Patio season is finally here. After another long winter (and maddening, mercurial spring), it’s time to pull up a chair outside, then stay there until well after Labour Day. We tend to make the most of our summer heat, which is why you’ll likely end up jockeying for space no matter what patio you end up on – but here’s where the connoisseurs (and by that we mean us) will be drinking this summer, from tried-and-true haunts to brand-new territory. Hit the deck!
Why? For the mezcal.
El Rey, the just-opened Oaxaca-themed mezcal bar and kitchen from Grant van Gameren (his third venture in three years) is quickly becoming Kensington’s colourful new cornerstone. Lounge on the no-frills front patio and explore dozens of mezcals, from wild-harvested tepeztate to more common espadin, while munching on spicy salted peanuts flecked with crispy chapulines (grasshoppers).
Why? For its expanded size.
This King West beer bar snagged way more real estate for its novel pub food and unusual craft suds lineup when it opened a three-floor sister location at Queen and Peter last year. That goes quadruple for their patios – compared to the postage stamp streetside at King, this glorious, spacious rooftop deck, complete with its own set of craft taps and a gorgeous view of Queen West, is a winner.
Why? For the house-brewed beer.
This spartan side patio off of Bloor might not look like anything special, but between the fresh beer made in the back and tapped in the front, the locally focused fare and the option of live music (indoors, but still), it’s a sweet spot for those living or hanging in Bloordale. Don’t miss Burdock’s recent release, Bumo, a hybrid beer/wine made from saison and Pinot Noir in collaboration with Niagara’s Pearl Morissette winery.
Why? For the spectacle.
Thousands of scantily clad humans, an octagonal pool ringed with celebrities and fat-walleted VIPs, magnums of -deluxe vodka and oceans of cranberry juice and soda water: what could possibly go awry? Cabana, with its umbrellas en blanc and hierarchical seating arrangement (the more you pay, the closer you get to the pool), is like a micro-Vegas on the pier. Even if you hate everything it stands for, you’ll still enjoy the show.
Why? To rub shoulders with suits.
Sprawled above the fray on the rooftop of the beautifully restored Dineen Building, the patio at the Chase is a prime spot for an afternoon tipple. No need to get suited up to appreciate the summery cocktail list, good (not pricey) plates and a stunning view of the city centre. If bankers make you uncomfortable, go before 5 pm to soak up the sun before Bay Street ascends to drink the bar dry.
Why? Because it’s an unpretentious watering hole.
After a strenuous day of sun and revelry in Trinity Bellwoods, is it so wrong to crave a few cold, cheap beers on the most unpretentious of patios? Look no further than directly across Queen, where the Done Right Inn has a leafy backyard set with dilapidated wooden benches and lit by a string of feeble bulbs. Order a round at the bar (bring hard cash or Canadian Tire money), tuck in to the booth by the trunk of a gnarly old maple and wait about five seconds to feel completely at home.
Why? For the view.
Even if hanging with evenly tanned, well-heeled socialites (seriously, this is a Louboutin zone) isn’t your thing, no summer in the 6ix is complete without a drink on the Thompson rooftop. Go late in the afternoon for a lofty gin and tonic or splurge on champagne after dark while taking in the glitziest panoramic view of the Toronto skyline. Note that the infinity pool is off-limits unless you’re a member or guest of the hotel and the only way to guarantee a table is with a reservation. For the full experience, shamelessly document the whole night via every possible social media platform.
Why? For the Sunday BBQ.
No one throws a Sunday jam quite like Cold Tea. During the summer months, the backyard of Kensington Market’s favourite watering hole is rammed for the infamous rain-or-shine Sunday BBQ featuring outdoor eats from a long list of T.O .chefs. A whole lot of drinking, eating and ass-shaking (there’s always a DJ) commences in the afternoon and rolls into the night. But don’t limit yourself to Sunday any night of the week is a good one to sidle up to the patio bar, grab some drinks and plant yourself at a picnic table.
Why? For the old world vibe and the awesome wine.
Scoring a sun-kissed bistro chair on the very Parisian front patio of Le Sélect requires either a whole lot of patience or a substantial stroke of luck, especially on weekends. But here’s the thing – it’s worth it. So once you’re there, make it count. After the oyster shells have piled up and the bottle of Chablis has been overturned, better stay for dinner and more wine – the award-winning (and very affordable) list is a city standout. When romance is a priority, there’s also a discreet and gorgeous garden patio in the back.
Why? For the suds and the view.
In addition to making some of Toronto’s most widely consumed suds, Amsterdam Brewing also boasts one of the city’s most impressive patios: a 350-seat outdoor deck adorned with patio umbrellas and Muskoka chairs, a stone’s throw away from the Rogers Centre on a stunning slice of lakeside land. While away an hour or three with some one-off Amsterdam brews, then grab some more to go in the on-site bottle shop.
Why? For the brand new beer.
This new west-end brew pub is still weeks away from securing its patio licence – but once it does I’d bet my summer drinking money that Bandit’s lush and sunny beer garden will be routinely packed. The house brews, heavy on Belgian-style wheat beers (if I were you I’d make a beeline for the Hassel-Hef) and pale ales, are geared to keeping patio-rabid Torontonians happy. For now, sipping four-pour flights ($10) inside the breezy brew pub (a former auto repair shop with huge garage windows) is almost as nice.
Why? Because we’re going to lose it.
Divide a plethora of rare, imported and one-off craft brews by a tiny amount of square footage and you get one hot ticket. That’s doubly true now that everyone’s favourite beer bar on Yonge is set to close this fall to make way for an incoming condo development. (The bar is set to reopen at an undisclosed location.) That means there’s no better time to grab a chair outside under the twining ivy vines and sip a pint of Trou du Diable – if you can find a seat, anyway.
Why? For Kensington people-watching.
You know it’s spring in Kensington Market when local artsy types start popping up like crocuses in flannel shirts outside this deeply cherished local dive. The picnic tables out front get full sun, and the pitchers are dirt-cheap, so staying cool is no problem. Bonus: OM Grilled Cheese across the street is under new management (now with 100 per cent fewer labour violations!) and still delivers melty, gooey sandwiches right to your seat.
Why? Because it’s still the hottest joint in town.
After a year-long whirlwind of praise and publicity, Grant van Gameren’s white-hot pintxo spot on College is settling nicely into itself, attracting just as many trend-chasing diners as neighbourhood locals popping in for a morning tortilla española and spiced coffee or a mid-afternoon tin of sardines. Their sunny streetside patio has also evolved, thanks to the addition of a roof that keeps things warm in the winter and breezy and shady in the summer.
Why? For the beer, duh.
Enjoy some of the city’s best small brews (with a side of jealous stares from the other side of the white picket fence) on Bellwoods Brewery’s small front patio. The beer, naturally, is the thing that gets folks in the door, but eats like lemongrass ribs mean the kitchen is more than deserving of props. Plus, the sliding garage door at the mouth of the brewery brings the patio experience inside.
Why? For its Palm Springs-meets-Prince makeover.
Count on the Drake Hotel to always bring the fun to the Sky Yard. This summer, the hotel’s rooftop deck has been transformed into a kitschy, beachy lido, complete with atomic-era wallpaper and a diving board. Look east and gaze upon a dove-covered, Prince-inspired mural, INSA’s I Would Die 4 U. Download the artist’s app to see the doves move.
Why? For that not-too-romantic glow.
This Bloordale bar’s back patio is one of the neighbourhood’s worst-kept secrets (and we’re sorry for the part we’ve played in ruining it). But it’s too cute and chill to not talk about: the lovingly slapdash, backyard-barbecue vibe the wood-burning stone oven the roster of craft beers and laid-back eats (try the mussels special if you’re feeling fancy) and the strings of patio lights that create the perfect setting for low-key date nights.
Why? For the tropical new makeover.
Jen Agg’s new Montreal spot, Agrikol, is regrettably not within shuffling distance of our homes. Instead, head on down to her tried-and-true Dundas cocktail spot, where the raised, sheltered side patio just got a brand new mural featuring a smattering of island-inspired palm fronds. The drinks, as ever, change seasonally, leading to a slate of summer-ready concoctions like the Absinthe Whip (coconut, absinthe, orange, pistachio).
Why? For its striking museum setting.
If you haven’t yet visited the massive collection of Islamic art at the Aga Khan Museum, patio season might give you a great excuse. The outdoor seating area at the Mark McEwan-run Diwan overlooks the museum’s gorgeous grounds, complete with reflecting pools and lush gardens – plus, a just-added outdoor grill lends flame-kissed flavour to Middle Eastern mains.
Why? Because it’s the best in the west.
This handsome little gastro-pub features one of the Junction’s most striking patio spaces: a 100-seat streetside terrace that handily triples the place’s seating count, zhoozhed up with blooming flowers and string lights. Bring a group and share some crowd-pleasing Mediterranean eats, weekend brunch, a craft pint or an old-timey cocktail (or three).
Why? For the zen-retreat vibe.
Party-zone patios abound in Parkdale (Cadillac Lounge, Stones Place and Grand Electric all spring immediately to mind), but Ivana Raca took a different tack for her café’s backyard. With a serene Buddha mural, potted trees and plenty of glimmering lights, the 30-seat enclosed patio reflects the chef’s time in Indonesia while Raca’s menu is French-tinged continental cuisine, both project a certain laid-back luxury.
Why? For all of the beer.
With its sun-bleached deck chairs and branded umbrellas, the Only’s patio is the most generic feature of the Danforth’s psychedelically inclined longstanding craft beer outpost. But who needs a fancy patio when there’s a universe of fancy beer on offer? There are 24 rotating taps (plus a cask) and fridges bursting with countless geeky bottles, so do yourself a favour and spend at least one saturated summer afternoon outdoors here. Check in for special events and brews during Ontario Craft Beer Week, on till Sunday (June 19).
Why? Because it’s still under the radar.
Whether you’re after an espresso or an alcoholic day drink, Unloveable’s above-ground sister bar has you covered. The interior layers vintage weirdness over the bones of a Portuguese sports bar. Outside, however, it’s all mini picnic tables, cozy benches and pots of rosemary. Our picks for stiffer patio-perfect libations: the pisco fino sour (two great drinks mashed into one funky glass of awesome) and the jasmine-infused Sultan’s Daughter.
Why? Because it’s brand new.
Yorkville, with a few notable exceptions (like Trattoria Nervosa and its sunny upstairs deck), is a little low on casual dining options. That’s changed, now that what was once Carens has become a Mediterranean-inspired cocktail bar fit for a queen. The enclosed back patio is perfect for tucking into a sumptuous Spanish seafood stew or putting away cocktails like the house special, Her Royal Highness, a $30 behemoth that tastes of citrus and rosewater (and contains enough rum and vodka to get you and at least one of your pals buzzed).
Can’t find a spot under the spreading trees of Harvest Kitchen’s rooftop patio? Zip across Harbord to this brand-new corner bar, then sip your way through a massive menu of draft and bottled ciders, from dry to off-dry to sweet, plus some unusual apple-free brews. (I recommend Pommies Salted Pineapple.) The variety is head-spinning (literally, after a few glasses or well-priced tasting flights), the sunny mural and beach umbrellas are warmly inviting, and the staff know their stuff cold.
It’s always been an impressive space, but the last tenants there – INK’s Italian trattoria Città – weren’t nearly as much fun as Guillermo Herbertson’s new party spot. Now with a splashy, colourful makeover, the 100-seat patio is primed to host locals and post-Jays-game crowds looking to crush some antojitos and tequila (every kind of tequila you can currently buy in Ontario, as a matter of fact).
The weird brutalist ziggurat that contains Anthony Rose’s latest, Bar Begonia, came a little low on charm when the chef took it over this past winter – but thanks to some fairy lights and new Parisian patio fixtures, the once-desolate deck, which sat vacant for 10 years on the Dupont strip, now looks downright homey. Under the creepy-cute glow of a huge Lite-Brite smiley face, indulge in snacky French eats and cocktails like the refreshing but deadly Inner Circle (which blends single malt Scotch and an IPA with grapefruit juice and pineapple cordial).
When visiting family members drag you to the St. Lawrence Market this summer, you’ll probably find yourself in need of a lunch break (or a stiff drink). Fortunately for you, this spot on the Market strip (formerly Pastizza) just got a new name and a menu change – now there’s a roster of pizzas and wine-spiked pitchers of mojitos, margs and vodka lemonade, perfect for slowly consuming over a couple hours on their twin awning-shaded patios.
Bay Street hasn’t been the same since this Vancouver upscale-casual dining franchise carved itself out a massive multi-floor location in First Canadian Place last year. They’ve taken the all-weather retractable roof (Skydome-style) off the top-floor deck area, letting the sun shine down on the deck’s bar, lounge-inspired seating and private booths (complete with bottle service). And they say you can’t mix business with pleasure!
Boxcar Social is still chugging along at Yonge and Summerhill, keeping the locals well lubricated with coffee, tea, beer and wine. But cocktails have never been their bag, which is where this brand-new companion bar, now open right next door, comes in. On top of the classic-with-a-twist drinks menu (maple-rosemary ortequila old-fashioneds, pink-salt Negronis, jalapeño and mint margaritas), there’s an intimate back patio where they’replanning to do outdoor barbecues on Sundays.