion will be focused on rental units. The development also contain units designated as affordable housing (roughly about a third of the total units costing no more than a third of median income in Toronto), staying true its roots- an area that offers affordable housing and an inclusive community for new immigrants and lower-income residents. The amenities and design of this development will make it perfect for families.
As the years have passed, the vibrant cultural fabric of Koreatown has meshed with more mainstream retailers, eateries and bars, and the housing stock has followed suit. What has emerged is a rich tapestry of tradition, culture and contemporary cool.