As LGBTQ culture and awareness grows in Toronto, you can find great pockets of queer culture all around the city. Among its events and stores, exhibitions and outdoor locations, here are the best spots for experiencing gay Toronto, according to Andrew Murphy, programming director for Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival.
Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Murphy moved to Toronto back in 2012 to take up the role of programming director for the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. When he’s not attending film screenings, he’s getting an insider’s look at queer culture in the city by co-hosting events and partnerships with other queer-focused operations in Toronto.
The Gay Village at Church and Wellesley is at the center of Toronto’s LGBTQ scene, and is where you’ll find institutions like Woody’s (regularly featured on TV drama Queer as Folk, 1999) and the Black Eagle, which is known for its leather culture, although its dress code is now somewhat more relaxed.
The Gay Village is at the center of Toronto’s LGBTQ scene
But queer Toronto is so much more than the sum of its nightclubs. Head beyond the Gay Village and you’ll find that LGBTQ culture has expanded to all parts of the city, especially the West End. “We’re everywhere,” Murphy says. “And we make things queer by the fact that we’re there, not just by putting the flag out first.”
It’s not just queer-focused businesses that are promoting LGBTQ culture, either, but institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art and 401 Richmond, which incorporate queer elements into their programming. “It’s really evolved into this idea of safe spaces and finding your tribe,” Murphy says. Here’s a selection of his favourite LGBTQ spots in the city.
Inside Out LGBT Film Festival for queer film culture
This annual summer film festival is one of the largest on the globe and features over 150 films screened over 11 days. “Millions of people come for Pride, but often it’s a bit overwhelming,” Murphy says. “So our festival has really become a bit of an alternative.” Inside Out is also an opportunity for queer folk in film to network and find funding for their projects.
LGBT Film Festival Toronto takes place every summer
Trinity Bellwoods Park for a convergence of cultures from all walks of life
“This is the queerest park in the city,” Murphy says. “It just explodes in the summertime.” While Trinity Bellwoods is traditionally a popular gathering place for West End hipsters, it has since evolved into a welcoming spot for all. “You can find all walks of life, all kinds of cultures converging here. And I think there’s something that’s really great about it, something that’s kind of sexy.” The park is also a great spot for dates.
Trinity Bellwoods Park is a popular gathering place
Co-owned by queer photographer Adam Moco and florist Anton Levin, Miss Pippa’s is a hybrid store that combines a flower shop, a gift shop and a Portuguese-inspired wine and cheese deli on College Street. “It has the most beautiful café/bar area. There’s a ton of plants in the back and they do floral arrangements,” Murphy says. Moco’s photography, including portraits of drag queens presented in ornate frames, decorate the walls.
Hanlan’s Point for clothing-optional fun in the sun
As the city’s only clothing-optional beach, Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island has become a hub for the gay community. “It may as well be Sitges in the summer,” Murphy says, referencing the famous gay beach near Barcelona. “Everyone’s socializing and enjoying the sun. It’s a rite of passage for a lot of queers.”
This Queen Street dive bar was one of the first LGBTQ-friendly spots to pop up in the West End, where Murphy lives. He appreciates the Beaver’s smaller quarters, which give it a buzzing atmosphere. “You don’t have to worry about walking in and thinking, ‘there’s nobody here’. There’ll be five people and it’s busy.” Regular events include weekly drag queen nights, karaoke and trivia.
Every Saturday, Adam Moco, co-owner of Miss Pippa’s, brings out his fab alter ego Miss Moco to host Sunday brunch at the Gladstone on Queen West. “What I love is that you get all ages. The Gladstone is a very family-friendly place,” Murphy tells us. Miss Moco is also known to bring guests along for the show. “In the summer, when they’re performing, they’ll spill out onto the sidewalk and into the streetcars.”
Craig's Cookies for freshly baked treats from a queer-owned bakery
Bakery, Pastries, $$$
For a sweet indulgence, Murphy heads to Parkdale to grab a few freshly baked treats from the queer-owned Craig’s Cookies. Actor-turned-baker Craig Pike uses recipes and techniques learned from his mother and adds his own updated spin by baking popular chocolate bars into the mix, such as KitKat, Snickers and Toblerone. Murphy prefers to keep things simple, though. “I’m kind of basic. I just love a really straightforward chocolate chip cookie.”
TIFF Bell Lightbox is the hub of the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival | Courtesy of Getty Images
Perhaps because of his role in film, Andrew Murphy feels at home in a movie theater. As the hub of the Inside Out Film Festival, he finds himself on King West’s TIFF Bell Lightbox throughout the year. “It really became another home away from home when I first moved to Toronto,” he says. He also helps to co-host events and LGBTQ programming at the cinema.
In Toronto’s Gay Village, the Black Eagle is one of Murphy’s go-to nightlife spots. “They have a great dance floor. There’s still very much of that leather culture and cruising idea, but it’s much more of a mixed crowd now.” The Black Eagle hosts popular themed nights like Balls Deep Disco and Dance Floor Makeout. Summertime draws crowds to the Black Eagle’s spacious and buzzing outdoor patio.
Glad Day Bookshop for LGBTQ literature and dance parties
The Glad Day Bookshop at Church and Wellesley bills itself as the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore. In addition to stocking queer authors, books about sexuality, queer theory and lesbian fiction, Glad Day also serves as a venue for events, such as dance parties every Friday and Saturday. “They trust and love the community so much that the books are just there and you’re dancing around them. It’s kind of a beautiful moment,” says Murphy.
This weekly Tuesday event at Pegasus Bar in Toronto’s Gay Village is a popular spot for a midweek night out. “You can go at happy hour, have a drink and then the drag queen roams in an hour late and you slip right into bingo.” Pegasus Bar has pool tables in the back, as well as darts, pinball and ping-pong.
Toronto’s new Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is located in the emerging Junction Triangle neighborhood. Aside from their permanent collections, the MOCA boasts a roster of queer-friendly exhibitions and events. Recent examples include Purple Nights, an evening featuring apprentices from the Royal Conservatory of Music playing queer artist Frank Ocean’s greatest hits, and an exhibition on the queer filmmaker Chantal Akerman.
Inside Out’s head office is located in this arts-focused heritage building at Richmond and Spadina. Of the several artist studios and galleries in 401 Richmond, some are queer-run or feature queer artists, like A Space Gallery and Gallery 44. “The family that owns the building, their daughter is queer and she’s very involved with the running of this place,” says Murphy.