Toronto festivals ... and more reasons to visit.

CanWest News Service
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Hogtown is abuzz with events this fall: between the Toronto International Film Festival (which starts Sept. 10), Nuit Blanche (an all-night arts party on Oct. 3) and about a zillion boring work conferences, there is a good chance that you, too, will be sucked into the "T-Dot." As the rest of Canada likes to point out frequently, Toronto herself is a high-maintenance female dog. So it should come as no surprise that the city isn't content to relinquish all the glory to George Clooney and other incoming celebs. She wants some of the attention for herself. Throw her a bone, would ya? While you're in town, check out some of Toronto's best nooks and crannies.

Toronto International
Film Festival (TIFF)
When: Sept. 10 to 19
Why you should go: Oh, come on. Apart from being one of the world's most prestigious film festivals and a wonderful showcase for Canadian cinema, it's a full-throttle celebrity gawk-athon. More than 500 directors, stars and quasi-celebs (ranging in sex appeal from Michael Moore to Megan Fox) are expected to attend.
How it works: Buy your tickets in person from the box office at Nathan Philips Square (100 Queen St. West) or order them by phone. You have three options: customized packages (you choose the films), pre-set packages (programmers choose the films for you - lots of interesting options here like Midnight Madness and a Double Date Gala Package) or single tickets.
Cost: Packages range from $35 to $524.27, singles from $17.17 to $38.50.
More info: www.tiff.net or call 1-877-968-FILM.

Nuit Blanche
When: Oct. 3
Why you should go: At dusk, Toronto will transform from a predictable utilitarian space into a nocturnal circus of the arts. Nuit Blanche (a Parisian concept meaning "sleepless night") won't wind down until dawn - and in the meantime unusual spaces will become platforms for 132 projects. For example, oversized four-letter words will be sculpted out of light at Toronto City Hall, a New York performance artist will take on 20 men in a caged, blindfolded "grudge match" at the bus depot and local celebrities will play an all-night version of Monopoly down at the Stock Exchange with real money. If you think these sound trippy now, wait until you see them by moonlight.
How it works: Simply wander from exhibit to exhibit at your leisure, stopping for emergency caffeine injections when necessary. Projects are closer together than in previous years to facilitate more walking. Public transit hours have also been extended to accommodate the event.
Cost: Free.
More info: www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca

1. Dine in the dark at O. Noir
620 Church St.
www.onoir.com
Even if you're not on a blind date, eating at this restaurant - which just opened in late June - is out of sight. Literally. Taking after the popular pitch-black dining trend that has already swept through Europe, Australia, L.A., New York and Montreal, O. Noir both scares and thrills by leaving you at the mercy of your remaining four senses and the charity of the visually impaired wait staff. At $39 for a three-course meal, it's pleasantly affordable (they save on lighting costs) and daredevils who don't mind pawing at their plates can opt for "surprise" meals.

2. Go vintage shopping in Kensington Market
Kensington Avenue
www.kensington-market.ca
Musty A-line dresses, second-hand cowboy boots and Hawaiian shirts abound on the vintage clothing strip of Kensington Avenue, where Canada's most dedicated hipsters pick through racks of yesteryear's threads against a backdrop of colourful heritage homes.

3. Brunch at the Dakota Tavern
249 Ossington Ave.
www.thedakotatavern.com
Bacon 'n' banjos go together like buck teeth and overalls at Bluegrass Brunch, which happens every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Live bluegrass bands transform the downstairs bar into a cheerful barn atmosphere and food is served family-style on big communal platters.

4. Try Roasted Marshmallow Ice Cream at Greg's Ice Cream
750 Spadina Ave.
www.gregsicecream.com
Who needs the great outdoors and a crackling fire when this urban ice creamery has harnessed the flavour that makes people go camping in the first place?

5. Take in a matinee at NFB Mediatheque
150 John St.
www.onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/mediatheque
Bump up your CanCon intake at the National Film Board's Mediatheque, a cinematic library of sorts where you can screen more than 5,000 NFB titles free at nifty viewing stations.

6. Learn new tricks at St. Lawrence Market
92 Front St. East
www.stlawrencemarket.com
Shunning big-box grocery stores in favour of local markets is de rigueur these days and Toronto's got one of the best. Vendors at the circa-1803 St. Lawrence Market proffer everything from sausages to rare green rice. Learn how to make the most of fresh ingredients at cooking classes at The Market Kitchen.

7. Swig at Steam Whistle Brewery
255 Bremner Blvd.
www.steamwhistle.ca
It's cool to be a moocher at Steam Whistle Brewery, which manufactures Toronto's premium pilsner beer - you're entitled to two free glasses of suds just for walking in the door. Can't bear the guilt? Pay your dues by taking a tour of the site.

8. Sip daintily at BarChef
472 Queen St. West
www.barcheftoronto.com
Rum and coke? Boring as water compared to the eccentric drinks on the menu at this exciting new cocktail lounge, which adheres to the "modern molecular mixology movement" and makes a chef out of the bartender. Fresh herbs, spices and caramelized fruits all star in owner Frankie Solarik's imaginative concoctions, the priciest of which (a Vanilla Hickory Manhattan) rings in at $45. If that number makes you feel like you need a stiff drink, try the kinder $8 recession menu instead.

9. Step into Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor St. West
www.batashoemuseum.ca
Find ancient Egyptian sandals, pumps belonging to Marilyn Monroe and teeny-weenie slippers for bound Chinese feet at this museum dedicated solely to footwear - but the true slam dunk is Shaquille O'Neal's Size-23 basketball sneaker.

10. Have a Chocolate Tea Party at MoRoCo
99 Yorkville Ave.
www.morocochocolat.com
Paris meets Alice in Wonderland at MoRoCo - a chocolate boutique and lounge bedecked in regal purples and fresh whites. Ladies, don your vintage party dresses and indulge in dainty afternoon tea parties in which the orange pekoe is usurped by sipping chocolate. Also on the menu: chocolate pairings (fancy a little Dom Perignon with that chocolate medallion?), fondue and s'mores that you roast right at the table.
Ottawa Citizen

Organizations: Toronto City Hall, National Film Board, Bata Shoe Museum Dom Perignon

Geographic location: Toronto, Canada, Hogtown New York Kensington Avenue Europe Australia Montreal Front St. East Manhattan Paris Wonderland Ottawa

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