City Living: Best date spots

Now that
it’s March and the first signs of spring are waking up our hibernated libidos,
we find ourselves longing for romance. In a time when love letters no longer look like
and tend to resemble this:

It is hard not to think that maybe the grand gestures of love are long
gone.  We’re not asking to be whisked
away to Paris on a whim (though,
we wouldn’t be mad) but something a little
more imaginative than take out and Netflix would be nice. Whether you’ve been
together for 30 years or three days, taking the time to go on dates keeps
that spark between you a burning, passionate fire of love. There is no excuse
for being in a couples’ rut when there is something for everyone in the Big

The New Couple

As awesome as
it is to sit fidgeting across the table from an almost-stranger that you have
definitely at least imagined making out with,
Toronto singles breathed a sigh of relief when Snakes and Lattes came on the scene to put an end to awkward first date silences. You still get the barfy stomach new-love-interest interaction, but with the built in conversation starter
of over 2500 board games. The playful buffer (also, beer) takes the pressure
off, enabling new couples to test out their chemistry with a game of Alchemy or
play doctor with a round of Operation.
Also, you get to see whether your potential partner is a graceful winner or a sore loser.  

The Frugal Couple

There are
plenty of date opportunities in Toronto for a baller on a budget. High Park is
one of Toronto’s most scenic parks and only a subway ride away.  Pack a picnic and enjoy the fresh air (tip: the
Cherry Blossoms
bloom in late April/early May for an incredibly beautiful and sweet smelling
display = instant spring fever and romance). You can stroll around the pond and
laugh at goats yelling like humans at the zoo,
all at no charge. Plan your day date on a Wednesday and if all goes well, head
back downtown and check out the permanent collection at the AGO, where admittance is free from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The Active Couple

This lucky
city is home to the number one date destination where you can work up a sweat
with balls and paddles. We are of course
talking about
SPiN Toronto, King
West’s hip ping pong social club (what did you think we meant?). With 12 ping
pong tables, a deliciously inventive food menu and seasonal twists on classic
cocktails, you’ll always have something to occupy those busy hands (if you can
keep them off each other, that is).
Resident DJs, tournaments,
art shows and glow in the dark Tuesdays ensure the place is always bumpin, and
with co-owner
Susan Sarandon in the mix and a steadfast celeb following, you never know who you’ll
run into next.

The Culinary Couple

Food is love,
people. Couples with full hearts and empty bellies can book classes at Calphalon Culinary Center, for interactive hands-on and instructional learning. The calendar offers evening and weekend
classes for everything from the basics like Chicken 101, to more sophisticated cuisine like
Parisian Pleasures or Beer and Nibbles for those who like to keep it casual. Couples classes will
generally run you $300 for the pair, but some classes at the center can start
as low as $20.

The Adventurous Couple

You don’t
have to go too far to get out of your city bubble. The Toronto Islands are a sweet
local getaway for the adventuresome twosome. Bring your bikes (or rent them on site) to cruise around and see the city skyline from just a short
ferry ride away. Lay out on one of the
many beaches, or go off on your own for an out-of-Toronto experience.
Can-Pop superfans can recreate this video by the Moffatts, which was shot
on the Island. We won’t even think it’s weird.

City Living: Patti Smith

Having recently finished Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir on her relationship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we were excited to find more (and local) opportunities to be transported back into the world of the Chelsea Hotel, Janis Joplin and when art was simply a way of life. For those who’ve heard the name but aren’t familiar with her story, Patti Smith is a singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist whose debut album Horses earned her the name “Godmother of Punk” and made her a key influencer in the 1970s New York punk rock movement. 

“Because the Night”, which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen, is Smith’s most widely known song, and reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978. In 2005, she was named a Commandeuse of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

This winter/spring, Torontonians will be able to experience Patti Smith through her various art forms when the Heart in Hand Theatre company presents Cowboy Mouth, a play co-written by Smith and Sam Shepard, and through her exhibit Patti Smith: Camera Solo, at the AGO beginning next month. 

Inspired by reading Just Kids, co-artistic directors of Head in Heart Jessica Huras and Esther Jun set their sights on producing Cowboy Mouth, a one-act play by Patti Smith and Sam Shepard (playwright, actor, and television and film director) with whom Smith had a love affair in the 1970s. Starring Huras and singer/songwriter and member of Broken Social Scene, Jason Collett (Arts &Crafts) in his theatrical debut, Cowboy Mouth will be on stage at The Cameron House (408 Queen St. W) from now until Thursday, February 14, with an exclusive preview tonight at Soho House. 

For more details visit the Heart in Hand website.

Jessica Huras and Jason Collette star in Cowboy Mouth.
Original photo of Sam Shepard and Patti Smith. 

The production of Cowboy Mouth could not be more timely as the AGO gears up to feature Patti Smith: Camera Solo, an intimate exhibit featuring photographs, personal objects and a short film by Smith, from Saturday, February 9 to Sunday, May 19. This marks the first presentation of Smith’s work in Canada and will highlight the connection between Smith’s use of various art forms. The exhibit will feature approximately 70 black and white photographs taken with Smith’s vintage Poloroid camera, and will include the film Equation Daumal, directed by Smith and shot by Jem Cohen. 

For more information on Patti Smith: Camera Solo, visit the AGO website

Patti Smith, Self-Portrait, New York, 2003

City Living: You vs. Winter (follow our guide and you’ll win)

We know what you’re
thinking – the only good thing about winter is the holidays and they are over
now, so we’d best all hibernate until Easter, right? Wrong. When you live in a country where winter takes
up, oh about half of the year, you’ve gotta do the best you can to adapt and
make the best of this slushiest of seasons. By now you’ve heard the standard advice for the seasonally affected
(Vitamin D, light therapy, exercise, not eating carbs and cheese by the
bucketload, staying away from any Real Housewives-based reality TV, etc.) and if you’re
anything like us, you’re probably all, “thanks doc, I’m still bored.” We hear
you! And lucky for us, we live in an incredible city with no shortage of
activities and events to heat up your social life until that summer sun brings
back the light. Here is a shortlist of
events and ideas to get you out of your gloomy winter bubble.

This is not normally conducive to a happy you.

Get Artsy
Nothing like a little right-brain activity to stave off a seasonal funk. A hit of live music or a stroll around an art museum can help you feel engaged and refreshed. Toronto has seen a burst of arts and culture, offering many festivals and events pretty much every weekend, all year round. It can take a little digging to find the right medium to channel your inner artist but we’re pretty sure these two events will thaw your creative juices in no time: 

 When: now until Sunday, March 3 
Where: Design Exchange,
234 Bay St.
How much: $15 (or free
for DX Members)

Follow NYC-based
graphic designer Stephen Sagmeister’s ten year journey to pin down the true
meaning of happiness. This multimedia
exhibition tackles one person’s approach to finding and defining that most
sought after state of being. Lose yourself amidst interactive projections, digital
and wallpapered prints, gumball dispensers and a full sized bicycle. If you’re still not convinced to leave the
comfort of your couch, get motivated by checking out his TED talk about
happiness by design.

Pick a gumball and state your happiness level.

AGO’s First Thursdays
When: 6:30 to11 p.m. on the
first Thursday of every month
Where: Art Gallery of
How much: $10 in advance/$12 at the door (for members  $8 advance and $10 at the door)

Combining live music,
art, artists, food and drinks, there is pretty much something for everyone at
this new event series. All the galleries
are open during the event, so you can check out the brain bending Evan Penny: ReFigured exhibition and if you can suppress your giggles, join in at one of the nude life drawing stations. In the heart of
the gallery, Walker Court is a surreally beautiful venue to listen to
live music. The first four First
Thursdays sold out, so be sure to get your tickets in advance to the February 7 installment featuring DJ collective A Tribe Called Red and visual
artist Li-Hill (who we pegged as an up and coming visual artist back in November).

The one time that you’ll be excited about crowds of people at the AGO.
Get Laughing
Laughter is the best
medicine, so check out the listings at the city’s many comedy clubs. Whether it’s stand up or sketch, a $15 dinner and a show or a $3 amateur
night, we’re sure you can find something to tickle your funny bone. Here’s a roundup of the monthly calendars at Yuk Yuks, Absolute ComedyAlt.comedy (every Monday at the Rivoli), Second City, and Comedy Bar.

Some funny shit happens here.

Get outside
Say NO to Vitamin D
deficiency by getting outside and showing winter that it’s not the boss of you.
You won’t exactly be getting a tan, but a little outdoorsy time is a proven cure
for SAD sufferers. Get bundled and make use of the city’s outdoor rinks or channel your inner child and go tobogganing. Who says that patio season is over? Sip some
spiked hot chocolate by the fire pit at the Drake Sky Yard or one of the city’s
winterized patios. Feeling really ambitious? Head up to Algonquin Park for a weekend of winter camping. You won’t exactly be roughing it in one of their yurts, which provide basic furniture and electrical heat, but a little winter campfire jam sesh never hurt anyone. The glorified tents are available all year round and can accommodate up to six people, making it a weekend getaway that can cost you less than $20 a night.

Look how cute and cozy this is!

Get competitive
Having a games night
with friends kills two birds with one stone: not only are you socializing and
spending time with people you might have accidentally ignored during your
hibernation, you’re giving your sleeping bear brain some much-needed
exercise. Game nights aren’t all
complicated or condescending kids activities anymore, check out new games geared towards adults (like the
hilariously cruel Cards Against Humanity available at Snakes and Lattes or print it yourself at Staples). If getting out of the house is the goal,
there is no shortage of trivia nights popping up all over the city  to foster some friendly competition.

Terrance Balazo will get your brain juices flowing at the Drake.

Now that doesn’t sound
so bad, does it? While summer is the season of impulse and last minute plans,
it’s so much harder to get motivated in the winter, so plan ahead. Shake the winter lethargy off
your fancy shoulders and get out there allllll year round. 

City Living: Loving our city

There’s no place like home. When you live in a city like Toronto, it’s not always
necessary to venture north to sit in four hours of traffic. We have a decently clean lake (thanks, zebra mussels!), we
have patios that serve cold drinks and we have parks with grass. What else do you need? Forget leaving the city the second the clock hits 5 p.m. on Friday, and stick around here. Lots to do, plus at the end of the day, you get to
sleep in your own bed. Score.

Here are our suggestions to skip the “staycation” or “Occupy Summer” movements
and simply learn how to relax and enjoy our own surroundings. Many of these activities seem obvious, but how many of you actually take advantage of this stuff? Exactly.

For some excitement:
Release your inner child and head to Canada’s Wonderland. Don’t worry
about not being entertained. The large-and-in-charge Leviathan made its debut in May and promises three and half minutes of a stomach-dropping, silent
screaming, hair-raising good time. We dare you. Don’t forget about the
funnel cakes, but maybe save them for after the ride.

Stay up to date with @WonderlandNews.

For a little R&R:

Get your beach on. Former parking lot-turned-urban oasis, Sugar Beach is one of Toronto’s prettiest man-made beaches. Located at the bottom of Lower Jarvis, this hotspot has sand, umbrellas, trees and the best view in the house of our city’s waterfront. Sugar Beach is a great way to spend a day; food, shops and shade are just steps
away should you need a break. Plus, bands will often make their way down here to play concerts. Nothing better than a little live music with your ray-catching.

The pink umbrellas are just part of the charm.
Image source.

For an afternoon
Get moving – rent a Bixi or hop on your own wheels and take a tour of a part of Toronto you haven’t seen yet. We’re blessed with so many neighbourhoods with unique personalities. From the food to the people to the fashion, be surprised at your
city’s offerings and Bixi’s convenience. Grab a friend to discover Balwin’s
intimate selection of patios, people-watch up in Yorkville, discover the hidden charms of the Bridal Path and Forest Hill, or check out the changes in Regent Park. The possibilities are pretty much endless. Plus, you’ll get a li’l exercise to boot.

Follow them @BixiToronto.

For a little patriotism:
Head to the Skydome (uhh – Roger’s Center), tap into your competitive side and cheer on our Jays. Toronto’s Major Leaguers have launched into this season full force and need all our
support. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, indulge in the overpriced food and
beer, and enjoy that we Torontonians may actually have a shot at playoffs; if
you’re a Leaf fan, you’ll understand.

We promise, this sport is one of the best to watch right now, since the Jays actually have a shot at winning.
Image source.

Show them a little online love: @BlueJays.
For a little arts
& culture:
After soaking up some stifling rays, recharge your
inner-genius with air conditioned trips to the ROM for some prehistoric adventure (they’ve got a groovy new dinosaur exhibit. EVERYONE loves dinos), the AGO
for the Picasso exhibit (hurry! It ends this August) and if you need
to compromise with the athlete (or tourist) in your life, the Hockey Hall of Fame is also a museum, of sorts. Have some fun playing goalie.

This beautiful building houses all things hockey.
Image source.

And that’s just a sampling of everything there is to do here at home. For any out-of-towners visiting Toronto this summer, hit us up @rockitpromo for even more recos.

Best On The Fourth Floor posts from 2011

For our last post of the year, we’ve put together a round-up of some of our favourite and most-read posts from the last 12 months. We have had almost 175,000 page views since we started in the summer of 2010 thanks to you. Fist pump. xo

Our first Media, Darling of 2011, Sasha Tong, was fun to interview, and her post full of good advice and insider secrets is our most popular to date. 

The snowboarding vs. skiing debate raged in our office in February, when we went head to head with each other to see which snow sport reigned supreme. The verdict? Find out here.

Back in March, we went to visit a brand new little resto that opened just around the corner from us called 416 Snack Bar. We chatted with owners Dave and Adrian, and have literally been back almost weekly to sample their tasty wines and homemade snacks. It really is our Cheers.

We eloquently expressed our rage regarding biking in the city in April, since we’d just taken our trusty steeds out of winter storage and were still getting used to the new “war on bikes” era ushered in by Mayor Ford. We hate to say it, but things didn’t really change for the better when it comes to biking downtown. Maybe in 2012?
We were excited when PR maven Kelly Cutrone stopped by the fourth floor in May, to give us some advice (and record a funny video with our own Matt Austin, a former Power Ranger). 
Delicious cooking made an appearance on the fourth floor in June, with a delicious fiddlehead and ramps recipe, complete with quinoa. Yum.

Our appreciation for art increased with our trip and subsequent post about the Abstract Expressionism exhibit at the AGO, featuring Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and others. 

Lazy summer days gave us plenty of time to ponder email etiquette, so we put those thoughts on screen and generated a strong response. People have opinions about email etiquette.

We checked out the brand-new Black Hoof cocktail bar. Needless to say, we were impressed with the clever and careful concoctions. 

TIFF was busy and exciting, and we celebrated our favourite moments and memories from a festival that were full of encounters with talent, great music and fun after-parties (in between all the work!).

Immediately after TIFF, we dove into fashion with LG Fashion Week Beauty by L’Oreal Paris. Guests really brought their style, so we snapped shots of our fave looks. 

We got our craft on at Miracle Thieves and created some clever and sassy pumpkins. 

Finally, we closed out 2011 strong with our very successful step-by-step ballerina bun post. If you see these pretty hairstyles around the city, and want to DIY, read this

Thanks again for reading, commenting, tweeting and subscribing. It means a lot. We have some fun things planned for 2012, so keep on coming to visit us on the fourth floor. Happy and safe new year to you all. xo


City Living: Abstract Expressionism at the AGO

The fourth floor recently took a Friday afternoon field trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Our goal? To view the AGO’s newest exhibition – Abstract Expressionism – with minimal crowds. We highly recommend visiting during summer work hours, if you’re lucky enough to have them, and while school is still in session to escape throngs of students (just a few days left to see the art without mobs of people).
While we’re in no way insinuating that we’re art critics, we did want to share some of our experiences. First off, a brief explanation of Abstract Expressionism is needed. Similar to the Surrealists, abstract expressionists emphasized spontaneity and subconscious creation. This style emerged after World War II and was seen as being rebellious and anarchic as it deviated from traditional standards of “art”. 
Now, on to the actual art.
While the pieces by Jackson Pollock (13 of which are on display) are the most recognizable and undoubtedly impressive, we found we were more drawn to the work of his wife, Lee Krasner. Krasner developed a private language of symbols in her pieces but doesn’t explain what they mean – leaving the viewer to impart their own meaning. Krasner’s art, like many female abstract expressionists, tends to be more lyrical or poetic than her male counterparts.

Lee Krasner’s Gaea.

We also loved Helen Frankenthaler’s Jacob’s Ladder. This piece showcased a technique called stain painting. Like Pollock, Frankenthaler laid her canvases flat on the floor instead of upright on an easel. She would then pour thinned paint onto her raw canvas letting it soak in. The resulting image is a bit watercolour-y, a bit Cubist and totally pretty.

Helen Frankenthaler’s Jacob’s Ladder.

Finally, make sure you give yourself enough time to sit down and stare at the Rothko paintings for a bit. There’s a whole lotta theory behind the colour field style that have become the hallmark of his work. Read up on it if you like, but whatever you do, don’t dismiss the works without giving them a second (long-lasting) glance. 

Mark Rothko’s No. 5/No. 22.

Staring at each segment individually changes your perception of the colour next to it. Rothko was about more than just relationships between colours – he wanted to express the “big emotions” through his works. His brightly coloured early works are much more optimistic than his dark and bleak final paintings. 

Our final thoughts? Get ye to the AGO and drink up a wonderful exhibition of colour, emotion and technique. 

Find the Art Gallery of Ontario on Twitter: @agotoronto