Inside Reyna On King, a Corktown cafe and cocktail bar

Bar Reyna's sister spot has a lush tropical ceiling and a new menu of Mediterranean lunch and dinner eats

Reyna On King (354 King East, at Power, 416-546-3155, brings Bar Reyna’s Mediterranean cocktail bar format to Corktown, adding a new, all-day twist.

Owner Nicki Laborie and chef Ariel Coplan brought along the same light, colourful approach to drinks and pan-Euro-Middle-Eastern eats that they road-tested at the original Yorkville location (and at a spinoff inside Assembly Chef’s Hall), but added a bakery and cafe counter, as well as a new food menu divided into mains at lunch and bar snacks at night.

The decision to open a new location was made, at first, out of necessity: Laborie has long wanted commissary space for Reyna, since Yorkville’s kitchen wasn’t big enough to fuel the Assembly location. An originally-planned location at Avenue and Davenport fell through, but a pal called Laborie to let her know that Corktown Kitchen had recently gone under, and the space was up for lease.

Laborie was immediately drawn to the corner unit, as well as the area’s up-and-coming food cred: In addition to previously-established staples like Mangia E Bevi and Morning Glory, Bodega Henriette recently moved in up the road, and Gusto is opening a massive multi-floor location in the coming years.

“I have so many friends in the Distillery who are just dying for something cool. It felt right,” Laborie says. “You know when your gut tells you something? It just feels like this is the place to be.”

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Natalia Manzocco

Laborie spearheaded the bar’s redesign herself, adding a coat of white paint, plenty of brass accents, a neon sign reading “reine” (“queen” in French, a nod to Laborie’s French heritage) and — most strikingly — a lush installation of faux plants on the ceiling, inspired by a bar she once visited in Spain.

The original plan was to keep the King location a cafe in order to complement the daytime cooking schedule at the commissary. Now, in addition to an espresso machine, the bar is home to a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, quiche slices, and housemade baked goods.

“I’m not used to running a cafe, Laborie admits. “I was waking up at midnight like, ‘Oh my god, cups! Oh my god, Sweet ‘N’ Low!'”

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Natalia Manzocco

Though Reyna on King was originally supposed to be a strictly daytime affair, the concept eventually evolved to include cocktails and small plates in the evening. Though a couple of Reyna staples like savoury lamb baklava and shoestring fries with a variety of toppings carried over from the original, the King St. menu is almost entirely new.

“I really wanted every location to have a different personality — even though the menu inspiration is still the coast of the Mediterranean,” Laborie says. 

Her directions to Coplan (whom you may remember from Thoroughbred he’s also a partner in Grand Cru Deli) were to amp up the fun factor as much as possible, taking a page out of the menus of whimsical spots like 416 Snack Bar.

The result: Merguez corn dogs, halloumi sticks, prawn cocktails, and a pretty good time.

Here’s a closer look at the menu:

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Natalia Manzocco

The Reyna Royale ($15) combines fig-spiked vodka, grappa, Cointreau, homemade grenadine, chamomile syrup and Prosecco.

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Natalia Manzocco

The Message In A Bottle ($18) features pineapple juice (squeezed fresh daily on the premises), Havana Club, Disaronno and lime. (It comes served in its own little bottle!)

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Natalia Manzocco

A more booze-forward option is the Don’t Wake Me Up When It’s Over ($16), which features Lot 40 whiskey, cocoa liqueur, bitters, and an espresso ice cube for that extra hit of coffee flavour.

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Natalia Manzocco

Grilled octopus skewers ($10) are glazed with piquillo pepper and served with mojo verde and salsa verde.

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Natalia Manzocco

Cauliflower croquettes ($11) are stuffed with a hunk of manchego and served with a smoky aioli sauce.

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Natalia Manzocco

From the lunch menu: The falafel burger ($17) with tzatziki and pickled onions. “When we started playing with the idea, I don’t think I expected it to be this delicious, but it’s one of our biggest sellers,” Coplan says.

And while the shoestring vs. thick cut fry debate rages ever on, Laborie says those in the former camp make special visits to Reyna specifically for their signature skinny, crunchy frites. (You can also get your burger with salad.)

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Natalia Manzocco

Another lunch item is the trout wellington ($22), a lighter take on the typically-beefy dish. Coplan wraps it in phyllo instead of puff pastry “so it’s lighter” and adds a mix of spinach, baby kale and caramelized onions. “It kind of bakes in its own steam.” Coplan sees this dish as reflective of Reyna’s overall vibe: “We try to keep it playful, but it’s not super heavy.” | @nataliamanzocco

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