Toronto’s best cocktail bars right now
Our favourite places for boozy libations
472 Queen St. W., 416-868-4800, barcheftoronto.com
Since 2008, Frankie Solarik has been rattling the cocktail scene with his hyper-modernist elixirs, like his $45 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.
505 College St., no phone, thisisbarraval.com
Grant van Gameren has replicated the kind of Barcelona tapas bar where you grab an espresso in the morning, meet friends for five o’clock cocktails and perch with a paramour late into the night. Bartenders push a long, on-theme list of sherries and rare vermouths, yet the real treats are artisanal cocktails, like the Baby Duck, a twist on the negroni made with tequila, dry sherry and Campari.
878 Bloor St. W., 416-546-5634, civillibertiesbar.com
At this Bloor West bar, in a red brick Edwardian just east of Ossington (look for the pineapple above the door), there are no servers and no printed menus—only a list of beers and wines behind the bar. Instead, the owners want guests to request cocktails that suit their mood—like the Monkey Shoulder Crusta made with Oloroso sherry, banana liqueur and absinthe in a sugar- and nutmeg- dusted coupe.
923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511, hoofcocktailbar.com
In a diminutive Trinity Bellwoods space, Jen Agg and her bartenders serve vintage concoctions with ingenious 21st-century twists. The Hoof Manhattan—made with 10-year-old rye, house bitters, Antica Formula sweet vermouth and sweet, house-made cherries—is the city’s best.
60 Kensington Ave., no phone, @coldteabar
Dozens of maneki-neko cat figurines beckon from the entrance of Cold Tea, Kensington’s not-so-secret bar that recently underwent a reno. Women in designer mom jeans and bearded dudes sporting watchman beanies nod along to hip hop while sipping local craft beer and artisanal cocktails, like the Grace Park made with shochu, St. Germain and Thai basil. The bar’s menu—once a lone dim sum cart—is now courtesy of Juanmoto, a South American–Japanese snack bar overseen by chef Leemo Han (Hanmoto, Pinky’s Ca Phe).
19 Church St., 416-364-8368, dwalexander.com
This subterranean lounge is an homage to the heritage property’s original tenant, the 19th-century leather trader D. W. Alexander. It feels like a gentlemen’s club of that era, but cocktails like the Yoga Mat, made with gin, prosecco, house-made seasonal compote and tiki bitters, are thoroughly modern.
828 Bloor St. W., no phone, mulberry.bar
This newly opened sister bar to nearby Northwood has taken over the former space of a taco kitchen and reimagined it as a 19th-century Parisian arcade. The cocktails—named after mid-century philosophical texts and with florid ingredient lists to match—follow suit with the theme, while the curt snack list satisfies a whole manner of late-night cravings, from the salty crunch of a bowl of caviar- flavoured chips to a silky swipe of raw milk cheese on cranberry toasts.
913 Dundas St. W., 416-823-8969, northernbelle.ca
By day, Dundas West’s Northern Belle serves cold-brew coffee; by night, a selection of cocktails, like the El Amor, made with rum, extra-dry sherry, bergamot, lime and honey. There’s something wonderful about a place where you can pop in for a morning croissant and linger until last call.
815 Bloor St. W., 416-846-8324, northwoodto.ca
By day, Northwood is a cozy café with enormous windows and an abundance of outlets for laptops—a perfect place to sip lattés while writing your novel. Come sundown, it morphs into a lively bar with an extensive cocktail menu that includes signature drinks (some infused with Northwood’s house-made cold brew) as well as a whole lotta classics.
838 College St., no phone, praytellbar.com
At this sister spot to Track and Field, house cocktails are named after sitcom one-liners. Take the Big Bud, Little Bud—a wink to Master of None’s second season. (And with its blend of sweet-tart fruits, frothy egg whites and gin, it’s just as easy to binge.) The food menu is as fun as the bar menu, with things like a house-made pizza pocket and a General Tso–type fried chicken sandwich.
1237 Queen St. W., no phone, prettyuglybar.com
At Grant van Gameren and Robin Goodfellow’s Parkdale cocktail lounge, guests first fall into a pocket-size bar—it looks like an apothecary but the medicine is mescal. This leads to another, darker room with a much longer bar—it’s still a tight squeeze, though. Despite a couple of booths and a few stools, PrettyUgly is standing room only. Here, bar manager Evelyn Chick mixes up concoctions like the herbaceously tart Crystal Lake. It’s named for the camp in Friday the 13th and made with sherry, lemon, egg white and the mysterious-sounding “rainforest elixir.”
136 Ossington Ave., 416- 532-6474, reposadobar.com
Aside from its cozy appeal—this is a great first-date destination—Reposado carries the city’s largest selection of premium tequila and mescal: more than 150 bottles (flights are a fantastic way to sample the merchandise). For those with more timid tastes, a blood-orange margarita (made with fresh juice, like all of the cocktails) is the closest thing to paradise this side of a Jimmy Buffett song.
487 Adelaide St. W., 647-277-1187, rhumcorner.com
The Black Hoof’s Jen Agg and her husband, Roland Jean, recreate the laid-back vibe of a Port-au-Prince hangout at Rhum Corner. A wall behind the bar offers 100 varieties of rum; go for a dark and stormy with a spiced house blend, or a potent slushie drink made with falernum, a Caribbean clove-lime-ginger syrup that tastes like concentrated Christmas cookies. For courageous couples, the Zombie is hot pink from passion fruit juice, and dangerously potent from Lucid absinthe and five types of rum.
Rush Lane and Co.
563 Queen St. W., 416-551-7540, rushlaneco.com
At this Queen West cocktail bar, the drinks list contains far-flung ingredients like spiced ginger juice and butterfly pea flower. At the back, a glass-walled lab is crammed with tech gadgets, including a rotary evaporator (for flavour extraction), a Tissue-Tearor (a next-level hand blender) and a Clinebell ice machine, which can freeze a 300-pound block of ice in 48 hours.
Toronto Temperance Society
577A College St., 416-536-7000, torontotemperancesociety.com
Monthly membership fees of $25 buys the privilege of knocking elbows with barflies who believe that a real martini never includes vodka; that tonic water, mixers and syrups should be made in-house; and that the best spirits should be a pain in the ass to find. It’s worth putting up with the pretensions to sip the cleverly designed cocktails.