I’ve put a lot of thought into this as a regular visitor over the past five years, sharing my findings in High Life, The Times etc (Toronto: 6 of the Best, although it’s 2008 vintage and things have changed). If I was here for shopping, baseball and shows I’d probably look for a hotel left and right of Yonge Street, roughly between Dundas and Front St, but I’m not.
For me, personally, it’s Toronto’s independent, edgy, arty side that appeals. Historically that’s manifested itself nicely along Queen St West, and while the Shoppers Drug Marts and Starbucks and clothing chains are moving in, and low-rise old brick buildings are being uprooted for glassy condos, it’s still got soul, and hipsters, good coffee hangouts and a community feel, and it’s intersected by Ossington, which, once the place for storage units and tyres, is now lined with cool bars and galleries and the best little restaurants in town.
The area has two of my favourite hotels – The Gladstone and The Drake, but while rooms at both are beautifully stylish, the majority are also compact. Neither hotel is ideal for a longer stay on my moderate budget, and neither offer the kind of space I need when looking for somewhere for my son and I to stay, hangout, cook and eat.
Basically what we need is a home and, as I don’t have one, I went online and booked a week in someone else’s through 9flats.com. It’s a European company expanding through North America, and has a good range of Toronto properties on its books. As the new kid on the block and a competitor to the likes of Airbnb, they offer good deals. Here’s their blurb:
On 9flats.com, you can rent out someone else’s apartment, room or house (or even igloo) and enjoy feeling more at home while you travel. Or you can earn money renting out your spare space. Our aim is to make travel more rewarding, comfortable and affordable, and to give homeowners an easy way of boosting their income. A nice side-effect is that the world can make smarter use of existing resources. Stay in a local’s place and enjoy . . .
More value for money. You rent from a person rather than a hotel with big overheads, so you can find amazing offers, in usually unattainable locations. And, of course, you can eat cheap, delicious local food in your own kitchen, instead of eating out. Save even more by renting a private room, rather than a whole apartment.
More privacy and home comforts. There’s nothing like coming home to a comfy apartment or house at the end of a busy day’s sightseeing. As a group or family, you’ll love having a living room to hang out in and a kitchen to cook together. 9flats is also perfect for couples who want their own space, and even business people who want to put some personality into their work trips.
More local tips. No one knows their city like a local. You’ll be renting from a host who knows the best bars, cafes and shops in the neighbourhood: precious knowledge that could take years to discover on your own. If you’re lucky, they might even show you around the area themselves.Some people call it social travel, some call it collaborative consumption, some call it peer-to-peer rentals, we just call it a good idea. We hope you think so too.”
Well, yes I do. Toronto properties range from manly corporate condos with access to gyms and pools and parking to five-bedroom Victorian family homes and open-plan lofts, and from spare rooms in the hosts’ apartments to sole occupancy. Rooms for cheap and cheerful on a budget start under CAD$30, sole use of studio apartments from around CAD$50, and there are loads of 2+ bed sole occupancy condos and lofts around the CAD$80-$130 mark, as well as luxury condos for a bit more. What’s more, they’re all over the place – not only in the heart of downtown, but in areas like Cabbagetown, Yorkville and, joy of joys, to the West.
Of those, before leaving London, I picked something that described itself as a 2-bed condo, located in the heart of downtown Toronto’s trendy Arts and Design District. The size and location ticked the boxes, but what really decided me was the painting on the wall I could see in the picture. It’s weird to think a piece of art, a wall colour or chair style should be the factor that clinches a rental deal, but I’m optimistic about my decision-making strategy.