Ticket prices had been subject to inflation, which was not unanticipated given the urgency to recover profit. Formerly charging no more than five dollars for peak time access during weekends and Friday evenings, the remaining four days of the work week had been liberated from entry fees. The takeover, and abandoning of the old website, saw a surcharge of three dollars, plus associated administrative and processing charges per ticket. Furthermore, the inaugural tree lighting ceremony was added to the roster of admission-requiring days, despite being scheduled on a Thursday.
Alas, there was but one reliable specimen that came to my rescue. My birthday twin, who is a self-proclaimed "low-maintenance" creature with wholly unrivalled openness to my endless assortment of impromptu proposals and unprecedented randomness, expressed acceptance of the request - wholeheartedly and, most importantly, willingly.
Her proximity to my own coordinates ensured a pragmatic approach to logistics planning. Time and cost savings were unrivalled with the elimination of GO train tickets, which, may I note, have notably grown pricier since the transit service's plunge into single digit ridership numbers at the peak of the pandemic. (Can you blame Metrolinx though?)
This location was significantly larger than that of the John Street location. It boasted ample illumination from its glass panel encasing, seating along the perimeter of the café, and even a decently-sized marketplace for wine and gifts. Also featured was alcohol for sale, which corresponded to its comparatively tardy closing time of 7pm.
An Iced Latte was requested via the platform - tip added for dine-in courtesy. Neither proof of vaccination nor IDs were requested for verification, though we did overhear the barista's high level inquiry to patrons that placed orders at the bar. Signs mandating the provincial order were not upheld within the space; there were no posted notifications beyond recommendations for symptom screening. We took to a window seat: I cracked open the weighty monster of a machine, while the birthday bud took to an analog activity - journalling.
Washrooms were situated towards the back of the café-market hybrid. Signs pointed towards the end of a hallway featuring minimal illumination and a noticeable amount of cardboard boxes within its path. A member of staff with dainty Korean-style tattoos gestured towards the accessible stall, "The bathroom is there." Two sinks were affixed outside the bathroom, with one more inside the stall, promoting handwashing through the act of convenience.
Work continued into the early evening hours. Dark Horse had imposed a one-hour limit for dine-in customers, which we had stretched by 150% (yet did not get booted).
Foreign names of storefronts and rotating light displays served to distract us on our sojourn. Stopping for photos at nearly every point of interest (me), we didn't complete the first loop until about 5:45 PM.
En route back to the main pathway, the sight of mini donuts from Cops caught our attention. I voted in favour of a savoury dish first, striding over to a stall offering Raclette sandwiches and whiskey cookies in sealed packages of two or six.
"Is it good?" I asked.
"Yes" came a shy reply.
"Oh yes!" boomed the mother. "Would you like to try one?" Her glazed variety was brought up to eye-level. The girl followed suite.
We politely declined, then eventually succumbed to her persistence.
I downed the Cinnamon Sugar without hesitation, while my partner-in-crime glared at me, mouth agape. "I thought we were sharing!"
"Oh." My lack of consideration dawned on me. "But splitting would mean sticky fingers...." My mind trailed off.
"Well I'm eating this one!" She turned and copied the very action that earned me much disapproval. I was then informed that the Ginger Snap Molasses Glaze was "just glazed", without essences of ginger molasses.
This was it - 37 days till Christmas.
We concluded the horseradish mustard as the superior dipping sauce. Akin to wasabi, its qualities stimulated teardrops and clarified any hints of nasal congestion.
The Mulled Cider possessed a robust flavour despite bitter aftertaste. That said, it wasn't unpleasantly bitter, and was really quite cozy in a single-digit environment.
Mint Chocolate Smoothies from Palgong sent shivers our way, inducing excruciating brainfreeze and numbing fingertips while in wait for our turn at Tartistry. Heat was reinstated with our retreat indoors.
Preserved in its paper bag, I took to the contents the next morning. In spite of the unseemly shower of sugary dust, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Crackly edges paired with a chewy interior and plentiful portion of mint enthralled the tastebuds. The Sweet Escape had proved proficiency in both sweet and savoury realms.