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Art, music, modernity, revelry all nuit long

Toronto neighborhoods and businesses glow on Nuit Blanche.
Toronto neighborhoods and businesses glow on Nuit Blanche. (City of Toronto)
By Denise Balkissoon and Nancy Won
Globe Correspondents / September 7, 2008
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Darkness blankets a crisp autumn evening, and the city buzzes with life. In the business district, where sidewalks usually roll up on weekends, suited executives huddle inside an Airstream trailer. A west side stadium is overrun by fuzzy sports mascots, while circus performers let loose outside the public library. Welcome to the Toronto edition of Nuit Blanche, a 12-hour, gallery-opening-meets-block-party that stretches over one night.

Conceived in Paris and replicated worldwide, Nuit Blanche (French slang for an all-nighter) happens on Oct. 4 in Toronto this year. The event is a chance to trawl the downtown core, experience local and international art, and wear your sunglasses at night.

First, text YES to 647-989-7707 to subscribe to mobile messages from "R u part of the art?," a conceptual work that invites visitors to participate in directives that will be delivered throughout the night. Then, head to the nearest subway station to pick up a $9.50 transit day pass, good for unlimited travel on subway trains, streetcars, and buses in the city.

Here, is the scoop on key exhibits in the best neighborhoods; you can check out the full program at scotiabanknuitblanche.ca. It's time to whoop it up, artsy style.

Liberty Village

This former industrial-era jumble of factories is the city's latest yuppie hot spot with its sexy new storefronts, beautiful loft conversions, and picturesque cafes - the perfect backdrop for an all-night affair with art.

First, say a little prayer for . . . well, yourself, at Yoko Ono's Wish Tree (Allan Lamport Stadium parking lot, 1151 King St. West). Scribble your wish on a piece of paper and tie it to one of several wishing trees; later they will be collected and stored at Yoko's Peace Tower in Iceland. Now indulge in a bit of harmless fun. Inside the stadium, a gaggle of plush sports mascots will attempt to act crazy, clown around, and cheer their gigantic heads off for 12 hours. Needless to say, naps and snacks will play larger roles as the evening progresses.

Though small, this factory block is packed with discoveries. Brian Joseph Davis's Original Soundtrack, tucked away inside a condo sales office (80 Lynn Williams St.), uses snippets of music taken from DVD movie menus and loops them together to create an unforgettable audio/visual experience. Bleary-eyed gallery-goers can get caffeinated at Balzac's Coffee Roastery (43 Hanna Ave.), open until 2 a.m. for the event.

Queen West

Famous for colorful characters, hipster hangouts, and indie galleries, Queen West is always a flurry of activity during Nuit Blanche. Start at Trinity Bellwoods Park (Queen Street West and Strachan Avenue) where German artist Regine Schumann will create a sea of blinking red lights installed on flexible stakes that will sway in the wind. Stop by the tennis courts to take a self-portrait in front of a giant driver's license and leave with the makings of a fake ID worthy of the McLovin in "Superbad."

Don't be afraid to pop into places not on the official program, as most galleries along Queen, including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (952 Queen St. West), will be showing mind-bending installations and performance pieces all night. And when you think you've seen it all, venture beyond the bridge at Dufferin Street to Parkdale, where a world of creative expression awaits. Hop on a traveling antique trolley for fashion-inspired theatrical performances (Queen Street West and Dufferin) or check out a family-friendly Mexican Day of the Dead festival involving a parade of costumed giants (PlayDead Cult, 1233 Queen St. West) .

Feeling peckish? Head to booming Ossington Avenue for your pick of late night saloons or 5 a.m. brunch at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. West), which will also be hosting a racy burlesque show, late-night karaoke, and installations throughout.

Business district

One of the most novel aspects of Nuit Blanche is how it alters the atmosphere of utilitarian spaces. Take Union Station (65 Front St. West). The 81-year-old building has a pretty interior, with high, domed ceilings, but it's generally a workaday hub for busy commuters. Imagine the surprise of a harried 9-to-5er wandering into the station's lower west corridor only to be greeted by drooling monsters and ear-piercing screams. If you're looking for some late-night terror, Kelly Mark's Horroridor is a must.

The city's business district radiates out from here, and a number of exhibits explore finance and politics. At the intersection of Sheppard and Temperance streets, Business Class sees a group of executives discussing corporate responsibility inside an Airstream trailer, while Rita McKeough hand-cranks oil to generate power for Alternator (parking lot at Church Street and The Esplanade). Discuss it all afterward over sweet barbecued meats at Korean Grill House (214 Queen St. West), open until 4 a.m.

City Hall

One of Toronto's most notable landmarks is the 43-year-old modernist City Hall (100 Queen St. West). For Nuit Blanche, the 960 windows of its two asymmetrical towers will come to life with nearly a thousand flashing light bulbs for Stereoscope by Berlin's Project Blinkenlights. The installation will morph and flicker into graphic animations all night, and since interaction is both a highlight of the art fest and a Blinkenlights mandate, viewers can participate in the fun with controllers and smartphones in the public square at the foot of the building.

A short walk east along Queen Street takes you to Yonge Street, where loads of exhibits are scheduled in and around the Eaton Centre shopping complex and Ryerson University. A few steps off Yonge, across from Massey Hall, you can fuel up on diner classics at the 24-hour spot, Fran's, (200 Victoria St.). The subway runs underneath Yonge, so it's easy to bounce around. Up where Yonge meets Bloor Street, the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge St.) is the setting for the performance piece Circus of Dreams , which promises stilt walkers and fire eaters, plus midnight storytelling inside the building's yawning atrium.

University of Toronto

The beautiful grounds and historic buildings of the university have always been a central part of the festivities. Start at University College (15 King's College Circle), located in the campus's prestigious main circle, which will host Vehicle , a massive group project of multiple installations. A highlight is Meet, a piece involving 30 rally cars illuminating each other with their headlights in the leafy Victorian quad.

Next, walk up Tower Road, at the top of King's College Circle, where the 80-foot-long streetscape from local director Atom Egoyan's "Adoration" will be installed. Scenes projected through the windows offer an immersive and voyeuristic experience.

Feeling inspired? Your canvas awaits. At nearby Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor St. West) take part in a giant Paint By Numbers drawing of feet, of course. If you need to decompress, Massimo Pizza & Pasta (302 College St.) is a late-night hangout open until 4.

Denise Balkissoon can be reached at balkissoon@gmail.com, Nancy Won at nancy@nancywon.com.

Related

If You Go

Where to shop

Shopgirls

1342 Queen St. West

416-534-7467

shopgirls.ca

Located in the up-and-coming Parkdale Village, and brimming with locally designed clothing, jewelery, decor, and original artwork.

Ministry of the Interior

80 Ossington Ave.

416-533-6684

ministryoftheinterior.net

Specializing in cutting-edge design from around the world, this shop-gallery offers furniture, accessories, and lighting as well as new works by up-and-coming artists.

UPC Boutique

128 1/2 Cumberland St.

416-929-9209

upcboutique.com

This minimalist boutique boasts uber-chic clothing and accessories from style havens such as Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, and New York.

Where to stay

Gladstone Hotel

1214 Queen St. West

416-531-4635

gladstonehotel.com

A beautifully restored 1889 hotel with one-of-a-kind artist-designed rooms; Nuit Blanche guests enjoy complimentary coffee in the morning and late checkout, $174-$448.

The Drake Hotel

1150 Queen St. West

416-531-5042

thedrakehotel.ca

Located in the middle of the Art & Design District, this hipster hangout draws downtown urbanites with its exposed brick walls, modern-day comforts, and plenty of Old World charm, $178-$282.

Hôtel Le Germain

30 Mercer St.

416-345-9500

germaintoronto.com

Providing modern luxury in a boutique setting close to the business district's Nuit Blanche action, the Germain offers sleek design, zen atmosphere, and flawless service, $231-$895.

Where to eat

C5

100 Queen's Park

416-586-7928

c5restaurant.ca

Beautifully presented haute cuisine in Daniel Libeskind's new Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum. Entrees $21-$36.

Delux

92 Ossington Ave.

416-537-0134

Feeling homesick? Book a table at former Truc chef Corinna Mozo's fresh digs on Toronto's Ossington strip, the new home of her famous pressed Cuban sandwich. Entrees $18-$22.

Bright Pearl

346-348 Spadina Ave.

416-979-3988

brightpearlseafood.com

Toronto's Chinatown rivals the best in the world. Don't miss dim sum at this busy brunch spot, about $2.50-$5.20 per dish.

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