When I was a lot younger and growing up in Toronto, the place to go out at night was in the Entertainment District, centered around Richmond St West and Adelaide St West. This is where all of the bars and clubs were. Thinking back, the concentration of nighttime activities in this area was pretty incredible.
Those of you who are familiar with Toronto will know that this area isn’t the same nighttime epicenter that it once was and that it’s been this way for many years. The scene shifted westward and down to King St. It also went from larger clubs and venues to smaller bars, restaurants, and lounges. Tastes change, I guess.
So if you had to choose one intersection to be the epicenter of nightlife in Toronto right now, I think you could easily argue that it’s King St West and Portland St. (Disagree with this take? Leave a comment below.)
But why this intersection? Why did the nighttime economy land right here?
Part of it was surely development pressures in the Entertainment District, which forced a broader move. I also think that these areas tend to become victims of their own success. Clubs and bars generate a lot of noise and that makes some people grouchy.
But I think you could also argue that the intersection of King and Portland has some very specific urban qualities that lend itself to becoming a kind of heart for nightlife.
It helps that it is the only north-south street that intersects King between Bathurst and Spadina. However, I think the more important point is that both Bathurst and Spadina are fairly broad arterial avenues (certainly that is the case for Spadina). These intersections aren’t as hospitable to pedestrians and so they create a natural break in “the strip.”
The result is that Portland, which is a much smaller street, became the heart. The intersection feels much more like an urban room. Leave one bar and another one is right in front of you. That’s one of the things about cities. Intimate spaces, rather than big ones, are often what attract people.