With a population of about 2.5 million (5.5 if you include the surrounding area) Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken here, and just over 30 per cent of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home. More facts on Toronto diversity. So when the FIFA World Cup gets going, flags pop up everywhere and Torontonians hit the streets in search of a great spot to watch their favourite teams play.
The World Cup runs every four years. It is the largest international football (soccer) tournament on the planet, and this year it takes place in South Africa. There are a total of forty-eight teams divided into eight groups, competing in a total of ten different stadiums in nine cities around South Africa. There are two stadiums in Johannesburg.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiam around Toronto, so we headed out with the camera and asked a few people in the know where they like to watch the games?”
Café Diplomatico is an icon. Since the mid-60s, this Italian cafe has been a fixture at the corner of Clinton and College Streets, west of Bathurst. I used to hang out here in 1982 when Italy won the cup, long before “The Dip” expanded into the store next door and enlarged its great patio. It fills up fast, so get over there. Il Gatto Nero, 720 College at Crawford has been serving espresso and cappuccino for about 40 years, and Sicilian Sidewalk Café, 710 College at Montrose, serves Italian ice cream. Both have patios and attract crowds during World Cup.
Further west on College is Bairrada Churrasqueira Grill House at 1000 College St. This Portuguese B-B-Q place has 50-inch TVs throughout and a fabulous patio out back with picnic tables shaded by big trees. Good food. The specialty is Suckling Pig but you can also order veal chop, ribs, chicken and steaks. Daily specials include Sopa de Grelos (rapini soup). Expect big crowds here too, especially Portugal and Brazil fans.
Tricolore Bar & Café at 1240 St. Clair Avenue West is a standard billiards hall where all the guys know each other by name and sip espresso in the back. Traditionally it’s an Italian establishment, but a Brazilian waitress at Novecento told me that Brazilians wait on tables there and the place attracts lots of Brazilian as well as Italian fans.
Novecento occupies a nice corner at 1228 St. Clair West. It has a Milano bar feel and is a bit more swank than Tricolore. Good panini, beer and wine, but just as many come for the gelati. In fact, the signature drink here is the “Novecento” (who knew?) – nocciola (hazelnut) gelato, Kalhua, Baileys and coffee. I watched the bartender make three of these and joked that they looked like the best sundaes money could buy. One of the patrons assured me, “You got that right”.
Marcello’s Pizzeria hops just about any night but during World Cup, people are lined up out the door. East of Dufferin at 1163 St. Clair West, it’s a popular family joint and according to my Italian friend Susana, the pizza is excellent. Brazilian fans like to hit VidVid Lounge at 1067 St. Clair West for drinks and World Cup matches.
And where do you buy all those flags and jerseys, scarves, soccer balls, towels, key chains, videos and other World Cup paraphernalia? According to fans on the strip, the best football shop in Toronto is Ital Record, Ital Sport at 1339 St. Clair Ave. West. Be prepared to declare your colours, and have a little football opinion ready when you enter.
Greektown – east of the Don Valley on Danforth Avenue, between Chester and Dewhurst Blvd. I wandered over there on Saturday afternoon a week before World Cup 2010. In Alexandros Square near Danforth and Carlaw, I met up with a couple of Greek oldtimers who told me they hang out at a non-descript sports café north of Danforth on Pape Avenue. The most serious Greek football fans park themselves at the Olympiakos Fan Club, 678A Pape, second floor, across from the library, just south of Danforth.
But in fact, the best place to be in Greektown during World Cup is close to an outside patio, so I wandered over to Omonia, one of several restaurants on the Danforth strip with a nice patio. Omonia has been around for 32 years and according to its owner, it’s THE place to watch the World Cup. Several other cafe owners along the Danforth told me the same thing about their places!
Although not a “sports bar”, a fave of ours in Greektown is Avli at 401 Danforth on the south side, across from Chester subway station. We love Chef Lambrose’s rabbit pie, made from his grandma’s recipe in a special clay pot (the pots have a story too). Lamb Shank is another house specialty.
So you’re in Greektown and you happen to be an English football fan, try the Fox & the Fiddle, on the south side of Danforth, east of Carlaw.
Serious English fans however will likely be holed up at the The Main Event, Toronto home bar headquarters of the Manchester United Supporters Club of Canada. It’s on the west side of Yonge Street, north of Eglinton Avenue. Any of the pseudo-English “Duke of Whatever” pubs are sure bets as well.
Koreatown – on Bloor St. between Christie and Bathurst. After the tie with France in World Cup 2006, Koreatown went crazy! As I strolled through this Toronto ‘hood, locals told me there are two places to watch World Cup games. The New Mul Rae Bang is a Korean restaurant at 712 Bloor West. A big screen TV hangs over the bar and booths line both walls. The food looked dynamite and the wait staff were already wearing their Korean football shirts well ahead of show time.
Clinton’s is across the street from New Mul Rae Bang at the corner of Clinton and Bloor. It’s right out of a Molson Canadian beer commercial and over-the-top Canadiana kitsch. The walls are paneled with sawed logs, there’s a landscape mural and a deer head wearing shades hangs over the bar. Plenty of notables have passed through Clinton’s doors including Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and John Candy. The bar has a couple of flat screen TVs, a giant projector screen and a big outdoor patio to keep football fans happy.
Churrasqueira Oliveira at 898 College is our favourite take out BBQ place. Its short beef ribs are, in our opinion, the best in the city, so if you’re holed up in a hotel looking for a neat dinner idea, pick up some of Oliveira’s ribs then head to an LCBO (liquor store) and get yourself a bottle of good red or some good beer and treat yourself to a inexpensive dinner in with your own flat screen TV. I asked the Brazilian patriarch at Oliveira where he thinks Brazilians will be watching the World Cup, and without hesitation he told me Brazilian Star Bar & Grill at 1242 Dundas West. A guy hanging outside the place told me he always orders Brazilian Star’s rice and beans, beef and salad. Beer, wine, liquor and good coffee also served.
So pick a team, get yourself some colourful gear, and mingle with a neighbourhood crowd as they watch The Beautiful Game.