THE SOUTHERN ONTARIO PORT CITY OF HAMILTON HAS BOUNCED BACK FROM A LENGTHY SLUMP—STILL A LITTLE ROUGH, BUT DEFINITELY RARING TO GO.
BY FLANNERY DEAN
Hamilton is having a moment. The former industrial town, once dubbed the “cradle of the Canadian steel industry,” has reinvented itself as a gritty alternative to Toronto (a transformation helped, in part, by a steady influx of Torontonians drawn to Hamilton’s well-appointed stock of affordable downtown real estate). The injection of big-city blood has come with a few welcome perks. Note, for example, the availability of pricey bespoke cocktails and grass-fed gourmet burgers avec frites. But the city hasn’t entirely succumbed to gentrification: you can still get a strong coffee and a doughnut for a couple of bucks.
Of course that’s not all the city offers visitors. Toronto may boast the postcard-friendly skyline, but Hamilton has green space: a picturesque harbour and lakefront that’s a vital and accessible part of life for the city’s more than 500,000 residents. Instead of skyscrapers, Hamilton has its “mountain”—the Niagara Escarpment—which offers a breathtaking vista of Lake Ontario.
Hamilton is less than an hour west of Toronto by car or train. Should you make the journey, be sure to check out some or all of the following hot spots.
EARTH TO TABLE BREAD BAR
Locke Street, in the city’s gentrified southwest, is one of Hamilton’s most neighbourhood-y areas. Dotted with bars and cafés and on-trend home retailers, it’s a definite must-visit. Earth to Table is the street’s busiest and best homegrown restaurant, serving up well-loved pizzas and burgers with an upmarket, slow-food sensibility and genuine commitment to eating local. 258 Locke St. S., 905-522-2999; breadbar.ca
You’ll find this industrial-chic vegan café just down the street from Bread Bar. After tucking into the busy local hub’s yummy selection of vegan baked goods and inspired entrees such as a sea vegetable Caesar salad, you can quite literally leave your mark (an interior wall boasts one epic chalkboard). 202 Locke St. S., 289-389-2466; democracyonlocke.com
TWO BLACK SHEEP
Cocktail bar Two Black Sheep turns out classic tipples—such as Negronis and Moscow Mules—and bespoke drinks in equal measure (there’s a well-edited selection of wine and beer, too), while offering small bites like oysters, cured meats and fine cheeses to further whet your appetite. Take a seat at the chic spot’s communal table if you’re inclined to mingle with the locals. 163 John St. S., 905-525-1001; twoblacksheep.ca
This trendy Brooklyn-esque eatery—it’s bijou, but beloved by area foodies—specializes in nose-to-tail cooking. The menu changes frequently but the offerings have included such divinely decadent delicacies as pork belly tacos as well as stellar charcuterie culled from Ontario purveyors. It’s popular, so do yourself a favour and make a reservation in advance. 61 Young St., 905-522-0088; rapscallionrestaurant.com
James Street North is downtown Hamilton’s arts and culture strip—think of it as Locke Street’s hip younger sister. In the heart of the action you’ll find fashionable boutique White Elephant, which specializes in clothing, jewellery, leather goods and artwork, much of it from local and Canadian producers. 133 James St. N., 905-667-0325; whiteelephantshop.ca
THE DESIGN ANNEX
Once you’re done touring the Art Gallery of Hamilton, make a beeline for its elegant retail shop. Housed in a beautifully restored heritage building, The AGH’s Design Annex boasts a selection of unique, contemporary pieces for home and office, crafted by designers from Ontario and abroad. In the evenings it also acts as an art and culture space. 118 James St. N., 905-667-6620; artgalleryofhamilton.com