Here + Now

The Hidden Hostel of the Danforth

Hidden above The Only Café, just steps from the Donlands TTC subway station, is The Only Backpacker’s Inn. This little gem, one of the few hostels on the east side, plays a vital role in bringing travellers to Greektown.

The more visible but equally unconventional—The Only Café below is one of Toronto’s prominent beer destinations, offering customers an impressive menu of 25 local craft brews and over 230 import brews. For the past 30 years, the café has entertained customers with frequent live-music events and a pinball machine. 

The café’s walls are scattered with eclectic memorabilia: posters of Nirvana, The Beatles, and other timeless rock groups, hang next to photos of Gandhi and Mother Teresa—TTC subway station signs hang between. Nineties mainstream and alternative rock music plays in the background, but no signs point to the Inn. The bartender advises me that I cannot enter the second-floor hostel without proof of a reservation. It feels like an exclusive club. I leave disappointed. Later I discover that the Inn has no reception, and that guests are required to check-in at the café.

The laid-back attitude of the café and inn reminds me of my own experience with hostels from back in my mid-twenties, when I lived and worked abroad in Australia. For this one-year period—I made temporary homes at various hostels in beach towns off Australia’s east coast.

The Only Backpacker’s Inn offers several types of lodging, starting from $25 per night, including mixed and single-sex rooms—with Wi-Fi Internet access and a daily breakfast buffet included. For those looking to relax and socialize in the summertime, I’m told the Inn has a beautiful terrace on the second floor. Online photos show its graffitied walls, and paintings of the sacred lotus flower, meadows, Hinduist, and Buddhist religious figures that hint at its bohemian atmosphere.                   

The Only Backpacker’s Inn houses international travellers—mostly millennials—from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, The Netherlands, United States, Croatia, Germany, Israel, Brazil, Spain, and Sweden, to name a few.  The Inn also accommodates travellers from within Canada, as long as they do not live in the GTA—the hostel’s website indicates this in the fine print—those with a reservation must prove their non-Toronto residency by showing their government photo ID.

With its convenient location, good value, and its mixed international customers, the inn provides a great opportunity for its guests to engage with other travellers, expand social networks and create new friendships. It is also an important asset to the Greektown area because it exposes its millennial guests to local businesses, who in turn benefit from this cohort’s spending habits and extended stays.

Although not the most centrally located hostel in Toronto, The Only Backpacker’s Inn continues to thrive and gain recognition. The Inn is listed as one of the seven best hostels in Toronto by blogTO and with assistance from its neighbouring partner—The Only Café—it continues to carve a name for itself on the streets of the Danforth.

Image from — no copyright infringement intended.

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