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10 impressive new spots for cocktails, beer, wine and sake that prove the city's bar scene has more options than ever
Late-night snacklord Leemo Han’s latest bar inches about as close to atmospheric perfection as this town has seen. A seamless mashup of moody lighting, neon beer signs and goods salvaged from a legion hall combine to channel Seoul Noir through the lens of a stock-ale-guzzling unioneer.
Korean-ish cocktails like the Mak Shake (rice wine, bourbon, lime, orgeat, cinnamon and soda, $14) and house makgeolli (a milky, sharp, old-school rice-and-grain brew made cool again by Korean rappers) are poured from no-frills stainless-steel teapots.
There’s beer, classic cocktails and cold shots on offer, too – but it’s way more fun to roll with the theme and stick to soju.
1241 Bloor West, at St. Clarens, @seoulshakersclub
This mellow joint is a contemporary homage to old-timey cocktail joints. (During Prohibition, illicit revellers were drunk enough on bootleg liquor to adopt “giggle water” as a synonym for adult beverages.)
Signature cocktails – all five ingredients or less – are elegant in their simplicity. The Kommen & Dild (aquavit, pear liqueur, lime, sugar and salt) and El Finablo (mescal, fino sherry, cassis, ginger beer and lime, both $14) are riffs on popular drinks that taste delicious.
The focal point is a meandering wooden bar that winds invitingly back toward more seating and saloon doors. Some furnishings – a standing rail that will run the length of the bar and a long communal table to accommodate groups – have yet to arrive, but even as a work in progress, Gigglewater is a charming addition to Toronto’s cocktail scene.
1369 Dundas West, at Beaconsfield, projectgigglewater.com, @projectgigglewater
Specializing in low-intervention wine and geeky beer (sometimes blended together to rad effect), this sweet Christie Pits spot retains loads of wood panelling, a padded bar and an amazing mural from its divey decades as the Greek resto-bar Menalon. The former owners still stop by for a drink or two, which is heartwarming as heck. The jewel of the inheritance is the namesake back patio festooned with vines and complete with a grandfathered last-call licence.
Snacks are minimal (ham-flavoured chips with soft cheese don’t count as dinner) so come with a full belly to best enjoy lots of delectable organic cava and cool ale.
Amidst all the noise on Dundas West, this classy blue room deserves pause. Founder’s sophistication lends diversity to an area that’s quickly become the unlikely epicentre for Toronto’s nightlife.
Cocktails are classically inspired with creative twists and textures – a pomegranate foam here, a palo santo perfume there – and lesser-known spirits like aquavit and calvados step into the spotlight.
So on the next inevitably frigid evening, consider bundling up and beelining for a Flying Scotsman (smoky and Speyside Scotches, Madagascar vanilla, Anjou pear and charred cedar bitters, $16). (Psst! The food is super-tasty, too.)
On the 31st floor of the St. Regis Hotel, Louix Louis sits unapologetically grand with an impressively stacked amber back bar, nude oak accents, deco curves, pops of mirrored rose gold and a nebulous ceiling mural by Toronto artist Madison Van Rijn, inspired by swirling whisky (brown spirits are a theme here).
Peruse drink options with the aid of aubergine-fringed reading lamps while nibbling complimentary house-made fingerling potato chips and lean right into the ridiculous opulence.
The cocktails are mostly stiff and stirred (a few more refreshing options wouldn’t hurt) but whisky-based seriousness is the price of opulence, I guess. If you want frivolity, there’s lots of Champagne and when all else fails – free snacks.
Those who’ve been to this low-key splashy King West cocktail-slash-Champagne spot know that the unique entrance is essential to the experience.
For those who haven’t, look beyond the lovely seashell-hued front bar of Coffee Oysters Champagne to request a trip to the Champagne room, and follow your adventure with a cocktail – they’re really good here.
While drinks like the Smoked Snazzerac (VSOP cognac, apricot, Mangalore, cherry bitters and French oak, $25) or the Classy Bird (Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla, peach aperitif, dry vermouth, apricot, clingstone peach bitters, $16 with an option to top with Champagne for an extra 12 bones) may not qualify as everyday affairs, keep in mind that À Toi is a bar for treating yourself – to a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée ($74) or ’05 Dom Pérignon Rosé ($88) should a fit of fancy strike.
214 King West, at Simcoe, sipshucksip.com, @coctoronto
Toronto’s trendiest wine haunt makes day drinking feel less like a raw indulgence and more like a necessary sophistication.
Sitting in the afternoon sun in the open plant-rimmed room, sipping a glass of honey-hued biodynamic wine, or whatever your chosen potion, is a real trouble-melting moment.
Wines are of the low-intervention variety – high-cheek-boned volcanic juice from Etna, tasty Greek varieties with intimidating pronunciations, plush Chenin from the Loire Valley and hipster wine’s ancestral home. The plates are French-ish and made to share. It’s Paris with a heavy Toronto filter.
This lovely Japanese-Canadian bar blessedly deals in sake – but knows it’s a serious affront to joy to roll in with a full belly.
Owner Stu Sakai wants to illuminate his guests – and as soon as you step through the sliding doors, you truly do feel like an old friend – on sake’s quirks and charms.
Order omakaze and a liquid parade of unctuous mushroom, million-dollar melon and banana blossom will follow in an experience as educational as it is delicious. Think warm sake is garbage, or maybe it’s all rice wine to you? Let Sakai change your mind.
1576 Dundas West, at Brock, @sakaibarto
With an elegance equal to its sleek eldest sibling, the Bar at Alo (still one of the finest spots in town to treat yourself to a proper cocktail), Alobar sets a new benchmark for Yorkville – one of genuine taste. (I’d claim a regular seat for afternoon Champagne if I came from old money.)
It’s a quietly lavish haunt – where style and substance feel synonymous – for fetching cocktails like the Moss Garden (vodka, shishito-infused fino, pineapple, citrus) or a snifter of badass brandy (give Armagnac, Cognac’s brassier cousin, a shot).
Despite the name, this is very much a restaurant, though no one would judge you for stopping by for a liquid dinner.
At Canis’s casually stunning sibling, it’s mostly about the wine. And even if the hyper-contoured dining room didn’t feel like a stark cafeteria, I’d recommend, as always, gravitating to the bar – in this case, like a bougie fruit fly toward luxe juice.
At some spots there’s a quality divide between the bottle and glass list the good stuff is out of reach unless you commit. But at Après, magnums of Cuvée Emma and (other tasty wine) are popped gleefully – the way it should be.
1166 Queen West, at Northcote, @apreswinebar
READ MORE: Toronto’s best bars 2019: The classics
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