thursday travelogue: tantalizing toronto.

When visiting Toronto the hardest thing to do (other than find parking) seems to be getting the bill at the end of any escapade. It’s as if the city’s denizens don’t want you to leave.

We recently visited to catch Canadian rocker Matthew Good performing in Massey Hall, and found we could quickly fill any down time with any number of fascinating options.

Pantages Hotel: This urban chic hotel is not cheap, but in off-peak periods not particularly expensive either. Location is outstanding — across from Massey Hall, about a block from the Eaton Centre — and the service top-notch. When we visited, the elegant martini lounge had a piano-drum duo, with the pianist displaying a diverse, dazzling, almost dizzying repertoire.

Massey Hall: I can see why Matthew Good recorded a live album there. Not a bad seat in the house, and amazing acoustics. Good performed a great show here, as did opener Mother Mother, who are well worth checking out. The lineup shows Massey Hall is not just a place to catch live entertainment, but a venue musicians want to play.

The Irish Embassy: This charming pub and grill is easily in my 5 favorite bars anywhere. The food is excellent, selection of beverages pleasing and staff almost always outstanding. One server faltered toward the end of our third (yes, third) visit of the weekend, but overall good times ruled. Also interesting that on Friday we found ourselves a table away from a friendly couple also going to the Matthew Good concert.

Eggspectations: True, it’s a chain, but the Eaton Centre location is a top-shelf breakfast joint. Outstanding food (quality and quantity), attentive service and reasonable prices.

Fran’s Restaurant: We visited the site on Victoria Street, a seeming extension of the Pantages Hotel, where the eatery serves up first-class diner food. If you want to fill up for a busy day, I highly recommend the Fran’s Big Breakfast. (Now if only someone could improve its Flash-driven Web site.)

Eaton Centre: I’m not a fan of malls, but found the Eaton Centre reasonably tolerable even the weekend before Christmas. Maybe it’s because Canadians are more polite? An amazing array of shops and restaurants, although the Richtree Market was far too busy on Saturday for us to wait in the long line for dinner.

Toronto ranks among the most exciting, diverse and cosmopolitan cities in North America, and always worth a visit. Just don’t expect the locals to want you to leave too soon.

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