Not so very long ago, going for drinks in Toronto meant sipping technicolour sugar-bombs at “martini” bars or litres of over-oaked Chardonnay at corporate meat markets, gulping pints of domestic at a pub or sponging up vodka in nightclubs.
Times have definitely changed.
Craft beer culture hit its peak and then kept going. Cider has become a priority, and bars à vins are multiplying. Most bartenders, even if they’re not into tinkering with bespoke bitters, can pull off a passable Old Fashioned. Day drinking is classy again (not to mention much more realistic with a chaser of custom-roasted espresso), and snack choices are abundant when you’re peckish at midnight.
So it’s a good time to present what we think are T.O.’s top new(ish) bars. Our criteria? Anything that opened in the last two years that contributed to the drinking scene in a new or noteworthy way, or, frankly, any spot that we just plain enjoyed.
Grab a pal, set a Tindr date or just walk out your door and into a bar, because there’s never been a better moment to grab a drink.
Want more food and drink guides? Go here. Follow Sarah Parniak on Instagram @S_Parns.
Bar Begonia252 Dupont, Toronto, Ontario
This spot brought a generous dose of French charm to Dupont – a street that now unofficially belongs to Anthony Rose – when it opened early last year. If you hit up the serpentine bar for a Lucien Gaudin in the afternoon (a classic cocktail mixed with gin, Campari, dry vermouth and Cointreau, $16), you might end up gobbling a croque madam with a Picon Bière and, before you know it, hours will have floated by, friends will have joined you and everyone will be getting their full-blown glouglou on.
Open Monday to Wednesday 4 to 11 pm Thursday 4 pm to midnight Friday 4 pm to 2 am Saturday 11 am to 2 am Sunday 11 am to 11 pm barrier-free at door, washrooms on main floor.
Birreria Volo612 College, Toronto, Ontario
It needs little introduction but, simply put, Birreria is a sexier, geekier (amazingly, it’s possible) spinoff of the Morana family’s celebrated Bar Volo.
While its Italian theme folds neatly into the existing fabric on College, a formidable selection of spontaneously fermented ales and low-intervention wines contributes clout to a ‘hood that’s finally becoming cool again.
A recently launched lambic program, including vertical vintages of Cantillon and Beersel gueuze, plumps up an already impressive cantina lined with Italian grape ales and rare releases from breweries like California’s Almanac and Maine’s Oxbow. Twenty-six draft options are served alla spina (in wine glasses), and funky bottled beers and ciders are available by the glass. Snacks range from Italian-style salumi and antipasti to platters of fried chicken from P.G. Cluck’s next door.
Open Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday 2 pm to midnight Thursday toSaturday 2 pm to 2 am barrier-free at door, washrooms on same floor.
Clocktower Bar1210 Yonge, Toronto, Ontario
This sleek, minimalist cocktail bar adjacent to the original location of sibling coffee bar Boxcar Social feels like it was built to refresh exhausted souls after wine-buying sprees at the city’s best liquor store.
It’s a desirable addition to a neighbourhood with otherwise sparse drinking options. A just-overhauled cocktail menu focuses on modern classics like the Apricot Flip (cognac, apricot brandy, sugar, egg, $15), seasonal house drinks, caffeine-spiked collaborations with Boxcar and a small but thoughtful list of non-alcoholic drinks.
Open Tuesday to Thursday 6 pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday 6 pm to 1 am stairs to bar, washrooms in basement.
El Rey Mezcal Bar2a Kensington, Toronto, Ontario
Grant van Gameren and Owen Walker’s vibrant Kensington corner gets kudos for being the premier bar in the city to shine a spotlight on mezcal. Whether you’re looking to delve into the eccentricities of wild agave varieties or initiate your palate on cocktails that soften the complexities of Mexico’s oldest distillate, this is the spot.
In the spirit of authenticity and extra protein, Oaxacan-inspired bar snacks include peanuts tossed with crispy, spice-dusted crickets.
Open daily 5 pm to 2 am one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Famous Last Words392 Pacific, Toronto, Ontario
This newish, bookish Junction cocktail bar takes its chosen theme to the next level. Named for a Timothy Findley novel, the bar has walls adorned with books that set the tone of the lit-flecked drinks list (also a book, complete with index). The names of literary characters are camouflaged in thousands of Scrabble tiles that adorn the bar-top, and the cocktails range from stark (like the iceless Aperol spritz called Beautiful Ruins, $11.50) to more complex (like the tequila and mezcal-based Gold Finch, with pineapple-sage shrub and Chartreuse, $15).
Unsurprisingly, it’s a haven for book clubs – in fact, the bar donates $20 to a literacy program for every group they host – but the option of combing the shelves and curling up in front of the fireplace with a Manhattan might make this the best bar in the city to enjoy alone.
Open Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday5 pm to midnight, Thursday 5 pm to 1 am Friday and Saturday 5 pm to 2 am barrier-free at door, washrooms on main floor.
Farside600 Gerrard E, Toronto, Ontario
Character abounds at this retro cool-kid Cheers in east Chinatown that houses a shared art space in the back. I mean, can you name another bar where you can cram pickled eggs into your face, wash them down with a gussied-up wine spritzer and order a slice of birthday cake before you head off into the frozen night? Unlike many west-side hot spots, Farside doesn’t painstakingly claw at cool – it just is.
Open daily 6 pm to 2 am barrier-free at door, washrooms on main floor.
Gift Shop89-B Ossington, Toronto, Ontario
Is there anything that nails the bougie-hipster cultural climate with more precision than a cocktail bar tucked away at the back of a barbershop? The gorgeous Gift Shop, owned by the very successful Vancouver-based Donnelly Group, is an 18-seat covert cocktail bar inside Barber & Co that brings a coat of West-Coast polish to the Ossington strip.
A faux-retro catalogue hawking vintage knick-knacks does double duty as a drinks list for punny house concoctions like the Pina Clear-ada (rum, coconut water, falernum, pineapple and lime juices, scalded milk, $14) and the Art Of The Dill (gin, akvavit, brine, lemon zest, tonic, dill flowers, $13).
Open Wednesday to Sunday 8 pm to late barrier-free at door, washrooms on main floor.
Good Fortune Bar130 Eglinton E, Toronto, Ontario
On paper, the basement of a one-time Philthy McNasty’s at Yonge and Eglinton sounds like a questionable place to find a decent drink, but Good Fortune delivers exactly what it proclaims to a neighbourhood with a gaping deficit of cool bars.
With a light-hearted cocktail list (spiked slushies and cocktail Jell-O shots are a thing), a wicked beer selection (it’s one of the only bars in the country to pour Sweden’s Omnipollo, alongside local stars like Bellwoods and Blood Brothers) and a vibe set by 90s hip-hop (it is after all, a La Carnita venture), it’s an encouraging example of how the liquid arts are trickling out to all corners of the city.
Open Wednesday to Saturday 5 pm to late12 steps down to bar and washrooms
Grey Gardens199 Augusta, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2L4
To apply a played-out descriptor like “stunning” to Jen Agg’s brand new Kensington wine bar seems kind of careless. We don’t exaggerate when we say “perfect” is a better word. Yes, Grey Gardens is primarily a restaurant with beautiful food by chef and co-owner Mitchell Bates, but the elegant marble bar, which accepts walk-ins only, deserves drinks-specific praise.
The focus is on low-intervention and biodynamic wines and ciders, and the list, curated by GM and sommelier Jake Skakun, is one of the city’s most interesting and best-priced. There are whispers about a secret sake list. Cocktails are few and classic, and there are just three draft options – a craft cider, a local beer and Coors Light.
Unlike most other month-old bars, Grey Gardens knows exactly what it is and has no interest in being everything to everyone. But certain people, savouring a glass of orange wine as the city’s prettiest room blushes with late afternoon sunlight, might experience something like an epiphany.
Open Wednesday to Sunday 5 pm to 1 am one step at door, washroom on main floor.
Her Father’s Cider Bar119 Harbord, Toronto, Ontario
Amidst the city-wide clamour to cash in on craft beer’s ballooning popularity, the city’s first all-cider-zone honours a less explored, equally refreshing beverage category. Since it opened last summer, the list at Her Father’s has swelled to over 100 ciders from around the world, most of them Ontarian.
Whether it’s via funky Spanish sidra theatrically aerated at arm’s length, botanical-spiked juice fermented from local heritage apples or a pretty pear sparkler from Normandy, Her Father’s debunks unfair stereotypes about cider’s one-dimensionality.
Open Wednesday and Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday11 am to 1 am, Saturday 10:30 to 1 am, Sunday 10:30 amto 10 pm one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Otto’s Bierhalle1089 Queen W, Toronto, Ontario M6J1H3
Maybe the most memorable thing about the space below the Great Hall is how often it’s been overhauled in past years. Now it seems Otto’s Bierhalle has hit on a formula for more permanent success.
Underneath the modish interior, with its sexy mural, dangling plant tendrils and covetable rainbow-hued LED tube lights, it’s just a fun bar with lots of beer and tasty Germanic treats (including shareable schnitzel and sausage platters) to help you soak it all up.
It’s also the scene of a recent revelation: there are few better foodstuffs than a warm, butter-brushed pretzel dipped in various mustards to abate inebriation. Don’t miss a trippy excursion to the washroom, where pressing a giant red button over the toilets results in… I’ll let you find out. (It’s not as creepy as it sounds.)
Open daily 5 pm to 2 am daily barrier-free at entrance, washrooms on main floor.
Pinkerton’s1026 Gerrard E, Toronto, Ontario M4M 1Z5
I’m calling it: Gerrard is going to become the coolest strip to hit in the east end. Not like I’m some kind of bar clairvoyant – between Pinkerton’s, Farside, the Maple Leaf Tavern and Lake Inez, Toronto’s easterly Chinatown is already undergoing a promising reinvention through the lens of food and drink.
Since opening last spring, Pinkerton’s laid back vibe, pan-Asian snacks and $12 classic cocktails have attracted both a strong local and industry presence (co-owner/barman Marc Baglio hosts guest bartenders from around the city on a weekly basis). Pinkerton’s has been so well received that Baglio and co-owner Andy Wilson are opening a second spot across the street – a rock ‘n’ roll greasy spoon called Poor Romeo’s – sometime this spring.
Open 6 pm to 2 am Wednesday to Sunday one step at the entrance, washrooms in the basement.
Pinky’s Ca Phe53 Clinton, Toronto, Ontario M6G 2Y4
Leemo Han (OddSeoul, Hanmoto) has a knack for transforming discreet spaces into superbly ambient places to eat and drink till late. The vibe at Pinky’s, his weeks-old third venture dishing Vietnamese barbecue, fruity cocktails and cold beer in a converted Victorian behind Diplomatico, is like a tiki-tinged opium den meets grilled chicken fantasy. Camp out in the diffuse light of neon Singha signs on squat, crimson stools flecked with pink hibiscus flowers and suck back Tsingtao (that’s what you do here if you want fancy beer, Volo is around the corner) and tell me it’s not all very Twin Peaks: Hanoi.
Open daily 6 pm to 2 am steps at entrance, washrooms in basement.
Pray Tell838 College, Toronto, Ontario
It already feels like an old favourite even though it’s a contemporary snack bar with fernet cocktails and one incredibly photogenic plant wall. This versatile little neighbourhood haunt, where coziness is a priority, already feels like an old favourite even though it’s a contemporary snack bar with fernet cocktails and one incredibly photogenic plant wall. At Pray Tell, you can linger over a Sidecar, sip wine with your pals or hand-feed a chicken-parm sandwich to your date. (But seriously, don’t do that.)
Open Sunday to Thursday 5 pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to 2 am one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Pretty Ugly1237 Queen W, Toronto, Ontario M6K 1L5
Pretty Ugly is essentially two bars, a tiny rainbow-splashed mezcal counter with its own agave-focused cocktail list in the front and a moody, industrial-gothic cocktail den in the back where the bartenders twist esoteric ingredients like rainforest elixir, akvavit and pickled sea asparagus into gorgeous concoctions served in vintage glassware over transparent, hand-hewn ice.
The four-tiered backbar holds a first-rate liquor collection, including branded house-made liqueurs and infusions, while a glass box floating above the bar top cradles overflow spirits and jars of preserves that will eventually find their way onto seasonal drinks lists. Hip-hop fans: take note of Wu-Tang Wednesdays
Open daily 6 pm to 2 am Mezcal Bar closed Mondays and Tuesdays one step at entrance, washrooms in basement.
Swan Dive1631 Dundas W, Toronto, Ontario
A quirky neo-dive with zero pretension and lots of personality, Swan Dive is great for free pool and fun times. Whether you’re sipping cocktails or chasing tallboys with rail whisky doesn’t really matter – the most significant thing about this Dundas West watering hole, one among (too?) many, is how welcome you feel while you’re drinking there.
Open daily 5 pm to 2 am barrier-free at door, washrooms in basement.
The Cloak Bar (under Marben)488 Wellington W, Toronto, Ontario
Sweep aside heavy russet curtains in the basement of Marben and you’ll find a beautiful bar called the Cloak. Exposed wooden beams, ornate rugs, liberal leather banquettes and a smattering of tasteful Canadiana evoke an old boys’ club (thankfully, in aesthetics alone). The cocktail list isn’t short on options, but the classic vibe might call for a generous pour of single malt scotch.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 6 pm to 2 am steps at door, washrooms in basement.
The Greater Good229 Geary, Toronto, Ontario M6H 2C1
Get Well’s sister bar proves that the craft beer arcade formula is just as airtight north of Bloor. Half beer hall (with 18 taps and a hut in the back pumping out North of Brooklyn pizzas) and half games room (partitioned and up a flight of stairs), the Greater Good captures the same relaxed vibes as Get Well, but without Ossington’s 905 runoff.
So best get in a few craft beer-fuelled skeeball tournaments now, because Geary – with its auto shops and bakeries already flanked by galleries and breweries – won’t be out of the way for long.
Open daily 5 pm to 2 am no barrier atentrance, washrooms on main floor .