January 2015 in Yorkville

Tuesday Mar 03rd, 2015




On Christmas night, a still-unexplained fire destroyed the building at 116 Avenue Rd., home to Spuntini restaurant on the top floor an the aptly named Sotto Sotto (Italian for underneath) in the basement. 

Many Yorkville residents were tipped off to the three-alarm disaster via the throngs of smoke and screaming sirens. Ninety firefighters worked to put out the blaze, which officials are treating as "suspicious," saying that it could take several months to determine the cause. Some 5.6 million others got the sad news via a different source - Drake's Instagram. The rapper and devoted Toronto booster posted an in-memoriam style snap of Sotto Sotto. "My second home," he called it, and he wasn't exaggerating. In recent years, Drake has shown serious love for his top hometown haunt, name-dropping it in two separate songs. He has been spotted dining there almost as frequently as he's seen courtside at the Raptors game - the latest in a long line of A-listers who helped to turn a subterranean shoebox into a much-loved Toronto institution.

The space began its culinary life as Sisi, also an Italian neighbourhood spot opened by Leo Schipani in the late eighties. It became Sotto Sotto in 1993, after Mr. Schipani fell on hard times and sold his restaurant to its current owner, Marisa Rocca. "It" status came swiftly with a mixed bag of bold-face fans: Michael Jordan, Jason Priestly, Tony Danza, Dean Cain, Ellen Degeneres and Anne Heche, to name just a few era-defining celebs who spent time there.

A lot of the allure was geography: Sotto Sotto was located steps away from the old Four Seasons, which meant LA imports could stroll over without putting to many miles on their Manolos. 

"It certainly didn't hurt that the birth of Sotto Sotto coincided with the explosion of TIFF, in the nineties," Shinan Govani said, who covered celebrity comings and goings for the National Post back in Sotto's heyday. Mr. Govani adds that the star power that swooshed around the restaurant during the film festival carried over to celebs shooting in town throughout the year.

"That reached a kind of apex in 2001, The New York Times reported, that there were about 40 TV and film projects shooting in Toronto at one time," he says. The final piece was that ineffable matter of ambiance: In many ways, Sotto Sotto was the first hipster hangout in the sense that it was casual and cool in the we're-not-trying-to-be-cool kind of way. The curb outside may have looked like the site of a "my car is more expensive than your car" competition, but inside celebs could relax and rest assured that their needs were taken care of.

"It was a very cozy place with nooks and corners and privacy, which was very attractive to celebrities," says Helga Stephenson, who was the director of TIFF just as Sotto Sotto was taking off. "There was also the fact that you could get great food, but you didn't have to be dressed to the nines - now that's just a given, but it wasn't then."

It truly is harder to name celebrities who have not Sotto'd at one time or another, to use a verb first coined by Toronto stargazer Rita Zerkas: Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, Bono, Bill Murray, David Beckham, Burt Reynolds, Brook Shields, Bruce Willis, Blake Lively, Ben Affleck - and that's just the B's. Oprah Winfrey threw a private dinner during TIFF 2009. John Hamm hung out there at the height of Mad Men-mania the following year. Along with Hollywood royalty, the restaurant has also been frequented by at least one actual royal (Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York), many politicos (Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau), several star athletes (Sidney Crosby, Donovan Bailey, Chris Bosh) and an artist formerly known as Prince. 

"We are heartbroken over the loss of our restaurant that has been a part of the Yorkville neighbourhood, history and culture for more than 22 years," Ms. Rocca said in an official statement released on Boxing Day. After arriving in Canada from Italy in the late 1980s, Ms. Rocca began her culinary career as a dishwasher at another Yorkville restaurant, Fieramosca, and worked her way up. Sotto Sotto was her first restaurant, and one she says she plans on rebuilding. Management is currently appealing to long-standing customers to help restore its friends and patrons database, which was lost in the fire. 

For the time being though, Drake will have to go elsewhere to "talk women and vino", as he rapped of the restaurant on his 2013 hit albumNothing Was the Same. In the case of Sotto Sotto, it seems like nothing ever will be.

(Park Hyatt - located at 4 Avenue Rd) Long the independent Park Plaza Hotel, it is one of the most venerable hotels in the city. The first known building on the site was a small wayside inn built in 1820 and named Tecumseh Wigwag. Then a considerable distance from the city, it served travellers on their way north out of town. The inn was demolished around 1875.

Oxford Properties Group and Hyatt Hotels Corporation (NYSE:H) announced on December 17, 2014 that Oxford Properties has purchased the 346-room Park Hyatt Toronto hotel from a Hyatt affiliate for approximately $90 million US or $260,000 per room. Oxford intends to spend approximately $25 million USD in additional capital expenditures over the next five years to maintain the brand's cache and prestigious locality at the intersection of Avenue and Bloor, across from the Royal Ontario Museum. A Hyatt affiliate will continue to operate the hotel under a new hotel services agreement.
If you live in or around Yorkville, you have heard the mind numbing noise the fire trucks make. They run their horns and sirens full blast whenever there is an emergency, which happens frequently and 24/7. I'm surprised the ear splitting noise they make hasn't been deemed illegal by the city authorities.

It wasn't always that way though, there was a quainter and quieter time. 

In 1876, the current firehouse on Yorkville Avenue was built. The very same one that houses these outrageous fire trucks of today. Then the fireman on duty lived rent free in a cottage immediately behind the fire hall, likely where 21 Scollard now stands. My guess is that the firemen of the day would run at the hint of a fire, bucket in hand and return to get another bucket and hopefully (likely rarely), he would beat the fire and put it out.

Things looked up considerably in 1877 when a horse and stable were brought on site. This sped things up handily, the firemen could now gallop to the fire, bucket in hand. The Warden of the day however complained of the smells from the horse stable and the city took over the operation in 1883.

Always a good move to get politics involved...(insert eye roll here)

By 1889, the old fire hall was in such a state of disrepair, and completely infected with vermin that the City Commissioner recommended it be pulled down, except for the tower. I guess the rats couldn't climb that high then. It was a popular sport back in the 1890s for the young neighbourhood kids to watch the firemen go into action. As soon as the alarm was sounded, the doors of the fire hall would fly open and the horses rushed from the stalls to an assigned spot in the hall. There, harnesses would be dropped onto them from the ceiling and off they would charge to the cheers of all.

In 1974, the old fire hall was completely restored and an additional bay was added. Also the Yorkville coat of arms was added which still remains above the tower door. The clock on the tower was not part of the original structure but was taken from the Old Town Hall.

Whenever I see these shiny new and very noisy fire trucks racing around our village, I often wonder if all that noise is really necessary, and my mind wanders back to the neighbourhood boys watching the firemen and horses get ready for the fire and how much more tranquil a time that must have been. Does all that racket make the neighbourhood safer? Ah I guess it does, particularly with all the high-rise towers that were nowhere in sight back in the day. Do we love it - No. Will we tolerate it - Maybe. For how much longer - Undecided. Just make sure you have a pair of ear plugs in your night stand.


As many of us Yorkvillites know, residents here pay some of the highest taxes on the planet, so it's nice to see them kicking back a little benefit to us for a change. This time in the form of a brand new Service Ontario outlet.

Located in the basement of the Canadian Tire store on Yonge Street, this outlet can look after all of your Service Ontario needs (Driver and Vehicle, Health, Photo ID Services) and as an added bonus because it's new, there aren't long wait times. No more long walks to College Park either. So next time you're off on a CT trip to buy pots and pans or a battery for your car, just go down to the basement and have your government needs looked after.

I'm sure the hours are typical government hours, but if you want to contact them by phone, call 416-921-9770. This is my first pat on the back to the Ontario government this year, and if history is any indicator, it will likely be the last.
How many people really know the prime time to buy and sell their homes? We looked at all the data from the 2013 Toronto Real Estate Board's Market Watch Report and figured out the best overall times to buy or sell. January appears to be the best time to buy, while May is the best time to sell.

Fewer homes are on the market in the winter, which means there is less competition for the seller, yet it is the optimal time to buy. Who wants to house hunt in the cold weather and post holiday season? A serious buyer looking for a great deal.

Late fall is the best time to sell, since it is past the super competitive time to buy. At this time, buyers will be looking for fresh new listings.
Kitchen designs latest flavour? Suddenly everyone is reaching for black and going to the dark side. People are looking for something their neighbours don't have and kitchen noire seems to be it.

The stark whites in their Mother's kitchens are being tossed aside. Both men and women alike seem to like the new colour and black is becoming the new neutral. Major appliance makers are jumping on the trend, working on new finishes that will blend in with the new darker kitchens.

Small appliances are also jumping on the trend with everything from toasters to juicers appearing in black. While you may not see a lot of evidence of this trend yet, it's coming. Look for intense deep tones that are sort of grey/brown/black or black with a little eggplant mixed in.Welcome to the dark side.
As we look forward to 2015, the Toronto real estate market appears poised for another steady year. The economy continues to deliver stable, modest growth, creating an ideal low-risk environment for real estate developers and investors. 

Urbanization has become one of the key forces shaping our local real estate market. Once viewed as an emerging trend, urbanization today is simply the "new normal." People are flooding into city cores to live close to both work and the lifestyle they crave. Now, companies and retailers are following them, and this is driving new office and commercial developments in the core. In turn, urbanization is blurring industry lines, as commercial and residential developers explore the opportunities that mixed-use properties bring.

Let's take a look at Yorkville's condo market...

The last six months have produced a total of 80 condo sales in Yorkville, a 12% decrease in volume from last issue. The decrease can be primarily attributed to the slow holiday season that has just passed.

Take comfort in the fact that although volume is down considerably (and to be expected), the 6-month moving average price of a Yorkville condo has risen to $1,146,093: a 4.4% increase from the previous 6-month average. The masses aren't out buying Yorkville condos early January, but the one's that are certainly remain to pay the premiums for luxurious product in Canada's most prestigious condo market.

Two bedroom suites continue to dominate the market, accounting for almost 53% of all transactions.

I hope everyone enjoyed a safe holiday season and remember if you have any questions surrounding your real estate situations, please don't hesitate to reach out...I'm only a call or click away.

Looking forward to sharing a prosperous 2015,

Matt Smith, MBA 
- Will Rogers

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