Up, up and away
Escape the city without ever leaving town on a rooftop patio
Toronto weather can never be predicted, much less depended on. So as we slip into the second half of summer, it's time to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment from the outdoors that we can.
On those hot, sweaty days and nights, when the city keeps moving but the air seems to stop, it's possible to escape it all, not by going north, east, south or west, but straight up and away.
After spending a few nights hopping from roof to roof (by bike, not jumping, like Daredevil), here are my picks for sky patios in the city, where you can feel closer to heaven, and farther away from Toronto.
But first, a warning. Halfway to the clouds, expect airport pricing on drinks.
The Broadview Hotel
106 Broadview Ave.
Cocktails: $14 to $16
Just as Brooklyn offers a look at Manhattan from across the East River, the best view of Toronto is from just over the Don River.
Formerly the home of strip club Jilly's, the recently refurbished Broadview Hotel boasts views in four directions.
Though licensed for 240 people, at 5 p.m., families and after-work locals quickly fill up the dining area, which requires a staggered elevator access so the bar isn't flooded too quickly. Guests in polo shirts, breezy dresses and flip-flops sip daiquiris, greeted by the cooling view of Leslieville treetops to the east and downtown's construction cranes to the west.
The people's champ
10 Dundas St. East
Cocktails: $8.95 to $9.51
The fifth-floor patio of Jack Astor's operates as a de facto waiting lounge for the adjacent Dundas Square movie theatre. The danger is that we don't wear sunscreen to the movies. So sipping a beer outside (it's covered, but not if you sit by the edge) while waiting for a matinee to start has incurred many sunburns.
The patio is kitty corner from the Eaton Centre and overlooks Yonge and Dundas square, a concrete slab of a public park/concert venue swarming with locals and tourists all day and night, surrounded by towering, flashing billboards, all of which is either someone's idea of thrilling urbanity and someone else's vision of hell on Earth.
Servers, dressed in miniskirts and black t-shirts that read, "I lit a grill at Ibiza" or "barely qualified to adult," deliver burgers and fries to hungry families all to a soundtrack of top-40 tunes.
If a Sex and the City tour sounds like the best way to see New York, this is the patio for you.
The pool party
Le Jardin at Lavelle
627 King St. West
Cocktails: $17 to $30
On the weekend, the queue takes up half of the King West block.
A cool breeze greets you as you step off the elevator onto the 16th floor to the highly instagrammable 13,000-square-foot restaurant and pool club.
Arriving women pause to take selfies in front of the roped-off pools (open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), while men do a lap of the club to check out the ladies.
Awaiting an inspection that will increase total capacity (restaurant and pool) to 425, it's still limited to 150, keeping a momentary exclusive feel for the beach party vibe.
Cream-coloured cushions in the cabanas show every drop of wine and food spilled.
The Beverley Hotel
335 Queen St. West
Cocktails: $14 to $20
Like a bird's nest, The Beverley Hotel roof is small enough to feel cozy, and for the bartender to devote attention to mixing luscious, tropical cocktails.
A mere five storeys up, patio umbrellas intentionally obscure the view of neighbouring rooftop exhaust vents. A front section the size of a cockpit affords a glittering panoramic view of busy Queen Street.
The DJ in the corner spins chillwave (though possibly vaporwave, synthwave or hypnowave) for an intimate crowd who are not going to stand in line on Richmond Street – women in heels with jeans or cotton dresses, men in high tops and slim tees doing secret handshakes while shooting Instagram videos.
The hidden gem
190 University Ave.
Cocktails: $14 to $15
You can visit Momofuku a dozen times without knowing about their rooftop patio. But the restaurant shares a third-storey outdoor space with neighbour Shangri La Hotel, giving or taking it over for private events. When it's not booked, the 28-seat patio is available for guests of Daisho, one of Momofuku's five businesses in the building (the others being Noodle Bar, Nikai, Milk Bar, Shoto).
Music is kept relatively low, head honcho David Chang adding to the playlist (Stones, Femmes, Ghostface) when he stops in town.
It's possible to book one of Daisho's large format pork shoulder, brisket or lobster feasts to enjoy on a perch with an unobstructed north-facing view up University Avenue, for Toronto an uncharacteristically majestic, wide street blessed with a tree-lined boulevard.
The One Eighty
55 Bloor St. West
Cocktails: $15 to $20
Anyone suffering from a fear of heights should stay far away from the rooftop patio at The One Eighty.
The bar's entrance does a good job of discouraging riffraff. While the Jack Astor's sign greets moviegoers as they enter the 5th floor cinema, audiences at The Varsity in the Manulife Centre will easily miss a hallway leading away from the theatre box office, to a phone booth elevator with only two buttons, for floors 2 or 51.
Towering 51 storeys above Bloor and Bay, two decks offer unparalleled views – the greenery of Rosedale to the north and the Chicago-without-any-nice-buildings to the south. The southern density is tempting. But consider that the northern exposure may be better.