Toronto’s best cocktail bars right now
878 Bloor St. W., 416-546-5634, civillibertiesbar.com
At this Bloor West watering hole, 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, a trio of Salt Wine Bar alum, want guests to request cocktails that suit their mood—like the Monkey Shoulder Crusta made with Olorosso sherry, banana liqueur and absinthe in a sugar- and nutmeg-dusted coupe. To eat: ooey-gooey-good cheese toasties.
487 Adelaide St. W., 647-277-1187, spirithousetoronto.com
Since 2012, SpiritHouse has brought serious cocktail cred to King West, an area better known for the quantity than the quality of the booze on offer. The bar has one of the largest bottle selections in the city, and the 11-page libations list contains three cocktail menus, for house, pre-Prohibition classic and modern classic varieties. Aspiring drink-slingers take note: SpiritHouse was founded by Len Fragomeni of the Toronto Institute of Bartending, which makes it the go-to place for a proper cocktail education.
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.
563 Queen St. W., 416-551-7540, rushlaneco.com
Rush Lane is owned and operated by a pack of experienced bartenders, so it’s no surprise that the drinks list is eclectic. It consists of 20 complex cocktails made with far-flung ingredients like beet grenadine, hopped grapefruit bitters and a type of seasoned vodka that was once banned in the U.S. In the back of the room, a glass-walled laboratory is crammed with tech gadgets, including a rotary evaporator (for flavour extraction), a tissue tearer (a ext-level hand blender) and a Clinebell ice machine, which can freeze a 300-pound block of clear ice in two days.
348 Adelaide St. W., 416-398-5335, parcae.ca
In the cocktail lounge of Parcae, the Templar Hotel’s sexy, subterranean restaurant named for the Fates, general manager Matthew White and his team of bartenders put together potent potables to a backdrop of live music and candlelight. The pretty-in-pink Aphrodite, made with Peruvian puro pisco, pomegranate liqueur, honey syrup, lime juice and egg white, is the bar’s fruity and refreshing take on a classic pisco sour.
472 Queen St. W., 416-868-4800, barcheftoronto.com
Since 2008, Frankie Solarik has been rattling the cocktail scene with hyper-modernist elixirs, like the $45 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 with a spoon—some of them are meant to be eaten.
815 Bloor St. W., 416-846-8324, northwoodto.ca
Owner Richard Pope describes Northwood as a European-style café catering to MacBook-toting creative professionals, after-work tipplers, thirsty Christie Pits park-walkers and locals looking for dinner or cocktails. Some of the bar’s drinks are made from traditional recipes (like the manhattan); others are contemporary interpretations (like a tiki twist on an old fashioned, with French cognac and Calvados); and others still (20, to be exact, including the coffee-based Audrey made with Cherry Heering, cassis and a double shot of espresso) are completely original creations.