Much of Hamilton’s exciting revival can be traced to our downtown core. And there’s probably no better place to start exploring than James Street North.
This eclectic stretch of iconic Hamilton is packed with unique galleries, shops, restaurants, and unique architecture - yours to explore year-round.
Or enjoy it next to friendly crowds during our famous monthly Art Crawl.
Here's your guide to the ins and outs of one of Hamilton’s most fascinating and popular events.
Art Crawl 101
On the second Friday of every month, Hamilton’s arts and culture hub, James Street North, is transformed by a decade-old phenomenon called Art Crawl.
It's a one-stop shop to experience the city's art, music, and food scenes, while shopping local, people watching, and taking in some city sights all at once.
While there are no strict rules or schedule, the general gist is this: galleries, studios, stores and restaurants stay open late to welcome thousands of visitors who fill the sidewalks. They start arriving early evening and pack the street until late.
There is a welcoming energy surrounding Art Crawl that's hard to find elsewhere -it's approachable, friendly, and completely unpretentious.
While art crawls have spread to other cities, Hamilton's has always been held up as a unique gold standard. It's evolved organically and everyone contributes to making it what it is, from the spectators to the artists to the local business owners.
The best way to experience Art Crawl is to set out on foot and explore. Each month is different - you never know what you will stumble across. Here's a quick primer to use as a jumping off point.
Art Crawl is about experiencing what’s happening outside as much as it is being inside the various venues. You’ll pass artisans, visual artists, and entertainers. Whether you purchase a one-of-a-kind handmade item or drop some money into a busker’s hat, you’ll be supporting local artists along the way.
One space to find artists all in one place is Makers’ Market located outside of historic Christ Church Cathedral. As you approach, you’ll hear the friendly sounds of the amazing Bill & the Art Crawlers playing music to gathering crowds outside Cathedral Place.
Upon entering the courtyard you will find a variety of artisans and food vendors under tents and twinkling lights.
The gallery spaces along James Street North host rotating exhibits usually in conjunction with the monthly Art Crawl.
- Hamilton Artists Inc.: This large and sunny artist-run centre is an arts anchor in the city and hosts regular innovative exhibits.
- You, Me, Gallery: When Art Crawl began ten years ago, it was just a handful of galleries who started the monthly tradition, with You, Me, Gallery leading the way. Loose Cannon and The Print Studio were also among the first few who coordinated their new exhibit openings, and Art Crawl grew from that point on. Be sure to stop into these Art Crawl pioneers each month.
- Centre3: This friendly and dynamic artist-run print and media arts centre always has great programming and exhibits during Art Crawl. Expect to see works created in their traditional print-making (lithography, silkscreening) and state of the art digital media facilities
For some retail therapy, there are many independent shops along James Street North selling a range of unique and local products.
- Revolved Boutique: Pick up some well-priced name-brand clothing and accessories at this mother and daughter-owned consignment shop.
- Dr. Disc: Bring home some choice vinyl from this well-loved local record shop, home to friendly staff and a great collection.
- Len.: Pick up some Hamilton-inspired souvenirs from this self-described purveyor of “pop culture and design-y things”.
- La Bichette: Owner Lauren Ricottone does a wonderful job curating this contemporary lifestyle boutique. From women’s apparel and accessories, beauty products, and gift items, the shop is absolutely lovely.
- Pretty Grit: Find unique home decor and gift items – everything from paper goods, tea, bath and apothecary goodies, and housewares like pillows, mirrors, lighting and more.
Delicious food and drink is a must to keep you energized while you ‘Crawl. Hamilton’s culinary scene is on fire right now – chefs are cooking up innovative and mouth-watering meals at every turn, and James Street North is no exception.
- Mulberry Coffeehouse: A major pillar of James North, Mulberry is a community hub where you can stop in for coffee, baked goods, sandwiches and salads. Kick back on their patio with a cocktail or local beer. They also frequently feature live music.
- Mesa: Chef Veronica Sanchez is no stranger to James North – her former Mexican restaurant was an original staple of the street. She now owns and operates at her new home, Mesa, serving up more of that phenomenal, authentic Mexican cuisine.
- The Burnt Tongue: These guys know their soup! They dish up a new variety daily, in addition to burgers, fries, salads and grilled cheeses.
- Chocolat on James: This popular chocolate boutique creates decadent desserts on site and scoops out epic ice cream cones, hand dipped and piled high with yummy toppings. You'll recognize the James Street North destination by its big summer line ups. But trust me, these sweet treats are worth the wait.
For an Art Crawl nightcap or a rest-stop during your walk, there are many spots to grab a pint of craft beer or a top-notch cocktail.
- Bar Sazerac: New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar to pop in for an exquisite cocktail. The bartenders are incredibly knowledgeable and can find just the right drink for you. Choose one off the menu or pick a base and let them work their magic.
- The Brain: This popular neighbourhood bar is also a destination for visitors looking for a cool, laid back hangout. Co-owned by Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan, who dubbed it “a bar for people who don’t like bars”, it’s full of colourful characters, board games, a great beer selection and patios out front and back.
- Academica: It doesn’t get more James Street North than this one. It’s a hidden gem that you will only find if you venture down a narrow hallway beside Charred – climb the stairs and you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a giant airplane on the ceiling! Cheap beer, Foosball… it’s always a fun hangout spot.
- Merit Brewing: Brand new brewpub with stunning, 100+ capacity interior and patio, with rotating beer list which are all brewed in house. Delicious menu specializing in sausages and other beer-friendly bites – they are a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.
Kristin Archer is a lifelong Hamiltonian and the blogger behind the popular blog I Heart Hamilton where she inspires every local to “be a tourist in your own city.” She’s passionate about discovering her hometown, new experiences and sharing all that Hamilton has to offer. Catch Kristin Fridays at 2 p.m. when she hosts “I Heart Hamilton” on 93.3 CFMU and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.