Travel Advice: Take me out to the Blue Jays game

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Posted April 11, 2012 by Adrian Brijbassi in Sports Trips
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Seeing Jose Bautista at the plate is only one part of the fun of going to Toronto for a Blue Jays game. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Advice from Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

TORONTO — On Oct. 20, 1992, I stood in line for nine hours to get into the SkyDome’s Hard Rock Café. That was the night of the first World Series game played in Canada. The Hard Rock Café, which is no longer at the ’Dome, charged only $15 and a two-drink minimum — the perfect spot for a university student to witness history.

Back then, the Blue Jays truly were Canada’s team, with the mania for a championship stretching far beyond Ontario. It’s been 19 years since the Blue Jays won the second of their back-to-back World Series titles. They haven’t made the playoffs since and the city has missed the electricity of those years when you felt like a champion just for living here. But hope emerges with each April in this sport and predictions for a postseason run are more optimistic than they’ve been in nearly two decades.

Whether a full season of Brett Lawrie in the lineup and a revamped bullpen is enough to lift the Jays back to glory won’t be known for months. For now, what we do know is going to the ballgame is full of decisions besides what opposing team to see and what tickets to purchase. Here’s a guide for all those baseball fans coming to Toronto to catch the Jays this season:

WHERE TO PARK IN TORONTO

Mass transit is still the best option for coming into Toronto. Whether it’s by a GO Train from outside the city or a TTC subway ride within it, the Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome) is only a 5-minute walk from Union Station. But if you do drive, expect to pay $20 or more to park within the vicinity of the ’Dome.

You can cut that cost in half and sometimes three-quarters by parking farther away and making a longer walk or shorter subway ride to the game. Unlike cities like Seattle and Baltimore, Toronto doesn’t have a lively pre-game atmosphere for baseball but the city is safe and easy to walk, with plenty of eye-catching architecture and interesting neighbourhoods.

For a $10 flat rate, you can park at the Toronto Bus Terminal parking lot on Elizabeth Street, north of Dundas Street, and walk 30 minutes to the game. In the same area, the parking lot at 38 Elm Street near the corner of Bay Street charges just $6 if you park after 6 pm and leave before 2:30 am on most nights. Check parkopedia.com for more options.

BEST PLACES TO EAT IN TORONTO

At the game: The Roundhouse Carvery and Bar at Section 122 serves roast beef sandwiches and a selection of beers, wines, and spirits. Other spots include the Muddy York Market (Section 109) and a Quaker Steak & Lube (Section 134) that’s known in the US for its wings.

Before the game (night): For pub grub, the Irish Embassy is a cut above the crowd. Also, try the Bier Markt for mussels and a wide selection of brews.

Before the game (day): For matinee games, which are usually on the weekends, you’ll want to hit Canteen at the Toronto International Film Festival Tower for brunch. Reservations are highly recommended.

After the game (nearby): Real Sports Bar, C’est What? and the Bier Markt are popular spots. None will disappoint. Real Sports has the largest HDTV screen in North America and is perfect for watching the NHL playoffs. It was named the best sports bar on the continent in 2011 by ESPN. C’est What?, meanwhile, has outstanding microbrews and a lively atmosphere packed with locals. Although there are a couple of TVs behind the bar, it’s not a sports hangout, which can be a nice change after a game. For something upscale, hit DEQ, the outstanding patio bar at the Ritz-Carlton. Feel like good food with a clubby feel (re: waitresses with long legs)? Then Bloke & 4th is the new hot spot in town for solid food and nightlife.

After the game (farther afield): If you want to explore the city, try the Ballroom for the best sports-bar food in the city, as well as plenty of TVs and a bowling alley in the heart of the Entertainment District. For just good beer, hit Bar Volo, the best beer bar in the city. For cocktails and a true speakeasy feel, visit Goodnight! Bar, which is down a dark alley on Richmond Street just west of Spadina. You’ll need to call or text for a reservation (647-963-5500). For great steak, avoid overpriced places like the Harbour 60 and Bardi’s, and head to Barberian’s on Elm Street, a steakhouse that’s stood in Toronto since 1959. No-nonsense and amazing. Also, Brant House off of King Street West is outstanding.

WHERE TO STAY IN TORONTO

For baseball fans, it’s hard to beat the Renaissance at the Rogers Centre. You can even get a room overlooking the field — a vantage point made famous in the stadium’s early days when exhibitionists managed to steal attention from the boys of summer on the field.

The Strathcona is the most reasonably priced hotel in walking distance to the ’Dome, but the best value may be the Novotel on the Esplanade, a fine hotel in a terrific location. It often has deals.

OTHER SIGHTS TO CATCH IN WALKING DISTANCE

Hockey Hall of Fame: Sports fans must see the hall, where interactive displays and loads of great history are offered. Fun on weekend mornings prior to the game.

CN Tower: Torontonians don’t get too excited about the tower any more. It’s been around for nearly 40 years and for most residents it serves as a directional landmark more than a place to go. But the tower — the tallest free-standing structure in Canada — is a thrill and visitors won’t be disappointed. The view in any direction you look — but especially facing southeast toward Lake Ontario and beyond — is magnificent. (Here’s a video — cool, eh?)

Harbourfront Centre: Toronto’s waterfront has been a source of ridicule by citizens and visitors for years, but there are signs of improvement. The Harbourfront area has numerous performances, festivals and entertaining weekly events that are often worth checking out. Visit the website for the schedule when you’re in town.

GETTING BLUE JAYS TICKETS

The Blue Jays rarely sell out anymore — a consequence of years of missing the playoffs. Until Torontonians really begin to believe there’s a championship-calibre team in town, you’ll be able to walk up and get tickets on most game days at the Rogers Centre box office. You can purchase tickets online before you arrive or you could also take your chances with scalpers, who will give you a better price than what you’ll find at the box office. But you’ll have to negotiate. Have a seating map handy on your smartphone so you know exactly what seats you’re purchasing from street sellers. Although scalpers have a notorious reputation for selling fraudulent tickets, you’ll usually get a fair deal in Toronto.

TRAVEL TIP OF THE WEEK

The Canadian Tulip Festival (formerly the Ottawa Tulip Festival) celebrates its 60th anniversary from May 4-21, and Mother’s Day happens to fall in the middle of it on May 13. That’s a getaway Mom would love and because the festival was slow getting its plans announced this year there is still time to take advantage of hotel deals and packages. This year, the festival extends into different parts of the city, including the By-ward Market, so no matter where you venture you’re likely to be greeted by those beautiful flowers, whose origin in the nation’s capital is one of the sweetest stories in Canadian history.

NEED MORE TRAVEL ADVICE

Planning a trip to Toronto or anywhere else? Email me at adrian@vacay.ca if you have questions or need advice.


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About the Author

Adrian Brijbassi
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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.

 
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