My first real introduction to Toronto came around 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night as I stepped out of the Broadview subway station and started walking toward Danforth Street. It wasn’t hard to find my destination – I just followed the crowds and the music to the beginning of the Taste of the Danforth, Canada’s largest annual street festival. In its 21st year, the festival sees around 1.5 million visitors over a three-day period (by comparison, the Taste of Chicago sees about 3 million visitors over five days).
As I turned the corner to see one of the main stages at the Taste of the Danforth, I was struck by the sparse crowds. It wasn’t that there weren’t a lot of people there; it was just nowhere near as crowded as a typical Chicago street fest, where it is a struggle to even move if you are within a couple hundred feet of the stage. On the contrary, I walked easily past a few people dancing and others just chatting. I knew the festival stretched for blocks and blocks, so I wondered when I would get to the main attractions.
Several minutes later (and after a stop for some delicious Butter Chicken from an Indian restaurant booth), I found another stage surrounded by people dancing along to the beats of a Cuban band. This was the buzz I’d been looking for! It was still not as crowded as the Taste of Chicago (or any other Chicago festival), but that’s not really a bad thing. I stood on the sidelines, watching groups of women shaking their hips and swinging each other around, fathers twirling their young daughters and a few long-haired hippie guys shaking and clapping to the beat. I couldn’t think of anything quite like it in Chicago and I loved it.
It was close to 11:00 p.m. by the time I reached the Krinos VIP Hospitality tent to take a break and catch a bird’s eye view of the festival from the tent’s raised seating (thanks to Tourism Toronto for the access!). As I sipped a glass of wine and snapped some pictures from up above, it suddenly hit me how little alcohol seemed to be a focus of the festival. Street fests in Chicago have beer and wine readily available and the beer tents are a center of most festivals – the lines are always huge and you can’t go far without finding one. But at the Taste of the Danforth, I couldn’t even recall seeing a beer tent.
I saved the best for last, though. After leaving the hospitality tent, I continued west on Danforth and stumbled upon the Athens restaurant. Spying huge chunks of meat turning over an open fire outside of a Greek restaurant, I had to have some. Soon, I was biting into what was by far the best pork I have ever had in my life. Ever.
But that wasn’t all. The Greek music playing out of the restaurant grew louder and suddenly, just a few feet away from me, people were starting to dance. Then there were napkins flying everywhere. And more dancing. And more napkins. It was like it was snowing napkins in the middle of August. And it was awesome. My friend Ayngelina had told me that the Taste of the Danforth could get “cray-zay” and this was just the crazy I was waiting for!
By midnight (two hours later than Chicago street fests wrap up), everyone started to disperse and I continued my walk west along Danforth to find the subway. I thought I was near the end of the festival, but I was wrong – there were still a couple blocks of carnival rides and games, including a Ferris wheel, spinning tea cups and a very mini version of the pirate ship ride. Definitely not something you usually see at a Chicago street fair!
Overall, I had a great time at Taste of the Danforth and it was a great introduction to Toronto. It was especially fun considering that I’ve never gone to a street festival by myself before! I loved the laidback atmosphere and the diversity – from the music to the people to the food. I obviously couldn’t help but compare it to a typical street fest in Chicago and in doing so, I felt like the Danforth won hands down. I was kind of sad I didn’t have a chance to go back on Saturday night, but I have a feeling I may be back again next summer!
Do you love street festivals? What’s your favorite?