2 min

What’s in your Vicinity?

Ryan G Hinds rediscovers Toronto and many of its small businesses with a new rewards card

The blackened Cajun catfish po’ boy at Billy Jack's is a highlight on your Vicinity card tour. Credit: Caroline Becker

It’s so easy to fall into a social routine: same old coffee shop, same old restaurants, same old neighbourhood. Since we live in the biggest, queerest city the country has to offer, there’s no excuse to fall victim to a boring, predictable daily drill, and the new Vicinity app is about to make discovering the city easier.  

Vicinity is a customer loyalty program built to encourage the discovery of fantastic Toronto businesses. Download the app, get the card, collect and redeem points, and have a good time. It’s a welcome twist on the standard “buy 10, get one free,” and Vicinity has built up a network of participating businesses — from food to tanning (winter’s around the corner, gays!) to barbershops to comic stores — the card has something for every taste and need. What I love about Vicinity is that it doesn’t cater to massive chains and big-box stores. It’s nice to get a taste of independently run places all over the city, and it's a good excuse to scatter forth from Church Street.

Giving the card a whirl, my first stop is Dark Horse Espresso Bar (215 Spadina Ave). The coffee is electric, the service friendly, and the big windows looking onto Spadina make for great people watching. A great date spot, it’s popular with arty/hipster queer folk; I spy four same-sex dates. Heading east, I ride the streetcar to Moo Milk Bar (1918A Queen St E). For the wholesome and fancy foodies among us, Moo Milk Bar does milk and gourmet cookies, ranging from pumpkin spice to red velvet to salted caramel dark chocolate. They’re baked in-house from scratch and are just as yummy as the Beaches DILFs that prowl the surrounding sidewalks. This is definitely a queer-friendly hood!

Further out from downtown, my Vicinity card takes me to Billy Jacks’ Po Boys (3369 Bloor St W, at Islington). Although it might seem surprising to denizens of the Village, Etobicoke has many reasons to visit . . . and this place is one of them. Elegant tablecloths and place settings are contrasted with an affordable menu, graced by delicious Cajun food. Stepping inside, you can smell the okra, andouille sausage and the shrimp. I opt for the blackened catfish po' boy, and the spiciness, texture and portion size are winners. I sit down starving, and after one sandwich and one side leave full and happy. I hear the gumbo is pretty fab, too, and because this is Etobicoke, not King Street, the friendly owner and chef, Billy Jack himself, sits down to share some Cajun cooking tips: “You have to have a cast-iron griddle at maximum heat. Clarified butter. You’re searing the seasoning and creating a little pillow; do it right and there’s no 'burnt'  flavour.” Billy Jack’s has mastered the concept of down-home service and fantastic food, with an ambiance suitable for everything from business lunches to first dates. 

After a week of checking out these and the other locations that Vicinity is working with, I feel like I’ve had a mini stay-cation. It’s fun to discover new places and get rewarded for it. My Vicinity card’s definitely going to get a workout this fall.