Boozin’ in Accordion City (Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto)

Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoWelcome to the third installment in Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, a series of offbeat articles to acquaint attendees of the upcoming RubyFringe conference with Accordion City.

There’ve been two articles in the series so far:

  1. Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?
  2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel

In this article, I’ll cover the social lubricant that helps keep a good tech conference going: booze!

The Legal Drinking Age in Ontario: 19

If you look at Wikipedia’s Legal Drinking Age page, there are generally two places with a drinking age of 21 and some regions which ban the sale (and sometimes consumption) of alcohol:

  • A handful of Muslim countries that allow alcohol: Indonesia (except Bali), Oman, Pakistan and United Arab Emirates, and
  • the United States of America

Here in Ontario, as with most of Canada, the legal age drinking age is 19. Underage drinking is permitted at home under adult supervision. No, underage RubyFringers, you cannot come to my house to drink. A number of RubyFringe after-conference events will be taking place in or near licensed establishments, so be sure to bring some government ID with you — a driver’s licence or passport will do.

Where Do You Buy Liquor and Beer in Ontario?

If Ontario has a more civilized legal drinking age, we pay for it in terms of where we can buy it. The sale of beer and liquor is limited — with a few exceptions — to two types of stores:

Logo for LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) stores

The first type: the LCBO (short for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario), a set of stores run by the Ontario government that carries, spirits, wines and beers.

Storefront for \"The Beer Store\"

The second type: The Beer Store. Its official name is Brewers Retail, but since everyone calls it “The Beer Store”, that’s what they typically display on their storefronts. They sell beer and beer paraphernalia.

Okay, Enough Preamble. Where’s the Alcohol Store Closest to the Hotel?

Of the two types of store, the closest one to the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto is the LCBO at the Atrium on Bay, a shopping centre located a mere two blocks away. If you walk out of the hotel, take a left until you hit Dundas Street, then turn right and walk two blocks. The LCBO is on the lower level, about half a block into the shopping centre. Here’s a map:

Map showing the path from the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto to the LCBO at the Atrium on Bay

This LCBO keeps these hours:

  • Monday – Wednesday: 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Thursday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
  • Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The Beer Hunter is Your Friend!

The \"Beer Hunter Guy\"

The Beer Hunter is a Google Maps mash-up that shows you the locations and hours of alcohol retail outlets in Ontario, aswell as which stores are open right now. It’s a creation of local web development shop Bad Math, and was recently featured in at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit, Design and the Elastic Mind.

I’m Crashing at a Friend’s House. Can I Get Booze Delivered There?

Yes, you can! For a CDN$8.00 delivery charge, The Beer Guy lets you order alcohol online for home delivery in one hour.

Okay, Enough About Stores. What About Bars? Any Good Ones Near the Hotel?

There are a number of bars within walking distance of the hotel. Here are three decent ones that I used to frequent when I lived in the neighbourhood. They’re not cookie-cutter drinking establishments that you can find anywhere, but places with some character and local vibe.

Interior shots of The Village Idiot Pub

The Village Idiot Pub (126 McCaul Street, about 6 minutes’ walk from the hotel). This one’s a hangout for locals as well as art students from the Ontario College of Art and Design or visitors to the Art Gallery of Ontario, both of which are just across the street. The bar has about two dozen higher-end beers on tap, from imports like Guinness, Leffe Brune and Kronenberg 1664 to local microbrews like Waterloo Dark (a favourite of mine) and Brick Honey Brown. The outer walls of the bar are garage doors which are rolled up in the summer to let the air in.

I made some decent coin (and a lot of beer!) busking here during the great blackout of 2003.

The Rex Hotel

The Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar (194 Queen Street West, about 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel). A jazz and blues institution since I was in high school, The Rex is a retro, just-divey-enough place that has a decent selection of beer and live blues and jazz. I’ve seen some pretty good acts here and have stumbled home tipsy many a night from this joint.

Interior of Smokeless Joe

Smokeless Joe (125 John Street, about 12 minutes’ walk from the hotel). This is a place for the serious beer enthusiast. With a half-dozen taps and a couple hundred bottled beers, this tiny, friendly place was my preferred watering hole when I lived in the neighbourhood. If you want some food to go with your beer, they have delicious sandwiches and some pretty good oysters.

I’ve been there on some pretty good dates, such as this one as well as my first date with The Ginger Ninja.

When is Last Call in Ontario?

Bars and pubs have to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m..

Is There Any Way to Get Served Booze After 2 a.m.?


I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of the urban legend of “cold tea”, only that the urban legend exists. It does, after all, exist as an entry in Urban Dictionary.

There are speakeasies in town; the local term for them is “booze cans”. Their locations change over time, and the ones from my days as a single guy probably no longer exist. The best way to locate these places is to ask anyone who works in the entertainment/service industry such as a bartender or waiter; they’re where they go when their shifts end.

Be advised that you’ll get more out of the conference if you get some decent sleep and aren’t hung over…


Fear and Loathing at RailsConf

In Fear and Loathing at RailsConf, Giles Bowkett examines what it means to “Keep RailsConf weird”. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re attending, planning or gate-crashing RubyFringe.


Getting from the Airport to the Hotel (Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto)

Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoIn preparation for people coming to Accordion City to attend the RubyFringe conference (as well as those of you who are coming here this summer for other reasons), I’m writing Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, a series of articles with useful tips for visiting our fair city.

So far, I’ve published one article: Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?, in which I explained to visiting smokers that you can buy cigarettes in stores here; they’re just hidden in large, featureless cabinets behind the counter.

In this article, I’m going to cover the cheapest way to get to the conference hotel, the Metropolitan, from the airport.

There are Two Metropolitan Hotels!

This may be a source of confusion, so make sure you’re aware of this: there are two Metropolitan Hotels in town. Both are owned by the same hotel chain, and they’re a fifteen-minute walk from each other!

RubyFringe is taking place at the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto, located at 108 Chestnut Street, which is behind City Hall and on the edge of Chinatown. If the front of the hotel looks like the photo below, you’re in the right place:

Front entrance of the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto

The other hotel is the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel on 318 Wellington Street West and is a hop, skip and a jump away from Toronto’s domed stadium, The Rogers Centre. If the front of the hotel looks like the photo below, you’re in the wrong place!

Front of the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel

(There’s nothing wrong with the Soho Met: it’s a nice place and swankier than the Metropolitan Toronto; it’s just that the conference isn’t taking place there.)

For this article and any other in this series, when I refer to the Metropolitan Hotel, I’m referring to the Metropolitan Toronto, the conference venue.

The Distance

Lester B. Pearson International Airport (airport code YYZ, which is where Rush got the name for their song with Neil Peart’s legendary drum solo) is a bit of a hike from downtown Accordion City. It’s 27 kilometres (about 17 miles) from the airport to the Metropolitan Hotel, a span on par with the distances between Los Angeles International Airport and its downtown core, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and the Chicago Loop and Newark’s Liberty Airport and midtown Manhattan.

The Most Expensive Way: Renting a Car and Driving (Round trip: $lots)

If you were to drive from the airport to the hotel, you’d get on Highway 427 and go south to the Gardiner Expressway and follow it east. Google Maps says to exit at Spadina, I say take the Bay/York Street exit and follow York Street to where it forks and take the University Avenue fork (Spadina has fewer lanes and is downtown Chinatown’s main drag, which makes it slower going). Either way, you go north to Dundas, at which point you turn east and go a short way to Chestnut Street, where the hotel is.

Map showing road directions from Pearson Airport to Metropolitan Hotel Toronto
Google Map showing directions from Pearson Airport to the Metropolitan.
Click the map to see it on its Google Maps page.

The Second Most Expensive Way: Taking a Cab or Airport Limo (Round trip: $90 – 100)

If you were take a cab or airport limo from the airport to the hotel today, it would cost around $40. However, cab fares are going up in July because of skyrocketing gas prices, so a cab ride will probably cost more by the time RubyFringe takes place. The trip should take about 35 – 40 minutes if traffic isn’t too bad. It’s probably the fastest, lowest-hassle way to get to the hotel from the airport.

The Cheapest Way: The TTC (Round trip: $5.50)

The cheapest way to get to the hotel is via public transit — the TTC. It will cost you a grand total of $2.75 and take about 45 minutes to an hour. It involves a bus trip, followed by a ride on the subway.

The first leg of the trip is to take the 192 Airport Rocket bus. It stops at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3.

(Don’t worry about it not stopping at Terminal 2: it’s being renovated and not being used for anything!)

I know that going to a strange town and not knowing what things look like can throw you off, so I’ve gathered some photos to help orient you. TTC bus stops are marked by signs that look like this:

TTC bus stop sign

Here’s what the airport bus stop looks like:

\"Airport Rocket\" bus pulling into the airport bus stop

And here’s what a TTC bus looks like:

TTC bus

Make sure that you board only the 192 Airport Rocket bus; it’s an express bus that goes straight to the subway station. The others will eventually take you to a subway station, but they’re regular bus routes and take much longer.

In case you were wondering, the $2.75 fare you pay on the bus will cover the whole trip to the hotel.

Here’s the schedule for the Airport Rocket. The trip to Kipling subway station should take about 20 minutes.

Once you’re at Kipling station, take the train east to St. George station. At St. George station, you’ll go up one floor, which takes you to the north-south-running trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina line. Take the train south to St. Patrick station.

Map showing TTC subway trip from Kipling to St. Patrick station
Click the map to see it at full size.

Exit St. Patrick station, and you’ll be a mere two blocks away from the hotel:

Map showing St. Patrick subway station and Metropolitan Toronto Hotel

The Middle-of-the-Road Way: Airport Express Bus (Round trip: $29.95)

Airport Express bus (Toronto)

The Airport Express bus stops at both Terminals 1 and 3, involves less lugging stuff around than taking the subway and takes slightly longer than a cab would. It stops at a number of hotels in the downtown core, including the Metropolitan.

They advertise that their buses are WiFi equipped, which might come in handy if you really feel the need to check your email or IM everyone that you’ve arrived.


Where Did All the Cigarettes Go? (Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto)

Joey\'s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto

We’re less than a month away from RubyFringe, the self-described “avant-garde conference for developers that are excited about emerging Ruby projects and technologies” being put on by my friends at Unspace. RubyFringe promises to be an offbeat conference organized by the offbeat people at Unspace, an offbeat software development shop, with offbeat speakers and MCs (I’m one of them) making some offbeat presentations, which will be followed by offbeat evening events. It stands to reason that it should come with an offbeat guide to its host city, and who better than Yours Truly, one of the city’s most notorious bloggers and a long-time resident, to write one?

From now until RubyFringe, I’ll be writing a series of articles posted under the banner of Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, which will cover interesting things to do and see here in Accordion City. It’ll mostly be dedicated to the areas in which RubyFringe and associated events will be taking place and provide useful information about Toronto for people who’ve never been here (or even Canada) before. I’ll also try to cover some interesting stuff that the tourist books and sites don’t. If you’re coming up here — for RubyFringe or some other reason — I hope you’ll find this guide useful.

I thought I’d start the series by covering a topic with which I have almost no familiarity: smoking. It’s a safe bet that at least a few smokers will be coming to the conference from outside Ontario: if you’re one of these people, this article’s for you.

The Rules for Smoking in Ontario

If you really feel like poring over a legal document, you can read the Smoke-Free Ontario Act. If you’d rather not slog through the legalese, they can be boiled down to these two rules:

  • You have to be at least 19 years old to purchase cigrarettes.
  • No smoking indoors in public places.

Canadian Cigarette Brands

You’re going to have to ask someone else about which Canadian brands to smoke. Beyond “quit now,” I can’t really make any recommendations. What I know about Canadian cigarettes versus American ones isn’t much:

  • I am told that American cigarettes are “raunchier” than Canadian cigarettes. Can any cross-border smokers comment on this?
  • If you’re really homesick for Marlboros, you can get “Rooftop” brand cigarettes, which are Marlboros with packaging that makes use of Marlboro’s “rooftop” design but not the word “Marlboro”. The cigarette marketing site Filter Tips explains these “no-name” Marlboros, if you’re interested.

Canadian Cigarette Warning Labels

If you’re a smoker coming in from the United States and don’t travel outside the country much, you might not be aware that your country has the teeniest cigarette warning labels in the world, despite being the first to put warnings on cigarette packs in the first place.

Here in Canada, cigarettes have to devote half the visible surface of cigarette packaging to health warnings, which have livelier copy and are backed with pictures. Here are my two favourite warnings: first, the “mouth cancer” one…

Canadian cigarette warning label: \"Cigarettes cause mouth diseases\"

…and the “trying to stick a marshmallow into a parking meter” one:

Canadian cigarette warning label: \"Tobacco use can make you impotent\"

If you’re going to ignore the warnings, you might as well be entertained by them, right?

Canadian Cigarette Displays

And finally, I’ll come to the title of this post, Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?

If you set foot into a convenience store here, the first thing you’ll notice after the bilingual packaging is that there are no cigarettes to be seen. What you might see is a blank wall behind the shopkeeper that is almost completely devoid of features or markings. It’s a cigarette cabinet:

Artcube cigarette cabinets
An Artcube cigarette cabinet.

This started only a couple of weeks ago in Ontario, when the law banning the open display of cigarettes in stores came into effect. This “out of sight, out of mind”-inspired law requires people who sell cigarettes to store them in featureless cabinets, and it seems that they’re not allowed to post anything on them, even if it’s not tobacco-related. If you wander into a convenience store and are wondering where the cancer sticks are, they’re in the blank cabinets.


RubyFringe: July 18-20

RubyFringe logo

There’ve been hints about it all over the ‘net for the past couple of weeks, but it’s finally out: the RubyFringe conference is taking place in Toronto on July 18th through 20th. Its organizers — local Ruby/Rails heroes Unspace — describe it as “an avant-garde conference for developers that are excited about emerging technologies outside of the Ruby on Rails monoculture”. If the “sold-out and over-sold labradoodle shows that are now staged with alarming frequency” are Kenny G, RubyFringe aims to be the Sex Pistols.

“We believe that the most important function of a geek conference is to encourage networking between smart people doing awesome stuff,” the site says. “We have plans to keep everyone engaged for the entire duration of the event, with several meals as well as after-hours socializing covered.”

The event boasts:

  • Just one track
  • A limit of 150 attendees
  • No technical sponsors

If there’s a group capable of making this gathering — calling it a conference would be contrary to its spirit — it’s Unspace, who are the folks behind Toronto’s original regular gathering of Rails developers, Rails Pub Nite.

Also adding to the event is the speaker list, which already has an interesting assortment of people. Hampton Catlin wrote in his blog that when coming up with the idea for the conference, they had a list of 10 dream speakers and they’ve secured all ten, and from the list below, they’ve got even more:

The conference will take place at the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Toronto, just a hop, skip and a jump away from some of Toronto’s more interesting neighbourhoods, including Chinatown, Queen Street West, Kensington Market and College West. The early-bird registration rate is $650, and you’ll be able to register starting February 18th.

If you’re looking for a change from the usual big conference fare, this might be the event for you, and Toronto — a great city with all sorts of things to do — is a great place to have it.