5 places to go in Hamilton, Ontario

A brick on James Street North in Hamilton, Ontario.
A brick on James Street North in Hamilton, Ontario. –Flickr / Jason Paris

Hamilton, a gritty former steel town, roughly 40 miles southwest of Toronto, is making a comeback. The city is getting a big boost from creatives fleeing Toronto’s skyrocketing real estate costs. Much of the buzz is centered on once-rundown James Street North, which is percolating with a vibrant art scene, inventive farm-to-table restaurants, edgy startups and cool shops. Visitors, once a rarity, are descending on the city, too. Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican director and actor, was in the city last year filming “The Shape of Water” (to open in December). He praised the city, calling it “full of promise and surprises.”

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Smalls

Steps from the James Street North strip, this tiny, all-white espresso bar offers meticulous artisanal coffee alongside pillowy pastries from De La Terre, an organic bakery 29 miles to the east in Vineland; beans come from the Ontario microroasters De Mello Palheta and Detour. 8 Cannon Str. E; no telephone; smalls.coffee

Oswald’s Gallery

Alex Taves, a longtime creative director, left Toronto to open this bright gallery and shop; named for Roald Dahl’s omnivorous Uncle Oswald character, the shop showcases Hamilton artists, live music and goods made in the area, like the owner’s “pop-surrealist” graphic T-shirts. 328 James St. N; 905-528-6326; oswalds.ca

Nique

This spot, open since last October, pays tribute to Canada’s ethnic mosaic. Its menu leaps from sushi nachos to braised beef cheek. Playfully named cocktails include the bourbon-infused Thai Cat, a homage to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. 30 Vine St.; 905-529-8000; niquerestaurant.ca

Saint James

Steampunk accents and spalted maple tables lend the visuals to this packed daytime-only eatery, where weekend crowds queue for brunch staples like peppery avocado toast, crunchy falafel salad and house-made scones. 170 James St. N; 289-389-6565; saint-james.ca

The Assembly

Sixteen prominent Ontario artists, including painter Daniel Hutchinson and sculptor Andrea Carvalho, started this bi-level cooperative gallery last November as an incubator for edgier work — and an alternative to Toronto’s competitive art scene. 4 Cannon St. E; 289-799-3794; assemblygallery.ca

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