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A Favourite Place in the World

It takes about 10 minutes to walk from Spadina to Bathurst along the stretch of Bloor Street Torontonians know as The Annex. A quick mental checklist of its restaurants includes at least three English-style pubs, no less than four places for sushi, three places for Thai, two Indian places across the street from each other, both with lunch buffets for $8.95. There is a chain chicken wing place that looks brand name terrible but is the real deal (a fantastic hot sauce). Better still is Sarah's Shwarma, the narrow grungy place next to Future's Bakery, the all-night cafe/restaurant with the large patio and the always unhappy wait staff. There is another shwarma/falafel place next to The Bloor Cinema (we call it The Bloor), the old repertory theatre that still plays cool things like "2001" every once in a while but never gets enough bums in seats. The shwarma place next to The Bloor gets more business than Sarah's on account of their door is always open, even in frigid February, and the smell hits you good. Still Sarah's is better. Don't let the smells fool you.

The Annex is a cafe crowd community. There must be at least ten places to get tea or coffee, chain places and local places that have been there for decades, a new place with wood floors and much space that specializes in tea, another called Aroma that gives you a free little chocolate with your coffee (like a pillow treat, but on your saucer, a saucer treat, then - one of those 'why didn't I think of that' ideas). There are shops to buy futons and shops to buy posters. There are upstairs yoga places and places to do Pilates. Lee's Palace with its colourful cartoon mural on the brick outside is a great not so little music venue.

The Annex is filled with used book shops and great new book shops and Queen Video, the kind of organized by director video store that makes you want to throw old popcorn at Blockbuster and its nothing but The Latest Hits collection.

The Annex is the kind of multicultural dream that Pierre Trudeau might have had, where mixed couples, of colour, of race, of religion, of gender, where all these pairs can walk hand-in-hand without thought that this thing is still new to the world. How Chinese customers can order sushi from Korean-run places with Japanese names, or how a South African Jew can eat a Syrian shwarma served by a university student from Afghanistan.

This is the mixed race, arty-farty, academic, relaxed, not overly fashionable perfect part of town you go to on a dusky June evening for an ice cream at that ice cream stand place across from the Bruni, the cheesy bar no one goes to unless they are a first year student at U of T. A part of town where those same prep students might dress down to busk and loiter on corners with their guitars, sitting themselves down on sidewalk by homeless men and young women often begging with their sleepy dogs. The kind of place where hippie is still trendy and women often go braless in loose shirts they wear over long summer skirts.

This is, in other words, my favourite place in Toronto, one of my most favourite places in the world.