Walk around 401 Richmond and the Entertainment District
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Three good reasons to get out of the house: an artsy hub + intriguing tubular design + a spectacular 45,000 sq-ft full colour parking lot..
(Note: This courtesy self-guided tour is a complement to the Portland Street UTTERLY URBAN Stroll, walk #8 in the author's Toronto guide.)
Years ago, I took flamenco classes with Esmeralda Enrique at her dance studio within 401 Richmond. It gave me the opportunity to discover this artistic hub on the edge of the Entertainment District.
I had to give up, thanks to my two left feet but Esmeralda is still going strong. And I still like to go to the historic warehouse to visit the shops and galleries and to walk around this vibrant neighbourhood. So here is a 2.5 km tour to explore the whole thing.
But first things first, coffee
The Dark Horse coffee shop that sits right in front of Spacing in 401 Richmond seems to be temporarily closed, but on the west side of the building is the Roastery Coffee House (401 Richmond Street W, open Tuesday through Friday from 9:45 am to 3 pm and Saturday from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm).
Every day, you can count on Strange Love Café (101 Spadina, one block south of Richmond, open weekdays from 7:30 am to 5 pm and weekends from 8:30 am to 5 pm). They serve great lattes and can add an energizing boost of... mushroom, if you like.
401 Richmond Street West
Contrary to what I thought, the 401 Richmond is not an Artscape building, a non-profit group which develops spaces for artists in Toronto. But Margaret Zeidler, president and founder of 401 Richmond Limited, has been on the board of Artscape. She is aware of the difficulty artists and non-profit groups have in accessing affordable workspace.
Margie, an architect by training, purchased the property in 1994 with the financial support of her father, architect Eb Zeidler (whose work includes Ontario Place and the Eaton Centre). The 1899 building had been relatively abandoned since the departure of its tenant Continental Can in 1969.
In 2021, 401 Richmond continues to meet the goals of its founder, inspired by urban planner Jane Jacobs: the preservation of historic buildings and community diversity as a generator of creativity. Near the west entrance, a map of the art galleries in the building is available, as they are quietly beginning to reopen to the public.
When I discovered Spacing Magazine, I realized that if I had one do-over, I would be an urban planner. Each of the editions they have published since 2003 has been rooted in current urban development issues. Each magazine challenges us to think about how we shape public spaces in our daily lives.
Starting in 2004, the magazine began creating Toronto-centric merchandise, including Toronto subway station buttons and magnets. In 2014, they opened their Spacing Store in 401 Richmond (open Tuesdays to Saturdays from noon to 6 pm) and for the past five years, they have been broadcasting in-depth podcasts on urban development on Spacing Radio.
Their store works directly with designers, artists and makers to fill the shop with unique objects and books which celebrate our city. On my last visit, I noticed a Toronto subway puzzle and a TTC wooden train and track set!
This week, the store was overflowing with cool gift ideas. I'm proud to say that my Toronto Best Urban Strolls walking guide is well represented, but a host of titles caught my eye, such as Toronto Then and Now and Lost Toronto, or The Beautiful Mess of Toronto Laneways (a Spacing publication).
Raccoons, squirrels, streetcars are featured in the form of T-shirts, socks, purses, coasters, cards, posters, stationery, toys... I even saw a 16 GB USB drive in the shape of a streetcar!
There are also finds that fit the urban theme dear to Spacing, such as the picture book The House Next Door by Claudine Crangle, prominently displayed in the store, surrounded by cardboard houses crafted by the author herself. This adorable story of a small farmhouse retreating into itself, afraid of the city gradually invading its surroundings, offers an ending which symbolizes the embracing of the changes in life that we cannot control.
Speaking of change, have you seen Richmond Street in recent years?
Around Richmond West
East of 401 Richmond, notice the white tubular structures, visible through the seven-story atrium of 362 Richmond W. The same ones can be found at 134 Peter Street. The general public can enter the atrium to get a closer look. The historic 1915 building, embedded between the two at the corner of Richmond and Peter, was a former Weston Bakery factory, restored in 2015.
They are echoed by other columns, green ones, a little further east at 287 Richmond W, pretty spectacular, especially when viewed from below! And this neighbourhood will continue to grow in the coming years. A 39-story building is planned for the southwest corner of Richmond and Peter. Another one of similar height will rise above the historic building at the southeast corner of Richmond and John.
In 2020, the City purchased the land at 229 Richmond W (east of John Street) and commissioned artists Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack to paint the 45,000 square feet of this former parking lot into the RendezViews. It became a haven of optimism in the midst of the pandemic, with its inviting picnic tables. The patio is now closed but the masterful work can still be admired. There are plans for this space to become a public park.
East of York Street, the patio adjacent to the Chef's Hall restaurant (111 Richmond St. W, open Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 9 pm) is very lovely. I don't know when it will close for the season, but you can admire it as you walk along it to Sheppard Street, where you turn right onto Adelaide.
Around Adelaide West
Concourse Building, the Art Deco building at the corner of Sheppard and Adelaide, is superb, with its entrance adorned with an intricate golden mosaic. Then continue west on Adelaide to see the intriguing Jaume Plensa sculpture: a magnificent giant head with special effect, best appreciated by walking around it.
On the way back, there is the Landwer Café (165 University Avenue,, open every day from 8am to 10pm) at the corner of Adelaide and University. It's a nice diner with a large menu, including a great choice of breakfasts and cocktails. A little north of Adelaide is the very modern Momofuku Noodle Bar with a splendid dragon sculpture (190 University Avenue, open for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 3 pm and for dinner from 5 pm to 10 pm from Tuesday to Sunday).
Continuing west on Adelaide W will take you to Spadina, 1 km away. This part of town is bustling with construction cranes. Don't forget to look up to see how the height of the new buildings is changing the whole look of the area.
My favorite option to treat myself after this tour is the small gourmet French restaurant Aloette (163 Spadina Avenue, open daily from 4 pm to 10:30 pm). It has the intimate feel of a luxury train car.