What’s on the menu at Prequel & Co. Apothecary, a whimsical new Queen West cocktail lounge from the owner of BarChef
Name: Prequel & Co. Apothecary
Contact: 1036 Queen St. W., 647-368-6630, barprequel.com, @barprequel
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Owner: Frankie Solarik
Chefs: Culinary director Lionel Duke, chef de cuisine Teresa Pimental and executive sous chef Joshua Algas
Accessibility: Fully accessible
In 2008, when Frankie Solarik opened BarChef, Toronto’s temple of hyper-modernist mixology, the city’s drink scene was otherwise decidedly drab. Most mixers came from a gun, cosmos were bestsellers and anyone squeezing fresh fruit was seen as a “radical”.
On the new Netflix series Drink Masters (on which Solarik is a judge), a manhattan served in a smoke-filled bell jar—the $45 sipper that made Solarik famous—probably wouldn’t earn many points. In the mid-aughts, though, his experiential cocktails changed the game. Back then, no one was using smoke guns, dry ice, liquid nitrogen, atomizers or hydrosols (flower waters). And the idea of creating a drink that told a story was far removed from the just-get-drunk-don’t-taste-the-booze drinking culture of yore.
“At BarChef, we create immersive experiences,” says Solarik. “At Prequel, we’re still doing that, but it’s a life-size, transportive experience.” Here, guests are invited to divorce reality for a few hours. It starts by entering a hyper-realistic turn-of-the-century apothecary: dried flowers hang from the copper-tiled ceiling, elaborately carved oak shelving is packed with vintage vials and a crackling Belle Époque playlist completes the time-travel effect.
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Only one group at a time is invited to explore the space before being buzzed through a secret door into the main lounge. “I don’t like the term ‘speakeasy’—the apothecary is there for a reason,” says Solarik. “It’s an evocative entrance that adds cohesion to the Méthode Classique cocktail program, which is the first of its kind in the world.”
“It’s called Prequel because this is where the story begins for BarChef,” says Solarik, who was inspired by how apothecaries transformed botanicals into remedies and how those techniques would one day be adapted by bartenders. Prequel’s cocktails are all crafted in real time: spices crushed in mortars, citrus squeezed fresh and vegetal elements muddled to order. It’s a laborious process that yields elegant, flavourful drinks. “We’re not using any macerations or flavoured syrups,” Solarik says. “It’s all done à la minute.”
The cocktail menu is divided into three sections: classics (spirit-forward bracers Solarik considers genre-defining, like the sazerac, the vieux carré, the negroni and the French 75) and two sections of house creations that have been organized by their olfactory notes (herbaceous, citrus and floral at one end, forest, woods and smoke at the other).
Prequel is meant to transport guests to a clandestine Art Nouveau bar somewhere in Paris circa 1895, give or take a few years. The menu of small plates could be straight from any of the grand bistros of that era.
Tim Luke, the artistic director for Drink Masters, designed and built the apothecary using sustainably sourced Canadian red and white oak. “It sounds a bit silly, but I was inspired by Universal Studios Orlando’s Harry Potter World. They did such a phenomenal job that you feel like you’re in the movie. I wanted Prequel’s entrance to feel like an authentic apothecary, and truly it does. I’m seriously obsessed with this place—it’s my dream,” says Solarik. “We even have people knocking on our window and asking to buy stuff.” Note: every medical bottle and botanical book is glued down, to hinder sticky fingers that might want to take some of the magic home with them.
The door from the apothecary opens into a 65-seat lounge decorated by Tracy Ternan (TNT Design). Everything is opulent, including the furniture (tufted emerald velvet banquettes, scalloped sapphire blue barrel chairs), the tchotchkes (etched vintage crystal) and the gorgeously swirled 12-seat marble bar top.
Since an evening at Prequel is a carefully curated experience, there’s no exiting through the entrance—that would spoil the illusion for those just arriving. Guests are asked to exit via the rear (into a somewhat less magical alley).