30 Best Bars

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The 30 best bars in Toronto
The 30 Best Places to Drink In Toronto
Toronto Life| Photography by Dave Gillespie
| November 21, 2018

Toronto's best restaurants

The 100 best restaurants in Toronto
Food & Drink

The 100 best restaurants in Toronto

Toronto has plenty of exceptional restaurants—we recently ranked the best 100—but there’s a whole other set of establishments that cannot be ignored when evaluating our eating and drinking options: bars. In search of the city’s top watering holes, our team of reviewers went on a citywide crawl to assemble a list of the best places to savour a perfectly made cocktail, linger over a far-flung bottle of natural wine or sip on a boundary-pushing pint (or three). These are our favourite places to drink right now.

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Cocktail Bar
Cocktail Bar

Even after closing her iconic restaurant Black Hoof last summer, Jen Agg makes this Trinity Bellwoods–adjacent stretch of Dundas West an after-hours destination with the brilliant Cocktail Bar (pictured above). A stand-alone bar committed to the art and craft of the well-made cocktail remains a rare thing in this city, and this one goes all in. Bottles of amari and overproof rum twinkle behind white latticed windows on the back bar, making the cozy low-lit room feel like the tastefully stocked booze lair of a design-savvy pal.

The hilariously annotated menu (“We’re not saying Bea Arthur was crusty, but she was definitely the least-fun Golden Girl,” in reference to the Bee Arthur, the bar’s take on a brandy crusta) is packed with entirely too many appealing options, so prepare to read the thing cover to cover by candlelight before settling on something delectably left field, such as the Los Tuxlas (“Like a breakfast/lunch/dinner parfait, but even more fun!”), mixed with tequila, wormwood-based génépi liqueur, yogurt, celery and peach. And the trusty Hoof Manhattan, mixed with rye—no exceptions—is a no-brainer.

923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511, hoofcocktailbar.com

Bar Raval
Bar Raval

The swooping mahogany interior is enough to signify this slice of Barcelona on College as one of Toronto’s most unique drinking experiences at any hour. Open mid-morning to late, Bar Raval’s default atmosphere is bustling; hanging in the air is the temptation to cancel plans in favour of a copa of palo cortado and some smoked mackerel. Bartenders mix long-sipping, low-proof cocktails with a base of vermouth, sherry or house-made amaro, which pack full-octane flavour but a lighter punch. The Velvet Thunder (amontillado, curaçao, amaro, cucumber, mint, lemon, nutmeg) marries a mojito with the nutty, oxidized tang of Spain’s cool-again fortified wine, forming an argument for revisiting the era of liquid lunch through a far more elegant—and dare we say responsible—lens.

505 College St., No phone, thisisbarraval.com

Paris Paris
Paris Paris

Escapism hangs in the air of this Dundas West wine bar, packed daily from noon to 2 a.m. with fresh-faced creatives who have somehow found the opportunity to sip wine during normal business hours. Natural-wine devotees will take quick stock of in-demand bottles—the list is stacked with selections from rock-star producers like Hervé Souhaut, Gut Oggau, Meinklang and Cos. Begin with a glass of bubbly before taking a trip to the Loire with five ounces of brilliant Saumur-Champigny from Domaine Bobinet, or a rosé saignée from Champagne’s original biodynamic producer, Fleury. And food should be part of the plan at any place where Jonathan Poon is involved: his double cheeseburger is delectably lowbrow, and goes well with whatever’s in your glass.

1161 Dundas St. W., 416-535-5656, parisparis.ca.

Birreria Volo
Birreria Volo

Toronto’s funkiest beer list lives at this Little Italy spot run by brothers Tomas and Julian Morana—it’s the more youthful spinoff of the former Bar Volo. The narrow space features a 26-tap bar and a heated back patio, but the atmospherics barely register once the attention turns to what’s in the glass, like a fruity kriek from Belgium’s legendary Cantillon. Tap selections rotate but stay heavy on goses, lambics, saisons and other wild ales, plus Ontario cider and natural wines. The cellared beers are on the pricey side, but it’s worth the odd splurge to sip on something like a honey-spiked, spontaneously fermented ale from Vermont’s Hill Farmstead Brewery. The bar snacks lean into tinned fish, charcuterie and cheese, but there’s also habit-forming fried chicken from neighbouring P.G. Clucks.

612 College St., 416-498-5786, birreriavolo.com

Bar Alo
Bar Alo

They share an elevator, a third-storey perch over Queen and Spadina, and culinary DNA, but the city’s number one restaurant and its exceptional bar exist as two unique experiences—and this one doesn’t require jockeying for a reso. The bar at Alo is in many ways a contemporary love letter to the classic hotel bar, minus the five-star lodging. The drink list straddles epochs, featuring old-school recipes mined from out-of-print cocktail guides beside twists on classics, like the Armagnac Old-Fashioned made with Marie Duffau, absinthe and plenty of bitters. The term “bar menu” doesn’t do justice to items like a 60-day dry-aged rib-eye or hamachi crudo adorned with sea urchin. It’s not the tasting menu, but given the shared kitchen and swank surroundings, you’d never know it.

163 Spadina Ave., 3rd Flr., 416-260-2222, alorestaurant.com/bar

Archive
Archive

Since opening six years ago on a now-hopping stretch of Dundas, Archive has become a haven for the city’s natural-wine craze. With its minimalist decor and western-Euro snack menu, the immediate impression is unassuming—that of a wee local with great tunes, often vintage reggae. But crack the bottle list and it becomes clear that co-owners Josh and Joel Corea are anything but quotidian when it comes to wine. Pét-nat flows freely, and a section of the menu is devoted to 30-odd bottles of gamay, every wine geek’s juice du jour. Rarities, like one from the cult Italian orange-wine specialists Radikon, are often available by the glass. If it’s too difficult to choose from the esoteric wines on the list, mention a few descriptors and the bartenders will nudge you in the right direction.

909 Dundas St. W., 647-748-0909, archive909.com

Civil Liberties
Civil Liberties

There’s no formal menu at this Bloorcourt cocktail bar, marked with a plump pineapple—the international symbol of hospitality—but customers can wager on some of the finest drinks in the city, mixed to individual specifications and preferences by bartenders, who are always happy to throw a twist (figurative or literal) into your drink: order a classic like the Martinez and it may come mixed with an obscure vermouth and a small-batch gin. But more pedestrian choices are never frowned upon: a request for a rum and coke will not be met with attitude, and tallboys are obligingly slid across a bar top inlaid with vintage pennies. When hunger sets in, garlicky dumplings and pok-pok wings from Vit Beo, the bar’s Vietnamese sister spot, can be ordered directly to your bar stool.

878 Bloor St. W., 416-546-5634, civilibertiesbar.com

Pretty Ugly
Pretty Ugly

Part apothecary, part dark dive with Wu-Tang Clan smashing through the sound system, Grant van Gameren and Robin Goodfellow’s Parkdale bar isn’t preoccupied with the trappings of a serious cocktail spot—though with its extensive inventory of house-made ingredients and its lineup of gifted bartenders, it certainly qualifies. Between an oft-changing list that includes low-ABV and booze-free cocktails, thirst is fleeting. House specialties like the Must Be Nice, a delicious combo of coconut-infused mescal, sherry, apricot, pineapple, lime and tarragon, are easy to say yes to. But it’s perfectly acceptable to let bar manager Evelyn Chick whip up something based on specific likes and dislikes.

1237 Queen St. W., No phone, prettyuglybar.com

Rhum Corner
Rhum Corner

It’s hard not to fall in love with this Haitian bar owned by Jen Agg and her artist husband, Roland Jean. It might be Jean’s sexy murals. It could be the kompa music or the charming staff. More than likely, it’s the rum. The Wray and Ting, nothing but one-and-a-half ounces of Wray and Nephew overproof and grapefruit soda, packs a wallop for all of its $9. And the Ti Ponch (literally “small punch”) is two shots of rhum agricole, fresh-pressed cane juice and a splash of lime—there’s nothing small about it. Serious rum fans can do flights of the stuff, either pre-designed or DIY affairs. It’s wise to order food here, too. We suggest the griot, cubes of juicy pork with crispy tostones and pikliz—an addictive house-made condiment of pickled cabbage, carrot, onion and scotch bonnet.

926 Dundas St. W., 647-346-9356, rhumcorner.com

Black Dice Cafe
Black Dice Cafe

This self-described Japanese rockabilly bar, which could be a portal to another dimension collectively styled by David Lynch, Ridley Scott and Wong Kar-wai, has been holding down Brockton Village long before Dundas West was cool. Almost a decade in, little about the Dice has changed. With its diffuse turquoise light and black-and-white TV looping old movies, it’s one of the most unusual bars in the city. It’s also a serious industry hangout for off-shift bartenders who congregate to sip Japanese whisky and draft sake while jostling for high scores on the battered ’50s-era Surf Champ pinball game. As you wait for your turn on the machine, order a Hitachino Nest and munch wasabi peas as surf rock blasts from the vintage jukebox.

1574 Dundas St. W., No phone, blackdicecafe.com

Grey Gardens
Grey Gardens

Grabbing a stool at this Kensington restaurant’s no-reso wine bar is easier than booking a table in its dining room. (But don’t worry: you can still eat, and eat well.) The focus is on minimal-intervention wines, and the list, curated by sommelier Jake Skakun, is a real globetrotter, ranging from classic French and Italian powerhouse regions to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, with descriptors that give the selections context—who wouldn’t be tempted to order a bottle of dry German riesling from a subcategory of “vibrant, luscious, opulent” wines? There’s a house-label orange wine for fans of skin-contact whites, and non-oenophiles will take delight in a beer list that features imported rarities: when a shipment from Vermont’s Hill Farmstead Brewery hit Toronto last summer, this was one of the few bars to feature it.

199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552, greygardens.ca

The Drake Hotel Photo courtesy of the Drake Hotel
The Drake Hotel

While the Drake is so often recognized for its role in revitalizing the nightlife in the city’s west end, it deserves even more credit for mainstreaming, and even franchising, the craft cocktail in Toronto. You can order resident bartender Sandy de Almeida’s Rust and Bone at any of the Drake’s seven bars between here and Prince Edward County and recognize the same inch-perfect balance of woody cedar-infused bourbon, piercing Amaro Nonino and zesty Benedictine liqueur—and then immediately order another. Equally accessible (and addictive) but even more complex is the Departed, which measures earthy 12-year-old rum against bitter Campari and Averna and smoky mescal with a shake of Peychaud’s. Despite the Drake empire’s proliferation into the realm of county inns and general stores, the Queen West flagship remains a rowdy hangout, with three packed spaces—a cavernous main-floor room spotlit with bronze fixtures and ringed with dark leather banquettes, and a soundtrack that will have you constantly pinging Shazam; a dark, often deejayed basement; and the boisterous Sky Yard, a rooftop patio bar.

1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042, thedrake.ca/thedrakehotel

Don Alfonso Photo by Renée Suen
Don Alfonso

The cocktails can cost as much as, or even more than, a seared muscovy duck breast or the house-smoked yellowtail served at this luxe downtown dining room. But the concoctions from the molecular cocktail bar, located on the second floor, are often more than just what’s in your glass—there’s a show, too. The most crowd-pleasing might be the $36 Mojito Then and Now, which produces not only a strong classic rum cocktail, but a liquid-nitrogen version—stirred right there on the bar, with billowing clouds of vapour and producing a goblet of mojito slush. The $28 Affumicato sees a crystal decanter of cognac, rum and vermouth pumped full of wood smoke from an infusing gun; the idea is to savour the drink over time, to notice how the smoke changes the drink’s flavours. (Spoiler: it does, big time.) It would be entirely too gimmicky if the bartenders weren’t such fine ambassadors for their craft—nerdy in all the right ways when it comes to the science behind these showy beverages. Their enthusiasm is contagious—and considerably softens the blow of the final bill.

19 Toronto St., 416-214-5888, donalfonsotoronto.com

Côte De Boeuf
Côte De Boeuf

This Ossington wine cubby, which doubles as a butcher shop and a great place to order a 32-ounce prime rib, is a nod to Paris’s Le Baron Rouge, a famously raucous market-lane bar à vin. The wines (very affordable and refreshed weekly) are a crash course in French essentials, with some niche organic and natural bottles, and while there are longer, more progressive lists nearby, one of the pleasures of drinking here is the slightly ramshackle townhouse atmosphere: you might rest your glass on a wine barrel, for example; the walls are lined with both butchery charts and Charlie Hebdo prints; and you have to walk through a service area to reach the washrooms and a communal table right before the dime-sized kitchen. But when the wine flows and the room is full of chatter, it feels like one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

130 Ossington Ave., 416-532-2333, cotedeboeuf.ca

Wvrst
Wvrst

King West’s popular biergarten and literal sausage party never disappoints. The beer is fresh (the taps are cleaned once every two weeks), the selection vast (most of the two-dozen taps rotate regularly, but the fridges are stocked with all manner of hard-to-find funky beers and wild ciders), and the food is just what you need after a drink or three (duck fat fries, currywurst and sausages made with all kinds of God’s tasty creatures). Picnic-table seating is communal, so don’t be afraid to make new friends—it gets easier after the first pint.

609 King St. W., 416-703-7775, wvrst.com

Barchef

Since 2008, Frankie Solarik has been rattling the cocktail scene with his hyper-modernist elixirs, like his $50 vanilla-and-hickory-smoked manhattan (served still smoking). At Barchef, drinks are made with ingredients like essence of antique leather, cacao soil and maraschino gel. Don’t be surprised if your drink comes served with a spoon—some of them are meant to be eaten.

472 Queen St. W., 416-868-4800, barchef.com

Cold Tea

Dozens of maneki-neko cat figurines beckon from the entrance of Cold Tea, Kensington’s not-so-secret bar that recently underwent a reno. The space is brighter, but the crowd is the same: women in designer mom jeans and bearded dudes sporting watchman beanies sip local beer, nodding along to hip hop. The bar’s menu—once a lone dim sum cart—is now overseen by Leemo Han and features a South American–influenced interpretation of his exuberant Japanese flavours. The backyard patio is one of the ’hood’s best-kept secrets.

60 Kensington Ave., no phone, @coldteabar

The Communist's Daughter

A small chalkboard with the bar’s name scrawled on it is the only indication of the existence of this irresistible neighbourhood joint—the sign overhead belonging to a long-closed Portuguese snack bar. Inside, there’s an easygoing atmosphere and a retro-kitsch vibe—with vinyl chairs, Formica tables, an old lunch counter and a fantastic jukebox (it plays three tunes for a loonie). Wander in for live gypsy jazz on Saturdays and country troubadour music on Sundays.

1149 Dundas St. W., 647-435-0103, No website. 

The Comrade

This Riverside mainstay is a hole-in-the-wall in the best way possible. But for an illuminated red sign in the front window, you could walk past it for a decade without ever stepping foot inside—then one day wonder how you ever missed it. It’s the sort of place that’s always lively, but not too lively: there’s always a table or bar stool at the ready, and while it’s suitably dark—with mahogany accents and a pressed tin ceiling—it’s bright enough to read a while, snacking on house-made potato chips and slowly sipping a zippy white negroni or a Gift Horse, made with bitter bianco, vermouth, bourbon and chocolate bitters, from a heavy frozen tumbler. As Toronto’s neighbourhood bars become ever more upscale, the city could use a few more Comrades.

758 Queen St. E., 416-778-9449, thecomraderestaurant.com

The Only

What began over 35 years ago as a bohemian sandwich counter has morphed into one of the city’s finest beer emporiums. Behind a graffiti-muralled Danforth storefront, a snug 50-seat backyard patio courts hops aficionados from both sides of the DVP. They come for the colossal list of more than 200 bottles and cans (recent highlights include sour ales from Belgium’s Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen breweries), 25 rotating beers on draft, including special nitro taps, at least one cask-conditioned ale and Ontario ciders. And when the inevitable hunger kicks in, take advantage of how close the bar is to the very excellent Big House Pizza, and go grab the Big Mac–inspired Sir John A McDonald pie to bring back to your stool.

972 Danforth Ave., 416-463-7843, theonlycafe.com

Lake Inez
Lake Inez

Only two years in, Lake Inez has matured into one of the city’s most eclectic dining rooms—and home to one of its most interesting and playful drinks lists. With by-the-glass pours of biodynamic tempranillos from Spain and cloudy, unrefined gamays from Burgundy, and consignment bottles of amphora-aged cab franc and trendy pét-nat, it’s a true destination for wine drinkers. The all-Ontario tap list is geared toward experimentation, too: a recent list included a dry-hopped strawberry cider from Hamilton’s West Avenue. The options shouldn’t divert attention from the cocktail menu, which includes concoctions both highbrow (an intriguing mix of bitter herbal liqueur, pineapple vodka, gin and cardamom) and low (San Miguel on ice, with a lime wedge).

1471 Gerrard St. E., 416-792-1590, lakeinezto.com

416 Snack Bar

For almost eight years now, this lovable hole-in-the-wall at the corner of Queen and Bathurst has been pumping out craft beer, classic cocktails (there’s no list; just tell them what you want) and a surprising amount of wine to go with its menu of globe-trotting small plates. Its “snack bar” label doesn’t do justice to what comes out of executive chef Dustin Gallagher’s kitchen—these are no ordinary bar bites: there’s Argentinian barbecue, two skewers of juicy parilla-style beef tenderloin with red chimichurri; a reuben sandwich on bread griddled to the extreme so it shatters like delicious, buttery glass on contact; pillowy steamed buns stuffed with juicy pork belly; and nuggets of spicy Korean fried chicken. The menu, save for a few favourites, is in constant flux, and often lists seasonal specials, like a take on Mexican street corn or so-good-you-order-it-twice organic heirloom tomato toast dressed simply with a thick blanket of mayo. Don’t go looking for any utensils, because you won’t find any—416 Snack Bar is cutlery-free and proud of it. But when the food is this good, who gives a fork?

181 Bathurst St., 416-364-9320, 416snackbar.com

Paradise Grapevine

In the space recently vacated by Menalon, the 50ish-year-old Greek diner and dive bar, is Paradise Grapevine, Bloorcourt’s favourite new wine bar from two Bar Volo alumni. Gone are the jukebox, the carpet and the kitchen. Souvlaki and saganaki have been replaced by a menu of smaller snacks, including plates of cheese and cured sausage, bags of chips in flavours like jamón or truffle, and sourdough made especially for the bar by the bakers at Burdock. Bottles of Labatt 50 and Bud have been swapped out for crushable craft beers, funky ciders and a crap-ton of wine. As for the clientele? Well, it’s a lot younger and more stylish, but the moustaches remain. The back patio, housed in what was once a garage, is the bar’s sweet spot. While it was always there—already called Paradise Grapevine, in fact—boy, does it look different: all aquamarine and twinkle lights, surrounded by a ton of garden plants and the bar’s namesake vines all tangled overhead.

841 Bloor St. W., 416-536-7178, paradisegrapevine.com

The Library Bar

At the Royal York’s moody pub, suits in dry-cleaning bags decorate the back of every second club chair, and conversations are muffled by thick carpeting and brocade curtains. The room, all done up in maroon with, oddly enough, pops of leopard print, is dated—but endearingly so. It feels like stepping into the bar car of a train circa 1980. But they’ve been mixing up some of the city’s best martinis for over 40 years. Servers dressed in vests and ties concoct Bird Bath martinis, the Library Bar’s signature libation, tableside, first stirring (never shaking) the drink over ice in a bespoke carafe before pouring it into the giant glass the drink is named for. Silver bowls full of crunchy, salty things, like sesame sticks, spicy chickpeas and roasted green peas, come at the same time as the drinks and are replenished often. If martinis aren’t your thing, there are other cocktails, including one made with honey from the hotel’s own rooftop apiary.

100 Front St. W., 416-368-2511, fairmont.com/royal-york-toronto

Dbar

If you’re looking for an excuse to get dolled up for a drink and the chance to rub elbows with the city’s rich (or rich in taste), then Yorkville’s dBar, the Four Seasons’ swanky lounge and the boozy little brother of Café Boulud, is the place to be. It’s quiet during the day, populated mostly with hotel guests and liquid lunchers, but as soon as the clock strikes five, the space comes alive with flashes of gold lamé (in one case, a Louis Vuitton tracksuit) and the staccato sound of champagne bottles popping. Sidle up to the bar if there’s room, order a cocktail, like the Give and Take, made with coffee-infused mescal, amaro, Ancho Reyes and aquavit, and eavesdrop to your heart’s content.

60 Yorkville Ave., 416-964-0411, dbartoronto.com

Farside
Farside

Handlebar’s east-end counterpart is Farside, a colourful and quirky bar that’s impossible not to love. There’s beer aplenty (bottles of serviceable Old Style Pilsner share space with limited-edition Left Field collabs) and well-crafted house cocktails, like a stripped-down martini made with Dillon’s Vodka Method 95, which is a grape-based vodka distilled from Niagara wine grapes. The snack menu is limited but includes a “sour plate” (kimchee, pickled egg, chips) and birthday cake, a pick procured daily from neighbouring Tung Hing Bakery—served by the slice on a Spice Girls plate.

600 Gerrard St. E., 647-347-7433, farsideto.com

Her Father's Cider Bar

It was still early days for the craft cider craze when Her Father’s became Canada’s first dedicated cider bar in 2016. Today, every serious bar in town reserves a few lines for the stuff, but this Harbord Village spot is still the shiniest apple on the tree. The deep list of over 100 small-batch selections draws from Ontario’s finest, including Hamilton’s West Avenue, Guelph’s Revel and Caledon’s Spirit Tree, along with picks from ancestral cider hot spots in Normandy, Spain’s Basque Country and the U.K. (There’s even a pick from Estonia—who knew?)

119 Harbord St., 647-347-7747, herfathers.ca

The Rooftop at the Broadview Hotel
The Rooftop at the Broadview Hotel

The Toronto skyline is one of the most appealing features of cocktail hour in this city, but until recently, all of the best vantage points have been on the city’s west end. That’s different now with the new Broadview Hotel’s indoor-outdoor top floor, which offers sweeping views not only of the city’s skyscraper-filled core, but also of the sparse expanses that stretch to the city’s east and south. See the city from a fresh angle while sipping a cocktail and snacking on beef tartare, scallop ceviche, jerk-seasoned ribs and a hefty chuck-brisket burger for which it’s worth making a reservation.

106 Broadview Ave., 416-362-8439, thebroadviewhotel.ca

The Greater Good

The owners of Dundas West’s beer bar Get Well have expanded and are now slinging local craft draft on Geary Avenue. A second-floor mini-arcade features Skee Ball, a couple of pinball machines and a handful of arcade games. As they do at Get Well, North of Brooklyn sells slices and full pies from open to close. Unlike at the original location, however, the Greater Good lures a lot of families for dinner—kids get to enjoy pizza and old-timey video games, and parents are afforded some precious pint time.

229 Geary Ave., 647-348-2339, thegreatergoodbar.com

Pharmacy

Most of Parkdale’s new bars and restaurants have kept to Queen Street, leaving its stretch of King relatively untouched. That’s how owner Chris Harper found his current space, a former pharmacy and methadone clinic on the southwestern reaches of the neighbourhood. To find the place, look for the spot with an oversized “Bar” sign and, oddly enough, a window littered with children’s toys. Inside, the dimly bar is a dictionary of cool, with mismatched tables and chairs, a giant bison’s head hanging from the wall and a ridiculous selection of beer and bourbon.

1318 King St. W., no phone, no website.

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