Best Bars: Toronto’s top seven spots to commune over a pint of beer (or three)
CHECK OUT ALL SEVEN PICKS »
JUMP TO: BEST PLACE TO WATCH THE LEAFS GO DOWN | BEST LOCAVORE TAP ROOM| BEST PUB FOR BEER GEEKS | PUREST IRISH PUB | ROWDIEST BEER AND BOWLING | BEST OLD-WORLD BEER HALL | TOP SPOT FOR DRUNKEN TABLE TENNIS
Real Sports Bar and Grill
15 York St., 416-815-7325
A sports bar on steroids, Real Sports is a 25,000-square-foot amphitheatre of game-watching excess with 199 HD flat screens, including one that’s two and a half storeys tall. The beer menu is supersized, too. With more than 70 domestic and international options, everyone from the Steam Whistle ($6.50) devotee to the Belgian Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale ($5.75) enthusiast leaves happy. The adventurous can try the beer blends, like Darth Maple ($7.55), which mixes Canadian, Murphy’s Irish Stout and tears of defeat.
488 College St., 416-966-5050
A recent move from the Entertainment District to the College Street strip hasn’t changed much about Smokeless Joe, home to one of Toronto’s biggest beer lists. The rotation on the 20 taps is Ontario-heavy, with brews like the fruity Hawaiian-Style Pale Ale ($7) from Toronto’s Spearhead—yes, it’s actually brewed with pineapple—and the hoppy Smashbomb Atomic IPA ($6.75) from Barrie’s Flying Monkeys. The crowd is a little older and wiser than at Little Italy’s surrounding establishments.
BEST PUB FOR BEER GEEKS »
587 Yonge St., 416-928-0008
Father-and-son team Ralph and Tomas Morana run their 23-year-old Yonge Street bar with the zeal of new converts to the cult of brewing. A sort of town hall for Ontario’s earnest microbrew crowd, Bar Volo offers a rotating array of Ontario drafts and cask-conditioned ales, posted daily to Twitter. Denison’s Weissbier ($7), a hazy golden ale with spicy notes and citrusy freshness, is usually on tap, and a safe starting point for initiates. There’s also a staggering selection of international bottles, and something unusual is always emerging from the Moranas’ on-site nano brewery. They have two or three casks at a time; just ask for the house ale.
The Ceili Cottage
1301 Queen St. E., 416-406-1301
Three years ago, the oyster-shucking champ Patrick McMurray turned a rundown auto shop on the eastern edge of Leslieville into an Irish local. The room smells sweet from the Irish peat McMurray keeps on a low burn in the fireplace (for that authentic Irish pub scent). Church pew seating, garrulous staff who bark at you to close the door, and cute couples playing Gaelic Scrabble create a homey feel. Thirteen kegs—no bottles—of Irish and Canadian craft brews are tapped at a time. The Barley Days Loyalist ($7), a lightly floral lager brewed in Picton, is our favourite. Harp Lager ($7.75) is hoppy and still sufficiently Irish to score nods of respect from the regulars.
ROWDIEST BEER AND BOWLING »
ROWDIEST BEER AND BOWLING
145 John St., 416-597-2695
A Saturday night in the neon-and-flat-screen-lit Ball Room brings a barrage of retro bowling paraphernalia, inappropriate dancing, nearly naked club girls and C-list star spotting (mostly character actors from Being Erica). Although the beer selection is uninspired (Canadian, Moosehead), it’s still novel to have it delivered right to the lane. The overall mood is somewhat hallucinatory—like that gutter ball dream sequence in The Big Lebowski—especially when the servers tell you how much it costs to rent a lane for an hour (up to $65, plus shoe rental).
690 Euclid Ave., 647-350-4227
While most new bars are busy shoring up their local microbrew cred, this Croatian beer hall, nestled on a side street in Koreatown, happily embraces the Old World with an excellent selection of European brews, like Karlovačko, a popular Pilsner from Croatia that’s a rare sight in Toronto. The small snack menu features a greasy and thoroughly enjoyable pljeskavica, a Balkan-style burger on a spongy white bun.
461 King St. W., 416-599-7746
Entering the lower-level space—through unmarked steel doors down a barely marked King Street alleyway—you feel like you’re infiltrating an illegal Ping Pong ring. Tables are hard to come by (members, who pay $50 a month, often book them), and drinking in a basement while half-heartedly batting the ball is eerily reminiscent of adolescent Saturday nights. But, as they say, it gets better. The bar snacks are remarkably good. Grilled cheese sandwiches are the perfect accompaniment to an Ontario craft brew list that reads like a children’s book: Lawn Chair, Mr. Huff and the Barking Squirrel (all $6.25). After a few of those, you get very good at Ping Pong.