Food & Drink

Best Bars: A brief history of hooch in Toronto, from 1837 to the present day

Best Bars: A Brief History of Hooch in Toronto

1837 Gooderham and Worts opens. Within 40 years, it becomes the largest distillery in the world.
1876 George Davis builds a stage coach stop that will become the frat boy–filled Brunswick House 80 years hence.
1880 to 1893 Half of Torontonians thrown in jail are there for drunk and disorderly behaviour.
1916 Half of Torontonians thrown in jail are there for drunk and disorderly behaviour.
1920 Much of Toronto’s liquor is smuggled illegally into the U.S. by gangsters like husband-and-wife team Rocco and Bessi Perri.
1927 The creation of the LCBO and the Brewer’s Warehousing Company (later known as The Beer Store) heralds the end of Prohibition, but booze is only available by permit and only dispensed over the counter.
1934 Hotels are allowed to sell beer and wine with meals. Business travel becomes bearable.
1947 A new law allows spirits to be sold by the glass. Flask sales plummet.
1947 The Roof Lounge opens on the 18th floor of what is now the Park Hyatt, bringing back pre-Prohibition cocktails like the old-fashioned.
1961 Liquor can be purchased without a permit.
1969 The LCBO goes self-service, allowing Torontonians to browse the booze aisles for the first time.
1970 Pubs open their men-only drinking rooms to women; cheesy pickup lines flourish.
1971 Legal drinking age reduced from 21 to 18.
1981 Drinking on patios is legalized, leading to The Black Bull’s infamous lineups.
1983 BamBoo opens on Queen West, making umbrella drinks and jazz-funk dance parties popular.
1984 Happy hours are banned (turns out too many people got happy and got behind the wheel).
1987 Charles Khabouth opens Stilife on Richmond, sparking development of the Entertainment District.
1989 Woody’s opens, becoming the hub of the Church-and- Wellesley village. Gay men rejoice.
1992 Alcohol allowed at Leafs and Blue Jays games. Price-gouging pints become the norm.
1992 College Street takes off with neighbourhood hangs like College Street Bar, The Midtown and Ted’s Wrecking Yard.
1996 Last call extended until 2 a.m.
1998 Sex and the City ushers in an era of sickly-sweet concoctions: bellinis, crantinis, and, of course, the cosmo.
2002 Amber opens in Yorkville, spawns a slew of resto-lounge copycats.
2002 Amber opens in Yorkville, spawns a slew of resto-lounge copycats.
2004 Sweaty Betty’s opens on Ossington, spurring the strip’s gentrification and the popularization of Pabst Blue Ribbon as the ironic beer of choice.
2005 College Street, its cool phase long over, is overrun with lycheetini lounges.
2005 BYOW begins, as does the eternal debate over how much is too much for a corkage fee.
2006 Cask-conditioned ale takes over C’est What, Granite Brewery and Bar Volo.
2007 New York club king Peter Gatien opens mega-club Circa; vodka and Red Bull fuel all-night dancing.
2008 Enomatic dispensers at restaurants like Reds allow for wines by the glass without turning the bottle into vinegar.
2008 Barchef opens; booze scientist Frankie Solarik crafts $40 molecular cocktails. Jay-Z is a fan.
2008 Bacon-washed, pickle-topped, salt-filled cocktails populate menus.
2009 Jen Agg and Grant van Gameren open the Black Hoof, foisting barrel aging and artisanal bitters into the mainstream.
2009 Joe Pantalone becomes the face of the new sobriety movement by starting an 18-month fight against booze on Ossington.
2009 Toronto Temperance Society, a members-only cocktail lounge, revives the old-school speakeasy.
2009 Ceili Cottage and Queen and Beaver, the city’s first real gastropubs, put Firkins everywhere to shame.
2010 Circa goes bust.
2010 An onslaught of new rustic Italian restaurants makes medicinal-tasting aperitifs like Aperol and Campari all the rage.
2011 Ontario craft brewers like Flying Monkeys make beer geekery chic.
2011 Jen and Grant break up. Jen opens Cocktail Bar, the apotheosis of the city’s new artisanal cocktail culture.

By Denise Balkissoon, Ariel Brewster, Andrew D’Cruz, Matthew Hague, Malcolm Johnston, Emily Landau, Jason McBride, Alexandra Molotkow, Mark Pupo, Peter Saltsman, Courtney Shea and Eric Vellend. Timeline Photographs: Istock; Getstock; David Laurence; A. H. Hider/Wikimedia Commons; Rob Nguyen/Flickr and courtesy of Barchef; Park Hyatt Toronto; and Woody’s


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