Free beer found right here

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By Katie Schneider

You don’t have to go far for a little taste of Toronto history, complete with chocolate mae right before your eyes, and free beer samples fresh from the tanks.

The Toronto Distillery Historic District, located on Mill Street, south of Front Street and east Parliament Street, is also an area for students to attract business. Alice Lee, visitor centre manager of the distillery, says artists just starting out find the Sunday markets a good place to display their work. This is especially true in the summer, she says, when the distillery becomes a much livelier place.

The site became a Toronto attraction in may, but the distillery itself is 163 years old. The old storage rooms and other parts of the distillery have been converted into art galleries, specialty shops, cafes and restaurants. A chocolate maker, an art gallery, a jewellery maker, a furniture designer, a goldsmith, a calligrapher, a watercolour artist and a hand embroiderer can all be found in this 13-acre district.

Lee said it’s a “mix of emerging talent and established talent who participate” in exhibiting their crafts. She says they have already had students from George Brown College setting up displays, but anyone can pay $50 per weekend to showcase their work in an exhibition place.

Third-year image arts student Sarah Mangialardo said she would consider showcasing her work. “Any chance to get your artwork out is good,” she said. But she also mentions the distillery area appeals to a “yuppie” 20-30-year-old group. “I’m not sure if edgy artwork can sell,” she said.

There are also spaces in huge warehouses for future businesses to start out. The district will be the site of new shops and projects in development. Right now, it is a site for everyone, Lee said, including film companies. Chicago, Hemingway vs. Callahan, RoboCop, and X-Men are just some of the movies that have made use of the distillery’s historic backdrops.

School groups come for tours, older crowds enjoy the art and restaurants, and couples enjoy the quaint cafes. The Grand Piano plays live music on weekends.

Recent RTA graduate A.G.Klei first went to the distillery district last summer for the arts and crafts show and the outdoor entertainment, but didn’t know much about it. He said he loved the “whole feeling and ambiance of it” and enjoyed the rural atmosphere of the old distillery with its cobblestone streets. That summer day it was lined with tents, a stage, and independent artists displaying their work.

“For me it was cool to get away from what you usually get in the city,” Klei said. “I like the concept of how it’s been salvaged by the arts community.”

The markets are every Sunday lasting until the end of May. They are located inside the visitor centre until the weather becomes warmer.

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