Toronto’s best neighbourhood bars and pubs
Not breweries, not cocktail bars, just good old-fashioned watering holes where everyone knows your name
18 King St. E., 416‑861-9872, beerbistro.com
The Financial District’s artisanal beer bar is packed with the kinds of hops geeks who can identify a beer’s yeast levels and bouquet. For novices, knowledgable servers explain the nuances of around 150 beers, which are organized into 11 categories (from quenching to smoky, robust to fruity). The cellar menu offers about 18 rare beers at $12 to $56 per bottle; a three-draft taster runs around $6.
Queen and Beaver
35 Elm St., 647-347-2712, queenandbeaverpub.ca
Set back from the bustle of Yonge-Dundas Square, the Q&B is an oasis of British charm, set in a two-storey Victorian. Upstairs, soccer cognoscenti congregate around the flat-screen on plush chairs and couches for pints and Premier League matches. An exceptional wine list and cocktails are much better than any pub deserves.
612 College St., 416-498-5786, birreriavolo.com
Little Italy’s Birreria Volo (the funky sister to Bar Volo) feels more like a wine cave in Parma than a craft-beer hall in Toronto. In place of branded glassware and tacky tap handles, you’ll find a narrow brick grotto with a long marble-topped bar. The menu headings are listed in Italian, and the drafts are served in riesling glasses to showcase the aromas. Most of the 26 taps and cellar listings are devoted to goses, lambics, farmhouse saisons and other wild ales.
612 College St., no phone, thewalton607.com
The house cocktail list at this adorable Little Italy spot offers some surprising inventions and solid classics, like a sidecar that stays just this edge of sweet; a tightly curated wine list offers a range of grapes; and if cider’s in order, a rotating tap showcases seasonal favourites and canned varieties from near and far. Little bar snacks make for simple, sophisticated nibbles: local cheese, including one made from a grassy and creamy blend of sheep and water buffalo milks, toasts with ricotta and seasonal vegetables.
The Ceili Cottage
1301 Queen St. E., 416-406-1301, ceilicottage.com
Patrick McMurray’s Irish local has a homey feel, courtesy of church-pew seating, garrulous staff and couples playing Gaelic Scrabble. Twelve kegs of Irish beer and Canadian craft brews are tapped at a time, and there’s always a rotating cask from County Durham (of which the Hop Noggin IPA is popular). Tuesdays mean traditional live Irish music sessions.
753 Queen St. E., 416- 551-3459, @hilotoronto
A mixed crowd of locals perch at the high tables of this Riverside bar. The place is cozy, with vintage band posters, playful light fixtures sporting multicoloured bulbs and a soundtrack mixing new and classic rock. Booze-wise, go for the sazerac, made with Four Roses bourbon, bitters and a twist of orange peel, or a bottle of Anchor Steam and a shot of Jameson.
1216 Queen St. E., 647-352-7781, hitchlimited.com
This watering hole is named for the infamous late writer Christopher Hitchens. The dimly lit, relaxed spot serves up brown-liquor cocktails and craft beers from local makers like Sidelaunch and Danforth. If you’re in the mood to sip, the bar carries a large selection of bourbon (36 bottles, to be exact).
Lloyd’s on Queen
1298 Queen St. E., 416-551-8158, lloydsonqueen.ca
Named after the bartending apparition from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Lloyd’s is an eclectic faux-dive beloved by locals as a late-night haunt for boozy cocktails, craft beer and 90s rap (on vinyl, natch). The more-is-more decor—gallery walls featuring old beer ads, retro boudoir shots, newspaper clippings from Toronto sports history and, of course, images of Jack Nicholson—and the convivial, laid-back staff will have you feeling comfortable in no time.
67 Front St. E., 416-867-9499, cestwhat.com
There’s beer and then there’s cask-conditioned beer—the unfiltered, unpasteurized brew that acquires its bubbles from active yeast, not injections of carbon dioxide or nitrogen. The largest, most consistently available selection is still at this venerable subterranean brewpub near St. Lawrence Market, where there’s a rotating selection of eight Ontario-brewed cask ales in stock at all times.
693 Bloor St. W., 416-535-9541, clintons.ca
This venerable tavern helped launch the careers of Crystal Castles and Die Mannequin, but now regularly hosts Choir! Choir! Choir! The log-lined main bar is popular with the university crowd and loyal locals, especially during Worst Behaviour hip hop nights every Saturday. The menu offers veggie variations on standard burger-and-fries fare, such as soy nuggets and drumsticks, and 16 beers on tap.
693 Bloor St. W., 416-535-9541, 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 and restaurant serving cocktails, some crafted from house-made bitters, and (also house-made) cold brew coffee.
The Dakota Tavern
249 Ossington Ave., 416-850-4579, thedakotatavern.com
This Ossington tavern is your best bet for a hoedown, with barnboard walls, twinkle lights and barrels-turned-bar-stools. On weekends, the Dakota is packed with audiences who flock to see the indie acts, so get there early if you want a (relatively) peaceful pint from one of the 13 taps. Simple cocktails—like a mean dark and stormy—are served without flourish.
The Communist’s Daughter
1149 Dundas St. W., 647-435-0103, no website
A small chalkboard is the only sign indicating this irresistible neighbourhood joint. 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.
The Painted Lady
218 Ossington Ave., no phone, thepaintedlady.ca
This sliver of a bar has chameleonic tendencies: a burlesque dancer shimmies onstage one night, while another evening brings a crooner covering Neil Young songs. Beer is the drink of choice for the jorts-sporting west-end set. The five-seat patio offers spectacular people-watching on Saturday nights, as drunken Ossington revellers stumble to cabs.
13 Ossington Ave., no phone, no website
The tortured literati of Trinity Bellwoods rendezvous nightly at this small, bordello-inspired den at the foot of Ossington. Flickering candles illuminate the deep crimson walls marked with early-20th-century tattoo flash. Roped curtains, a faux-crystal chandelier and shabby-chic second-hand furnishings contrast with nightly DJs spinning everything on vinyl from Sid Vicious to Hank Snow.
The Greater Good
229 Geary Ave., 647-348-2339, @thegreatergoodbar
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 retro games. As they do at Get Well, North of Brooklyn sells slices and full pies from open to close. Unlike at the Dundas West bar, 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 a relatively peaceful pint or two.
The Hole in the Wall
2867 Dundas St. W., 647-350-3564, theholeinthewallto.ca
The bar version of Platform 9 3/4, this Junction favourite is tucked down an alley, hidden amongst vintage furniture shops selling all manner of reclaimed things. Way taller than it is wide, the mostly windowless squeeze of a spot is warm and cozy in the winter and a respite in the summer when the mercury is too much to bear. It’s more than just a watering hole—there’s live music and a weekly changing brunch menu—but there’s a bunch of craft beer on tap (and even more by the bottle), delicious house cocktails and a whole lotta bourbon.
141 Danforth Ave., 416-778-1804, allens.to/dora
Toronto doesn’t get more Irish than this. Pull up a wee stool (or grab one of the snugs, if you’re lucky), order a pint of Guinness (delight in the bartender’s brogue while you’re there) and let the fiddle music transport you to County Cork.
1276 Danforth Ave., 416-792-7792, thedylan.ca
This new(ish) Danforth East local boasts a dozen ever-rotating draft beers, countless cans of local brew and boozy cocktails. Decked out with checkerboard floors, a chalkboard wall, high-top tables, picnic benches and some big-screen TVs broadcasting whatever local sports team is playing.
The Only Café
972 Danforth Ave., 416-463-7843, theonlycafe.com
What began more than 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 backyard patio courts hops aficionados from both sides of the DVP. They come for the colossal list of 230 bottles and cans, 25 rotating beers on draft, including special nitro taps, at least one cask-conditioned ale and Ontario ciders.
1382 Danforth Ave., 647-748-1382, thewrendanforth.com
This Danforth saloon is fully decked out with a wagon-wheel chandelier, framed needlepoints and barnboard wainscotting. Snacks include a pulled pork chimichanga, and the bar rotates 12 Ontario craft brews on tap. The drinks list offers seasonal cocktails like an easy-sipping peach iced tea laced with bourbon.
396 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-535-6225, thelocalpub.ca
For 13 years now, the Local has been the place to be on Roncesvalles for live (mostly folk) music, tastes-like-mom-made-it comfort food (the Sunday roasts are popular for a reason) and pints of local craft beer. Service is laid-back and friendly, and fans of ’50’s design would be hard-pressed to find more vintage Arborite in one place.
Round the Horn
331 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-785-2123, @roundthehorn
This Roncey sports bar has a sprawling back patio and a hot dog–based menu. We recommend the Mac Daddy, a mess of shredded lettuce, cheese, onions, pickles and secret sauce, with some local beer like Left Field’s Sunlight Park saison. If it starts to rain, head inside where there’s a pinball machine, a Super Nintendo console and classic board games.
House on Parliament
454 Parliament St., 416-925-4074, houseonparliament.com
With a long list of scotch and whiskey and a tap list that skews toward hearty Old World brews, this grown-up Cabbagetown local is a perennial favourite for those in search of a proper session.
Stout Irish Pub
221 Carlton St., 647-344-7676, stoutirishpub.ca
The Irish pub brings to mind images of drunken frosh vying for novelty Guinness products on St. Patrick’s Day. Stout might be the bar to change that image. The interior sticks with classic brick walls, cozy leather chairs and a fireplace, but the beer list saves the pub from Fionn MacCool’s territory: there’s a staggering selection of 100 brews, most of them from Ontario, with nary a Guinness to be had (they pour Murphy’s Irish Stout instead).
838 Bloor St. W., 416-535-7486, tallboyscraft.com
The civic pride is palpable at this Bloorcourt pub, with subway-station wall decals, a Blue Jays championship flag and a corkboard featuring local events. But the real draw is the beer. With more than 60 Ontario craft brews on the lineup—dozens available in the bar’s namesake size—anyone can find the right pairing for the kitchen’s smashed and seared burgers.
Black Dice Cafe
1574 Dundas St. W., 647-748-1574, blackdicecafe.com
Walking into the Black Dice Café on Dundas West feels like stepping into a David Lynch movie: the walls are painted seafoam green and decked out with rock ’n’ roll 45s, a 1958 Seeburg High Fidelity jukebox pumps out rockabilly classics, and the menu has Japanese touches (sake cocktails and wasabi peas). The place is filled with vintage-bike aficionados looking for a quiet drink.
1212 Dundas St. W., 416-588-4900, @churchillbartoronto
Near the corner of Dundas and Ossington, Churchill is a serendipitous mishmash of unpretentious watering hole and Portuguese sports bar (it used to be one) where chatty bartenders serve cocktails like the Tequila Last Word: tequila, Chartreuse, maraschino and lime.
The Dock Ellis
1280 Dundas St. W., 416-531-2300, thedockellis.com
The Dock Ellis is a modern, hip interpretation of the classic sports bar: the walls are lined with obscure retro memorabilia, and the draft list is a constantly revolving selection from the best local breweries. Best of all, the menu contains many well-executed snacks. The deep fryer is used to particularly great effect for the fried chicken sandwich. The juicy, thick-crusted thigh, topped with house-made Russian dressing, a drizzle of Ontario honey and crunchy strands of pickled red cabbage, stuffed in a buttery milk bun, is the crown jewel.
1430 Dundas St. W., 647-346-2402, @thelovelesscafe
Jamal Watson’s basement bar, Unlovable, remains Dundas West’s preeminent hipster haven. But his above-ground alternative—right across the street—is a place his tattooed regulars can graduate to when they grow tired of shouting over garage-rock DJs. Loveless transforms into a Reunion Island–slinging café at the crack of dawn, serving espressos and baked goods in the morning, and sandwiches and Jamaican patties into the afternoon.
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. 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.
159 Augusta Ave., 647-748-7433, thehandlebar.ca
This casual Kensington Market drinking hole was named for a certain two-wheeled vehicle—which explains the metallic spray-painted bike frames adorning the walls. Cheap pints of beer, patio seating, strong cocktails and a healthy helping of kitsch—why reinvent the wheel?
Ronnie’s Local 069
69 Nassau St., 416-340-1110, no website
This Kensington Market bar might be bare-bones but it has everything you need in a local: cold beer on tap (including Delirium Tremens) and in the fridge and, during the summer, a patio with some of the most sought-after seats in the city because it’s sun-soaked from morning ’til night.
431 College St., 416-603-3090, sneaky-dees.com
U of T students and Little Italy denizens fill the grimy booths at Sneaky Dee’s for a couple reasons: the towering plates of cheesy, gooey nachos and the cheap pitchers. (They’re so good that Arcade Fire mentioned the place in a Grammy acceptance speech.) The room is a rowdy scene every night of the week, with the boisterous diners drowning out the Tom Waits on the speakers and live indie music from the top floor.
The Emmet Ray
924 College St., 416-792-4497, theemmetray.com
Overstuffed armchairs fill up with floppy-tuqued 20-somethings who are more subdued than the revellers elsewhere on College. The bar is known for a huge selection of rare brown liquors—including whiskies from Japan, Corsica, Sweden, South Africa and India—so it’s a happy surprise the place also makes a great burger topped with bourbon barbecue sauce and fried cheese.
600 Gerrard St. E., 647-347-7433, farsideto.com
Handlebar’s east-end counterpart is Farside, a colourful and quirky dive that’s impossible not to love. There’s beer aplenty (bottles of serviceable Old Style Pilsner share fridge space with limitededition Left Field collaborations) and well-crafted house cocktails, like the Forever 41, a wine spritzer with an elderflower twist. The snack menu is limited, but includes a “sour plate” (kimchee, a pickled egg, kettle chips) and birthday cake—procured daily from neighbouring Tung Hing bakery—served by the slice on a Spice Girls plate.
1029 Gerrard St. E., no phone, @poor_romeo_bar
The long-haired, moustachioed, tatted-up owners of Pinkerton, a one-year-old, slightly raucous small-plates bar west of Little India, have opened a kid-sister spot right across the street that’s more of a rock-and-roll dive. Where Pinkerton’s snacks skew Asian (think okonomiyaki with braised pork shoulder and kimchee), Poor Romeo fancies itself a ’merican haven of smashed burgers smothered in house-made special sauce and other comfort-food classics, washed down with cocktails and selections from a crafty brew list that reps Toronto hard.
Food and Liquor
1610 Queen St. W., 647-748-7113, foodandliquor.ca
Co-owner Nigel French has created a hipster snack bar with a covetable, tin-roofed patio and fairy lights twinkling overhead. Food and Liquor offers classic cocktails and a short wine list, but the real draw is the excellent list of Ontario craft beers. On tap, you may find a Spirit Tree cider that’s cellar-aged for six months, and the house beer is from Great Lakes Brewery.
1318 King St. W., no phone, no website
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. Inside, the laid-back bar is a dictionary of cool, with mismatched vintage tables and chairs, a giant bison’s head hanging from the wall and a ridiculous selection of craft beer (on tap and in bottles) and bourbon (and not much else).
1592 Queen St. W., 647-345-4156, Facebook
Young couples—the ones newly mortgaged and in need of a stiff Pimm’s—visit The Yukon, which opened in 2012 on Parkdale’s restaurant row. A pressed-tin ceiling and bookcases stacked with vintage records create an air of dignified hipness, as do the cocktails, which are ably mixed classics. Things get rowdier after 11 p.m., when 20-somethings pack into the narrow room like pickles in a mason jar.
416 Snack Bar
181 Bathurst St., 416-364-9320, 416snackbar.com
Queen and Bathurst’s globe-trotting snack bar is regularly crowded with imposingly attractive west-enders. Rotating taps could pour Burdock’s Té sour, Baltika 7 Russian lager, Revel cider and, when possible, one of Bellwoods’s brews. Take a seat at the bar and chat up the servers, or sit at one of the communal tables and bug the regulars.
1426 Bloor St. W., 647-402-9728, thegaslightto.com
This lovely little local on an otherwise forgettable stretch of Bloor serves cocktails that are creative, well composed and strong, like a rye old-fashioned infused with orange pekoe tea and a cinnamon-allspice syrup. There’s also a short menu of bar food, including a rotating selection of cheeses from Monforte Dairy and an addictive trio of salty snacks: spiced nuts, kalamata olives and pickled root veggies.
The Three Speed
1163 Bloor St. W., 647-430-3834, @thethreespeed
The vibe at this modest Bloordale bar is familiar (think Cheers à la Jack Kerouac), and the crowd is legitimately eclectic. Melodic indie pop alternates with revered rock albums on the soundtrack, and a good selection of drafts complements cheeky specialty cocktails, like the Beauty School Dropout, which features gin, pineapple juice, prosecco and fresh blueberries. And scoring a seat on their tucked-away backyard patio in the summer is something worth celebrating.
1159 Davenport Rd., no phone, no website
A scratchy turntable and cracked red leather stools set the scene for beer and heaping platters of jalapeño-blasted nachos at this St. Clair West dive. The clientele are grown-up versions of the hipsters lining the bars on Dundas West: parents wearing horn-rimmed glasses, nursing beers and enjoying blissful moments without their little monsters.
West Queen West
1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416, @barfancyto
A neon tiger lights the way down a Queen West alley to Jonathan Poon’s no-frills snack bar, which offers some of the best late night grub in a neighbourhood that’s bursting with the stuff. From 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., guests devour fried chicken, slurp oysters and shout to be heard over the DJ playlists. Almost everything on the menu is cheesy, meaty or really damn spicy, but there’s great local beer, cider and the odd classic cocktail, to cut through the grease and heat.
1602 Dundas St. W., no phone, no website
A fun if somewhat familiar addition to brown booze–flooded Brockton Village, 1602 is not so much a destination bar as a cozy extension of your living room—assuming your liquor cart holds dozens of scotches, bourbons and whiskies. The bartender responds to a “What’s good?” request by whipping up an award-worthy cherry bourbon sour—tangy on top with a base of boozy goodness. For those who aren’t into brown bracers, there are all the regular local craft beer suspects and some cider, too.
Eulalie’s Corner Store
1438 Gerrard St. E., 647-350-6263, eulaliescornerstore.com
This stretch of Little India is changing, with curry buffets and paan shops sharing space with wood-fired pizza parlours, cheese boutiques and hipster bars. The menu at this tiny, eclectically decorated spot is all over the map (jerk lamb speducci, an okinomiyaki burger, a tofu and soba bowl), and cocktails, like the bourbon-laced No. 6 and rye-based Old Spice, are balanced beautifully. There’s a great selection of local beer, too, so while there’s usually nothing for dessert, a pint of cider subs in nicely.
Hair of the Dog
425 Church St., 416-964-2708, hairofthedogpub.ca
Hiding in the shadow of Maple Leaf Gardens, this two-storey local at Church and Wood streets is a pleasantly sedate alternative to the dialed-up energy of the Village a few blocks north—especially in the summer, thanks to its leafy, well-shaded patio. The craft beer list offers plenty for fans of both local craft and European imports, and the house caesar deserves its well-earned reputation.
Bloor West Village
2455 Bloor St. W., 416-760-8069, brydens.ca
Bloor West Village isn’t really known for its food-and-drink scene, but it is blessed with Bryden’s, one of the west-end’s coziest little watering holes. Curl up in one of the wingback chairs, choose a pint of whatever Ontario craft beer strikes your fancy from the rotating menu, and maybe order a plate of nachos while you’re at it (because you might be here a while).
2116E Queen St. E., 416-699-8272, castroslounge.com
Castro’s Lounge is a small beer bar in the Beaches with 12 taps that pour Ontario craft beer and four cask ales. Their bottle list is long, and dominated by classic Belgian and Trappist ales, like Chimay Blue and St. Feuillen Saison. Go for a cask ale—it’s fun to watch the bartender hand-pump it into your glass.