a virgin root beer at kensington market: toronto’s hipster enclave

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Every twenty-first century city worth its salt boasts a hipster neighborhood or two, and Toronto is no different. As I walked along the streets of the North America’s forth largest city, marveling at all of the space and the hundreds of new condos being built, I wandered into China Town. Close by, on its edge, was an area that was recommended to me and that I was quite happy to find, Kensington Market.

Designated in 2006 as a National Historic Site of Canada, its approximate borders are College St. on the north, Spadina Ave. on the east, Dundas St. W. to the south, and Bathurst St. to the west. The epicenter of the the neighborhood’s hipster shops, cafes, and various and sundry other attractions are located along Augusta Ave. and neighboring Nassau St., Baldwin St., and Kensington Ave.

Walking along its streets one can see many historic Victorian homes, colorful graffiti murals, eclectic sculptures [one series was made entirely of old scooter parts], ethnic restaurants, several cafes, and shops catering to every taste. From its roots as an area settled by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century, to later immigration from Portuguese from the Azores, from various islands in the Caribbean and from East Asia.

On my flight to Toronto I ran into a Dubliner who I ran into again when a day earlier a flash rainstorm forced me to seek immediate refuge in a cafe. We decided to spend the next day together walking around the city, to explore the many neighborhoods Toronto had to offer. Together we found Kensington Market. As we entered a cafe and saw bottles of Stewarts for sale, it became apparent that the Dubliner had never before heard of or tasted root beer. His first post-taste comment: “it tastes like soap.” Having grown up with root beer I tried to wrap my head around that description, and thought I should try “Irish Spring” again in the twenty-first century. Maybe it now smelled like root beer? I anticipated a trip to the CVS upon my return to New York to investigate.

We spent the rest of the very hot Toronto day wandering around not only Kensington Market, but Little Italy, Yonge Street and other neighborhoods. For a New Yorker, Toronto has a familiar flavor – it is sort of like a smaller New York wrapped in a Chicago. Even though I had traveled to almost seventy countries and countless cities, for some reason Toronto had eluded me.

Now that I have been there, it is most certainly a city to revisit.

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