It all begins with a nod.
As I descend into the ultra-trendy basement space of West Lounge, one of Toronto's newer "it" spots, the doorman gives me the typical look of approval and allows my passage through the doorway.
The nod sums up Toronto nightlife. It is friendly without being even remotely explicit, pretentious without being off-putting and arrogant enough to rank alongside the other after-hours capitals of the world.
The once-derelict grand old hotels of Queen Street West have been refurbished to become hipster hangouts such as The Drake and The Gladstone.
The old factories and warehouses of King Street are now posh venues and restaurants, while the club district's venues continue to reinvent themselves to meet the demands of a new generation.
This is the Toronto that plays host to some of the world's top designers, top DJs and top celebrities every September for the Toronto International Film Festival. The rest of the year, many of Hollywood's top guns haunt neighborhoods such as trendy Yorkville sipping lattes or shopping before heading out on the town.
Many of those top names indulge in a trend that has gripped the city for about two years - the resto-lounge.
Queen Street's Ultra Supper Club, just a stone's throw from the heart of the club district, is the poshest example. Ultra blends a rare fusion of lascivious lounging and delectable dining, all wrapped in soft tones and minimalist touches.
Other dinner clubs such as Brant House and the more relaxed Habitat add weight to the claim that Toronto's resto-lounge vibe is not to be missed.
With almost every nationality on Earth represented in this city's 2.5 million inhabitants, some of the best design trends, music and even cocktail recipes from around the globe have been adopted as its own.
El Convento Rico blasts Latin music, while the tucked-away-nook Pravda pours premium vodkas - most of them Eastern European ? and other bars and lounges offer entertainment from across the globe.
A friend once asked me why I love this city. I told him it's because, as in any great city, anything can happen and anything is possible once the sun sets and the mirror balls begin to spin.
Then I gave him a nod and walked away.
Chris Atchison's day job sends him out at night; he's a nightlife reporter for Toronto's Metro Newspaper. Here are his favorite local haunts.
A Room with a View: The top-notch menu at Canoe, utilizing locally grown ingredients in traditional Canadian plates, is equaled only by a remarkable 54th-floor view of the city. Toronto Dominion Bank Tower, 66 Wellington St. W., (416) 364-0054;
A Room with a Queue: At Susur, celebrity chef Susur Lee serves some of the city's best Asian and fusion cuisine in an elegantly understated room. Order off the list: Lee's tasting menus offer the best opportunity to experience his culinary mastery. 601 King St. W., (416) 603-2205; www.susur.com
A Room with Ado: Some would argue there are better Italian restaurants in Toronto, but few can match the consistency of Yorkville stalwart Sotto Sotto. Take a look around the room between courses ? this celebrity favorite plays host to stars nearly every weekend. 116A Avenue Road, (416) 962-0011; www.sottosotto.ca
Get Hip: The Drake Hotel, a live music-restaurant-lounge-hotel space, has been the darling of those in the know for the past two years. They all come to indulge in the retro dÃ©cor and purposely ironic vibe. 1150 Queen St. W., (416) 531-5042; www.thedrakehotel.ca
Be Fashionable: The most glamorous of Toronto's resto-lounge hybrids, Ultra Supper Club also draws the most impressive crowd. 314 Queen St. W., (416) 263-0330;
Find Your Groove: Although The Guvernment is not the cutting-edge nightspot it once was, those in search of the city's best DJs (and some imports) need look no further. 132 Queens Quay E., (416) 869-0045;
Toronto retail expert Charles Bennett offers his top picks for those eager to max-out a credit card in the city.
For the Man: Anti Hero has clothing that "is both edgy and cool for the man who wears suits during the week, but wants to look sexy on weekends," Bennett says. 113 Yorkville Ave., (416) 924-6121
For the Fashionista: At TNT Blu, Bennett says, "You can find unique pieces for women that are not only exciting, but exclusive. This is a boutique concept for the sophisticated, chic individual who wants to dress outside the box." 392 Eglinton Ave. W., (416) 544-8544;www.thenewtrend.com
For the Reveler: Holt Renfrew's flagship store is in Toronto. "Whether you're shopping for accessories, clothing or gourmet food, the choices are always second-to-none," Bennett gushes. 50 Bloor St. W., (416) 922-2333;