No. 8: Because we became a wine city overnight

No. 8: Because we became a wine city overnight

The pandemic turned our best wine bars into streetside patios, bottle bodegas and de facto wine clubs

Despite toronto’s giddiness for all things boozy, there’s a teetotalling strand in our civic DNA, a genetic remnant of our land-clearing Protestant past. For a long time, ours was a whiskey town. Then it was beer. Cocktails peaked in the early aughts. Our wine game, however, never took off, thanks to arcane restrictions on who could sell it and where. The pandemic changed all that when Queen’s Park allowed restaurants to act like alcohol retailers so long as customers ordered food at the same time. Many of our best wine bars transformed into streetside vino patios, bottle bodegas and de facto wine clubs, all offering a selection of stellar vintages seldom found at the LCBO.

Photo by Daniel Neuhaus
Paradise Grapevine

Paradise moved their drinks program online in March, but when the pandemic hit, they took the whole concept a step further and went to wine country to make their own boozy beverages. Their rosé and orange wines sold out in seconds, but you can still get your hands on their hard seltzer—a sparkling, crushable peach-and-lime-zest-infused riesling. 841 Bloor St. W., 416-536-7178,

Grape Glass

The self-titled Grape Witches have spent the last few years carrying the banner for natural and biodynamic wines through their stellar monthly wine club, pop-up natural wine parties and educational events. The next logical step was to give their work a permanent home, and in early September, they raised a glass to the opening of their new bottle shop on Dundas West. 1247 Dundas St. W.,

Bottega Volo

At both Bar Volo and its sister spot, Birreria Volo, drinkers will find an expansive list of Spanish cider, wines and craft beers, plus cured meats and other treats. The bottle shop is open seven days a week, and if you choose to, you can grab a glass and stay a while once you’re done shopping. 17 St. Nicholas St., 416-928-0018; 612 College St., 416-531-7373,

Happy Coffee and Wine

This Parkdale spot opened earlier this year as a café, slinging light snacks and coffee during the day. The owners had planned to turn the lights down at night and crack open a few small-producer bottles of wine, morphing into a local wine bar. But the pandemic had other plans, and they turned the space into a full-fledged bottle shop instead. 1304 King St. W., 416-588-3000,

Grape Crush Wine and Juice Box Bar

At the start of the pandemic, the SoSo Food Club team got creative, turning their space into Grape Crush, a bottle shop selling natural wines from a takeout window. They gained a huge following, so they’ve pivoted again, opening a permanent bottle shop that’s also a wine bar hybrid. 1166 Dundas St. W., 416-519-6661,

Bot’L Shop

This dialled-down nook of a bar set up an online wine shop with free same-day delivery to weather the pandemic. Guests can pop in to peruse the IRL bottle shop—one guest at a time—for selections from Envinate, Koppitsch and La Storga, plus cool sake and beer. Bottles rotate weekly, so the smart thing to do is to stop in frequently for hidden gems. 322 Bathurst St., 647-969-7700,

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