Justin Shiels mixes the Strega Sour at Red Sauce.
Bar Buca 75 Portland, 416-599-2822, barbuca.com
Open at last in a discreet space down the street from its mother location at King and Portland, Bar Buca zeroes in on a central element of Italian culture: drinks and shared plates.
Sip from the predictably fantastic wine list, but you'd be foolish to overlook the cocktail list. Designed by bar manager Nick Baldassarre, drinks complement chef Rob Gentile's elegant and affordable menu (see review, page 37) by focusing on fresh, house-made ingredients and authentic flavours.
Showcasing plenty of amaro and bitters, Baldassarre's drinks - like the Ciociora (gin, lemon, fennel tincture, house-made grenadine and tonic, $11) - are maybe too easily enjoyed alongside Gentile's food. Bellinis and amari offer lower-alcohol options for those who like an Italian-style mid-afternoon drink.
Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms on main floor.
Hours Weekdays 7 am to 2 am, weekends 8 am to 2 am, booze served from 11 am.
Red Sauce 50c Clinton, 416-792-6002, redsaucetoronto.com
The cocktails at Red Sauce, the recently reinvented Acadia, are as smart and simple as the food dished out by the Italian-American kitchen.
The Boozy Brio (Averna, Grand Marnier and spiced rum), charged with CO2 and served in an individual bottle complete with bendy straw, takes me back to lunchtime panini in my nonna's basement kitchen.
Drinks like the Bloody Corpse Reviver (blood-orange-infused gin, clarified lemon, Lillet and Cointreau with an absinthe rinse) and the Strega Sour (gin, Strega, lemon and Earl Grey honey) don't reinvent the wheel, but steer it toward playfulness and accessibility. All cocktails are a modest $9, and draft Negronis ($6) have to be the cheapest in the city.
Access One and a half steps at door, washrooms in the basement.
Hours Daily 11 am to 2 am.
Porzia 1314 Queen West, 647-342-5776, porzia.ca
Parkdale's Porzia, which just celebrated its first anniversary, has an Alcolico Catalogo, or booze catalogue, of rotating house cocktails on offer. If you don't see your favourite printed among the listed six, you can order it by requesting its number.
Quindici (#15), made from Dillon's gin, Aperol, bianco vermouth and orange cordial, and the Tre (#3), mixed with vodka, Cointreau, basil and house cordial (both $13), are simple and refreshing - perfect aperitivi for Porzia's rustic, quirky and awesome food.
Send your compliments to chef Basilio Pesce by buying the kitchen a post-shift round of bourbon shots ($14).
Access One step at door, washrooms in the basement.
Hours Sunday and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 6 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday to 11 pm. Closed Tuesday.