Illustrations By Sophie Berg

5 GTA places to meet people IRL (that aren’t bars)

Make friends, fall in love, sing your heart out and get to know your neighbours—no booze required!

The older we get, the trickier it can be to meet new people. And whether we’re after love or just new friends, many of us find the bar scene overwhelming. Meeting through an activity is an organic way to forge meaningful new connections, and there are plenty of opportunities for out-of-bar experiences in the GTA. Read on for five of our favourites.

1. Glad Day Bookshop
The world’s oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore isn’t just a nice place to shop. Located in the heart of Toronto’s Gay Village, it’s a bookstore, event space, coffee shop and restaurant in one, hosting an average of 75 events per month. “Every second Tuesday is Board Game Night,” says Michael Erickson, a co-owner of Glad Day. “There are also Drag Race viewings during the season, and we do a Drag Brunch every Sunday.” Bingo nights, writing nights and monthly mixers are just a few of the other events where you’ll meet new people and have fun. It’s basically impossible to not find something that appeals to your interests, and the friendly vibes make it easy to get talking (without the need for social lubricants). “You’re surrounded by 100 times more books than bottles,” says Erickson. “Everyone is welcome, and the vast majority of our events are free.”

Illustration of two women sitting together and knitting

2. North York Community House
A neighbourhood hub that focuses on helping newcomers settle in, North York Community House has lots of programs where you can meet people from different cultures and experience diverse traditions, activities and global dishes—all while helping your newest neighbours orient themselves in Canada. Some of the best programming for local people hoping to make connections includes a weekly English conversation meet-up over coffee and cultural activities, such as the Walking Conversation Circle, where participants tour First Nations sites at Fort York and learn more about Canadian history. You can also lend a hand to new residents learning English or prepping for their citizenship test through the mentorship program. That’s what friends are for!

3. Choir! Choir! Choir!
Feeling lonely after her divorce, Kate Rae joined this drop-in choir, where she found her vocal sweet spot singing with the “Highs.” Just a few weeks later, Shawn (a handsome singer in the “Lows”) caught her eye. After a little Facebooking—and a lot more singing—they went on their first real date. Two years later, Rae and her meet-cute were buying a house, saying “I do” and living harmoniously ever after. Choir! Choir! Choir!, an informal Toronto singalong, has gained international media attention—the New Yorker described it as “a profound way for people to connect and interact.” Meeting every Tuesday in the functions room at Toronto’s Clinton’s Tavern—or occasionally at a special venue, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario or Christie Pits Park—participants get a lyric sheet at the door and then spend the next few hours learning an original vocal arrangement of a hit song. The end result is filmed and shared with the whole wide world! “It’s a really easy thing to go to alone—you’re actually doing something, not just standing awkwardly. Singing just feels so good and there are endorphins whizzing around the room,” says Rae. “I didn’t just find my husband; I found a whole new group of friends.”

Illustration of a bunch of hands grabbing a slice of pizza

4. Malvern Family Resource Centre
Connections can span generations, and that’s why checking out a family resource centre like Malvern is your best bet if you enjoy making friends of all ages. A bustling hive of activity, this Scarborough spot has activities for everyone from preschoolers and their parents (like the Dad and Me group) to seniors—shuffleboard, anyone? Seniors informally impart their wisdom to participants of all ages in the community gardens and the knitting circle. And if you’re interested in civic engagement, the 42 Voices group is a place where neighbourhood residents get together to organize and advocate around the needs of the whole community.

5. Taste of Regent Park (Regent Park Community Food Centre)
The Regent Park neighbourhood—in the “Big Park”—is a great place to meet people all summer long. United Way-supported Community Food Centre volunteers regularly fire up the outdoor, wood-fired oven for pizza nights. And every Wednesday evening, as part of the Taste of Regent Park programming, there’s an affordable farmer’s market, a pay-what-you-can community meal (cooked by local caterers) and movie-on-the-lawn evenings (details can be found on the event’s Facebook page). “We have food from all over the world,” says Cavell Hart, Taste of Regent Park’s coordinator. “We have local bands playing, a Bollywood dancer for our Bollywood celebration and Muhtadi World Drummers for our World Food and Music Celebration.” It’s a great way to meet people in your community and—who knows?—maybe pick up a date to share a blanket with on the next movie-on-the-lawn night.

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