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Canada's most populous city may be known for the CN Tower, its crack-smoking mayor, and a slew of odd nicknames, including Hogtown, Queen City, T-Dot, and Hollywood North.
But Toronto, roughly an hour-and-a-half flight from New York City, serves as a hotbed of innovation with creative startups and cool small businesses making their homes in the city.
From a sustainable poutine eatery to a biometrics device manufacturer, these are the companies helping Toronto emerge as one of the most biz-friendly cities in North America.Always Dial a Bottle Toronto
Wherever you are
What it is: A beer and liquor delivery service.
What makes it cool: Due to consumption laws in Ontario, all alcohol must be purchased through a government-authorized shop. Luckily, at-home partiers can enjoy an ice cold Molson's or beverage of their choice by having it delivered to their doorstep.
Always Dial A Bottle Toronto will deliver liquor, beer, and wine within one hour of all grocery and most liquor store locations. It charges $8 plus a 10% surcharge on the price of your loot.
1192 Queen Street West
What it is: A cafe inspired by NYC's late-night dining culture.
What makes it cool: Formerly an art gallery, The Beaver has become a chill restaurant where diners can fuel up from dawn to dusk. The joint is proud of its welcoming atmosphere, which offers coffee and breakfast in the morning, and cocktails and DJ-hosted events at night.
The menu boasts plenty of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options, but if you're craving a lamb burger or a pulled pork sandwich, they've got that, too. Check out the rotating art exhibits and nightly Netflix and Beaver-themed trivia.
What it is: A startup that wants to make passwords obsolete.
What makes it cool: This University of Toronto-born startup is the maker of Nymi, a small wearable device that measures your heartbeat and turns your unique cardiac rhythm into a biometric I.D. While you wear the bracelet, your car, computer, smartphone, and other devices that require a password will recognize you and unlock.
Bionym President Andrew D'Souza says the Nymi could mean the end of passwords and pin numbers. You can preorder the Nymi for $79 on its website.
463 Bathurst Street
What it is: A theater run out of local film archivist Reg Hartt's home.
What makes it cool: Attending a Cineforum screening is not your average popcorn-binging, rom-com trip to the movies. Toronto personality Reg Hartt hosts various cinema events in the front of his own home, often of the absurd, avant-garde genre.
The selections, and the selector himself, are quite eccentric, and Hartt often provides commentary to both entertain and educate viewers. Some of the more popular events have been Salvador Dalí screenings and Hartt's lecture, "What I Learned With LSD."
60 Kensington Avenue
What it is: A hidden bar.
What makes it cool: You likely won't just stumble upon this gem of a bar unless you're really looking for it, given the discreet, slightly hidden location. Once you discover the clandestine doorway within Kensington Market, you can enjoy the range of cocktails, music, and dim sum.
The Asian-inspired bar doesn't have a formal menu, so just tell the bartenders what you like and they'll fix you up with something strong.
Drake General Store
1144 Queen Street West
What it is: A gift shop that curates "curiosities of old and new."
What makes it cool: No ordinary hotel gift shop, the Drake General Store in the Drake Hotel stocks its shelves with classic and modern goods of whimsy.
Set in a log-cabin backdrop, Drake is the only place you can buy a plastic accordion, an anatomically correct crochet heart, a head rest pillow that looks like a log, "Hangover Tea," and yummy granola straight from the hotel kitchen.
1214 Queen Street West
What it is: A boutique art hotel.
What makes it cool: No two guest rooms are alike at The Gladstone Hotel, which features 37 different artist-designed places to sleep. Whether it's the "Teen Queen" room complete with dreamy boy band posters on the wall, or the "Surreal Gourmet" with marshmallow pillows and a wine glass chandelier, each room is beautiful and beyond unique.
The hotel also holds over 70 art exhibitions each year, and has four different venue spaces and two restaurants. Through its focus on Toronto culture, The Gladstone Hotel supports local artistry and economy.
195 Spadina Avenue
What it is: A factory-turned-boutique hotel.
What makes it cool: Nestled between the Fashion District and Chinatown, this 12-room, family-operated boutique hotel occupies a 12,000 square-foot former textile factory. Hotel Ocho preserves every ounce of original charm, from the untouched woods beams to the exposed brick.
Guests can also expect fine dining without leaving the building. The restaurant serves everything from brunch to late-night fare, and regularly hosts events with live music.
Itty Bitty Pie Company
Check the website for daily locations
What it is: A food truck that serves miniature pies.
What makes it cool: Doesn't everyone love food trucks, pies, and all things mini? The Itty Bitty Pie Company ticks off all three check boxes — driving across the Niagara Falls region serving mini pies, pies-in-a-cup, and pies-on-a-stick in sweet flavors like key lime and chocolate cream, and savory varieties like taco or buffalo chicken.
The truck and menu both move around, so you'll never be bored by the selection of treats.
Lost & Found
44 Ossington Avenue
What it is: A menswear clothing store and coffee shop.
What makes it cool: If you need an extra jolt of caffeine to get you through a shopping excursion, Lost & Found has your back. The menswear boutique sells quality, sustainable clothing alongside fair-trade coffee.
The merchandise at Lost & Found is locally crafted and carefully selected. You'll also find an adorable dog named Radar roaming the store or lounging on clothing.
The Monkey's Paw
1229 Dundas Street West
What it is: A shop specializing in rare books.
What makes it cool: While the extremely unique selection of antique books and scarce paper artifacts are enough to make this place cool, The Monkey's Paw is also home to the "Biblio-Mat," a used books vending machine.
This cool invention turns used-book-buying into something exciting, as customers don't know what they'll get for just $2. The Monkey's Paw may not carry the necessities, but they do say that "you'll find the book you didn't know you were looking for."
Poutini's House of Poutine
1112 Queen Street West
What it is: A sustainable poutine eatery.
What makes it cool: Fries hand-cut with the potato skin on, "squeaky" cheese curds delivered almost daily from Maple Dale Farms, and real housemade gravy come together for a beautiful rendition of a Canadian classic: poutine.
Poutini's boasts a variety of options, including vegan poutine and an item called "The Works," which tops its traditional poutine with sour cream, bacon, and chives. And as an added bonus, Poutini's uses only 100% biodegradable containers, utensils, and napkins.
What it is: A builder of better electric bikes.
What makes it cool: Ontario College of Art and Design student Henry Chong designed the LIFEbike as his thesis project, and with the help of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo turned his vision of a green electric bike into reality.
The newest LE-1 model is compact without sacrificing style, can be folded and unfolded in about 10 seconds, and emits zero emissions so you can bike a sweat-free commute without harming the environment.
The custom-built Revelo LE-1 costs $1,699 and can be purchased online.
24 Bellair Street
What it is: A gadgets and gizmos store that specializes in weirdness.
What makes it cool: Rolo stands for Realm Of Ludicrous Objects, which seems obvious the moment you walk in the door. This 10-year-old tech-savvy novelty shop sells things like Klingon insignia cuff links, Hello Kitty USB drives, and the "Benedictaphone," a keychain voice recorder that looks like the pope (seriously).
And customers can always count on owner Rowley Ocampo to give them a run-through of the inventory "with the precision of a curator and the energizing banter of an infomercial announcer."
Snakes & Lattes
600 Bloor Street West
What it is: A board game cafe.
What makes it cool: When you step inside this Toronto cafe, you won't see individuals huddled around their computers working and studying. Instead, you'll find tables full of people cradling cups of coffee over a classic board game.
Order a Nutella latté or fruit smoothie and pay just a $5 admission fee to have access to hundreds of games, from Apples to Apples to the cafe's sort-of namesake, Snakes and Ladders.
255 Bremner Boulevard
What is it: A microbrewery that makes only one kind of beer.
What makes it cool: In Spring 1998, three friends paddled in a canoe through the Ontario heartland and dreamed of making a pilsner that could compete with the best in the world.
Unlike other breweries, which release new brews every season, the Steam Whistle is dedicated to perfecting its only beer, a premium pilsner lager. The beer uses just four natural ingredients: spring water from Caledon, Ontario; hops from the Czech Republic and Germany; two-row barley; and yeast.
What it is: A scanning device that tells you exactly what ingredients are in your food.
What makes it cool: Founder Isabel Hoffman spent eight months trying to help her misdiagnosed 13-year-old daughter recover from a chronic illness before discovering that the real culprit was a severe food allergy.
Hoffman then created a small, portable device that shoots a laser at a food item, scans its chemical composition, and sends a list of ingredients to a smartphone app. With the TellSpec on hand, people with food allergies can feel at ease knowing that the food they're consuming is 100% safe.
The TellSpec, which will cost between $350-$400, hits the market as early as August.
Toronto Temperance Society
577A College Street
What it is: A members-only cocktail bar.
What makes it cool: Gone are the days of struggling to order a drink at a jam-packed bar — that is, once you become a member of the Toronto Temperance Society. This bar stands out for its stellar service and supreme, world-class selection of liquor.
The space is only open to members, who pay an annual fee of $285, and their guests. It aims to please sophisticated drinkers who really appreciate a fine cocktail. Aside from the exclusive venue and beverages, members can also enjoy perks like seminars and tastings.
99 Blue Jays Way
What it is: A sports bar that doubles as a shrine to Canada's most famed hockey player.
What makes it cool: Fans of Wayne Gretzky can celebrate their favorite hockey player in a massive bar that pays tribute to The Great One. The venue is packed with #99 memorabilia and includes a restaurant, sports bar (with 37 television screens), rooftop bar, and Gretzky merchandise shop.
Of course, Gretzky's personal favorite food items are starred on the menu.
What it is: A startup that reimagines the mobile keyboard.
What makes it cool: Most keyboards on touchscreen devices take up nearly half the screen space, adding more visual bulk than necessary. A group of University of Toronto students designed a one-row keyboard that gives users back their screen space, without sacrificing speed or precision in text entry.
The Minuum keyboard is smart — built around "intelligent disambiguation," which lets users miss keys all the time and still type the words they want.
Android smartphone and smart watch owners can download a free 30-day trial from the Google Play store.
609 King Street West
What it is: A beer garden with a mix-and-match sausage menu.
What makes it cool: The first of its kind — an unpretentious beer garden — WVRST serves just four types of sustenance: beer, French fries, hot dogs, and dipping sauces. But these are no ordinary dogs. Try the kangaroo sausage seasoned with fine herbs, or the blueberry-maple Canadian bison dog with a side of duck fat fries.
Now take a walk just over the border.
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