Toronto is a tough city to sell on foreign travelers. If you live stateside, it’s hard to understand the northern appeal of Canada’s most populous city, when New York has everything a weather-ready urbanite could ever dream of. For Canucks, Toronto can often feel like a betrayal, a grass-is-greener border town that desperately wishes it were part of the cool kids club. But for copyeditors who have recently taking a leave of absence to reconnect with their pre-teen children after their ex-wife gets remarried to the back up goalie for the Maple Leafs, Toronto can be a charming combination of urban living and open spaces.
Hopping off the plane with little more than a ruffled dinner suit and a hand-scrawled address on the back of an airport bar matchbook? Head to Betty Hemmings Leathergoods (162 Cumberland St.; 416-921-4321) just off tony Bloor St. for a classic trolley suitcase, or liven up your style with their cognac and brass weekend bag.
Either way, be sure to save room inside for a couple of model airplanes for your two boys, Jack and Stephen, who (last you heard) were into that sort of stuff. Aura Model Shop (10 Dundas St. E; 416-979-2872) is located right in the downtown core and comes outfitted with the best in model kits and related accessories, the perfect present to wash over the past 16 months.
Since the address you were given is for a gated and security-controlled community in the northern suburb of Cliffside, it’s safe to assume you’ll be in for a long night. Make your way up Queen Street to The Tulip (1606 Queen St. E; 416-469-5797), a trippy little steakhouse with mod accents and a swelling array of steaks and chops. The hefty porterhouse might as well be referred to as the powerhouse at The Tulip, but you can wrap the pricey slab of beef to go so you’ll have something to snack on late into the night in your rental car.
THE PUCK STOPS HERE
Wait outside while your ex-wife’s new husband Ben leaves for morning hockey practice, and mutter to yourself about how he stole your children away to live in a foreign country. This is also a good time to worry if your job is in jeopardy.
Follow him down to the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay St; 416-815-5500) and have a look around. Maybe sneak into the players locker room or grab a team photo and burn the eyes out of your least favorite player.
BUS-NESS AS USUAL
Surprise your kids by urging them away from their bus stop. Reassure them that you’ve spoken to their mom and today they get to hang out with Dad because he’s more fun than their stupid old Canadian school. Once everyone’s packed into the rental, dip over to Hammersmith’s (807 Gerrard St. E; 416-792-9043) for a taste of the old country, redefined. A plate of crispy duck hash with a side of farm-raised eggs is sure to warm up the icy chill at the table.
WAVES OF TEARS
When the sun is shining, Toronto offers some of the best unobstructed views of Lake Ontario. At Tommy Thompson Park (south of downtown on the lake; 416-661-6600), a thin isthmus of protected wilderness means you can straddle the shore from the safety of your rental car. Of course, there are plenty of well-worn hiking trails, should one of the children get spooked and hop out of the rolling vehicle, so bring boots if you can. And the best part? One way in-and-out access through the Leslie Street entrance means you can spot check every car that drives by to make sure Jack isn’t hitching a ride back to his mother’s house with a total stranger.
GLASS HALF FULL
Instead of sending the kids back to the waiting arms of their liar of a mother, swing by Handlebar (159 Augusta Ave.; 647-748-7433) just north of Dundas St. Grab a booth big enough for three and order up a round of signature cocktails — two without alcohol, of course — from bar manager Rachel Conduit. The flavors here come sharp and wild, an ode to the northern Canadian wilderness that Toronto keeps at bay. If you’re feeling adventurous, slip Jack and Stephen a little sip now and again, just like your father did when you were eleven.
It’s finally time to hit the sack, and with two minors in tow whose mother will be calling around, you’re going to need a quiet place to bed down for the night. At Hotel Le Germain (30 Mercer St.; 416-345-9500), classic luxury meets downtown elegance, with accented pillowcases and buffed metal accents on the furniture. The kids can head back to their gated community in the morning; tonight it’s your chance to give the kids the hard sell on moving back to America with Dad. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in a bunk bed?
THE SONS ALSO RISE
After a tearful goodbye, a few vague insults and apologies to the police, the boys are back with their freeloading mother and that meathead in a Jason mask, which means it’s time to refuel for the trip home. Dark Horse Espresso Bar (684 Queen St. W; 647-352-3512) can provide just the spark you need, with their signature drip espresso packing more punch than a blustery Toronto winter. Eyes rimmed in red as you shakily board a plane back to the States, you can’t help but remark at just how promising your life really is. Now, if only custody judge Patricia Eackerly felt the same way. ♦