Kensington Market in Toronto
Kensington Market is a district of Toronto.
During the 1920s, it was known as the Jewish Market. Today, you can sense the city's rich, multicultural mix, obvious in the shops packed with goods from Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South America and Asia. A visit to Kensington is like a sensory trip around the world. It's also a treasure trove of vintage and second hand clothing shops, tucked in among eclectic restaurants and cafés. Shopping in Kensington Market is centred along Augusta, Baldwin and Kensington as well as all along College Street. Many of the shops on Augusta tend to cater to a largely working-class clientele, with multiple shops selling tough, cheap clothing. Baldwin is focused mainly on food, with some of the finest butchers, grocers, bakers and fishmongers in the city. Kensington contains a jumble of Victorian row-houses housing second-hand clothing shops. College Street is packed with discount computer shops, particularly the closer you are to the university; further towards Bathurst Street, College becomes a centre of Latin-American restaurants and shops.
Kensington market is accessible by the 506 College and 510 Spadina streetcars, both of which are operated by the TTC ; the fare is $3.00. The 506 runs along College Street from High Park in the west to Main Street station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line in the east, it runs through Cabbagetown, Toronto/Church-Wellesley, College Park, Queen's Park, the University of Toronto and Little Italy and connects to the subway at College and Queen's Park subway stations. For Kensington Market, get off at Augusta Avenue or Spadina.
The 510 runs from Union Station in the Financial District to Spadina subway station in The Annex. It runs through the Harbourfront district, the Theatre District, the Fashion District and Chinatown. The 510 runs along Queen's Quay and Spadina entirely within its own right-of-way, meaning that it is much faster than other routes and even driving, however it can be extremely crowded, particularly during rush hour. For Kensington Market, get off at Nassau Street.
The more adventurous can hike over from Queen's Park station. Exit the station by taking a right, then a left, and walk West until you hit Spadina. You can either continue along College, taking you past the border of the University of Toronto campus, or cut Southwest and pass through quiet, but pleasant, residential areas. When you hit the streetcar line, do a block or two more to the West, and you'll be in Kensington.
As Kensington is quite comparable to an open-air market, it's not an especially car-friendly place. There are "Green P" (Municipal) lots in the area, and there is street parking on most throughfares, but the sheer pedestrian volume (especially on weekends in summer) can make driving a daunting prospect. In particular, Kensington has "Pedestrian Sundays" in the summertime: any cars parked between noon and 7-10:00 PM (Depending on the location) will be towed to a local lot at the owner's expense.
If you must drive, park on Spadina or College instead. If you must drive through Kensington, keep an eye out for jaywalkers, and do note that most of the local streets are one-way.
Kensington Market is one of the most walkable neighbourhoods in the city. It is located immediately next to the University of Toronto and adjacent to Chinatown. College Street or Spadina Avenue are the best ways to access the area on foot as their sidewalks tend to be significantly wider than most in the city.
Kensington market was the site of the Canadian television sitcom King of Kensington which aired on CBC Television from 1975 to 1980 and starred Al Waxman, who was himself born in the neighbourhood. A memorial, erected to Al Waxman following his death in 2001, can be seen in Bellevue Square Park.
- El Mocambo on Spadina just South of College has frequent musical acts upstairs and is one of Toronto's oldest musical venues. Acts that have performed here include Elvis Costello, who recorded a live album, and the Rolling Stones.
- Down the road on Spadina you'll find Grossman's Tavern known as "Toronto's Home of the Blues", not to mention home of one of the best and cheapest burgers you'll find in the city. You'll find bands playing every night, as well as Saturday afternoons and there is never a cover charge.
On Sundays throughout the summer the streets are shut down to motorists, and pedestrians take over the streets. There are frequently concerts, exhibitions of art (visual and performance), and occasionally political displays, which generally relate to ecology, going car-free, or anti-globalization.
Kensington Market is, first and foremost, a market: its shops are generally accepted as some of the finest in the city to purchase fresh food (especially cheese and meat), spices, vintage/thrift clothing and almost anything esoteric or exotic. Bring cash; it's taken everywhere and will save you hassles, as many of the smaller stores will not take credit or debit cards. American currency is taken at some stores, but may result in sneers and less-than-kind glances from others.
The Market is also home to an eclectic art community, and there are several galleries, many of them free, offering constant shows of local talent. This is helped by proximity to OCAD (The Ontario College of Art & Design. If you see something in the sky that looks like the offspring of a crossword puzzle and a Rubik's Cube standing on pencil crayons, you're looking at OCAD.) There are no major concert venues in Kensington, but especially in summer, many cafes and restaurants offer live music; in particular, Supermarket (South of College on Augusta) is popular with young urbanites.
If there's one thing you should keep in mind when visiting Kensington, it's that there is no local Starbuck's. This is a very friendly but very protected enclave where vegan cran-apple muffins take the place of Big Macs and anyone who so much as says the words "double mocha venti" might get into trouble if the wrong people are listening. While it can be a great place to bring the kids and spend a day exploring the world, this is not a shopping mall. It's gritty, it's real, and it's organic.
The Kensington Market is a great place to find second hand clothing. There are many second hand and new clothing stores spread out through the market.
- Courage My Love is a eclectic vintage clothing store on Kensington Ave. A must-see on any trip to Kensington Market.
- AAA Army Surplus on Baldwin Ave. is the place to buy all your fatigues, boots, flight jackets, handcuffs...whatever you need.
- Uprising Books is an anarchist non-profit bookstore.
- Bungalow is mix of vintage clothing, mid-century furniture and recent fashion finds.
There are a cluster of major banks at Spadina and Dundas; don't mind the Chinese signage, the tellers also speak English, as do the ATMs. Many of Kensington's smaller shops will not accept credit cards or debit, so visitors are advised to bring at least some cash with them if they plan on doing any shopping.
There is a little tucked away TD Bank machine on Kensington, near St. Andrew. Take a deep breath and hold it before you walk in.
There are many places to buy food.
- Jumbo Empanadas, 245 Augusta Avenue. Delicious and inexpensive empanadas in both meat and vegetarian varieties.
- My Market Bakery, 184 Baldwin St. The best in baked goods you'll find in all of Toronto.
- Big Fat Burrito, On Augusta one block south of College. Try the Yam Burrito.
- herbivore.to, On Augusta one block south of College. A popular vegan restaurant that mostly does takeout sandwiches and soups.
- Last Temptation, On Kensington just North of Dundas. Known for it's seafood and tropical decor.
- Global Cheese, 76 Kensington. Likely one of the best places to buy cheese in the city. Excellent, friendly, knowledgable staff.
- Supermarket, 268 Augusta — just South of Augusta and College. A wide selection of Asian fusion dishes, and the bar is quite popular with bright young people in the evening. A bit more upscale (in decor, menu and price) than the rest of Kensington.
Kensington is a great place to go to find an out of the way quiet bar with cheap drinks and a friendly atmosphere.
- Embassy, 223 Augusta Avenue. Cozy place to get a drink, with couches and booths as well as a patio in the summer.
- Last Temptation, On Kensington just North of Dundas. They have reasonable priced pitchers of some popular Ontario beers.
- Graffiti's, At the intersection of Kensington and Baldwin. Graffiti's generally has a live music act nightly.
- Ronnie's Local 069, on Nassau just west of Augusta. A small, hip dive with a patio that is usually jam-packed.
Kensington has perhaps the highest concentration of independent coffee shops in the city. Here are just a few of them:
- Casa Acoreana, on the corner of August and Baldwin. An intimate cafe, attached to a coffee-and-bulk-goods store, this is probably the cheapest place around to buy a cup of joe or a latte. Excellent view for people-watching.
- i deal coffee, on Nassau, a bit west of Augusta. The sign advertising this cafe sports a steaming cup of coffee and doesn't actually contain its name. Fair trade coffee at reasonable prices, by the serving or in bulk.
- Baldwin Cafe, at the intersection of Baldwin and Kensington. Possibly the only cafe around that serves Korean food, as well as more traditional sandwiches and breakfast foods.
- Hot Box Cafe, on Baldwin between Kensington and Augusta. This notoriously relaxed cafe, located inside a head shop, is known for its private back patio, where customers openly smoke marijuana (so long as they make the minimum $4.20 purchase). Vaporizers are available for rent, as well. Check out the selection of delicious smoothies.
- Kensington's, at the southeast corner of Baldwin and Kensington Ave. One of the most spacious cafes in the Market, with a large selection of sandwiches.
- Moonbean, on St. Andrew just east of Kensington Ave. An enormous selection of coffees and teas, and vegan baked goods. Patios in front and back.
- Pennylicks Gourmet Coffee, on Augusta. A family-run cafe specializing in paninis, this was one of the first places around to have a high-tech Clover coffee machine.
Kensington Market is not a major hotel neighbourhood, most visitors stay in hotels in other parts of the city. Yorkville is a nearby neighbourhood with many high-end hotels.
- Kensington Castle, Hostel, located at 75 Bellevue.