Here in Toronto, we (almost) have it all
I spend a lot of time in bars and restaurants. Even if it weren’t part of my job, I’d probably still be out there splashing around, obsessing and revelling.
Our bar scene is advancing at warp speed. We’ve proven ourselves a thirsty society that can and will support different concepts.
We (almost) have it all: games bars, craft beer bars, many a cocktail spot and joints to sip wine or smash whiskey. But, while volume and variety may make gaps less apparent, plenty of unfilled niches remain. Here’s what’s on my wish list.
Done well, the specialty spirits bar can provide some of the most memorable and eye-widening drinking experiences. We have vodka bars,
whisk(e)y bars, rum bars and tequila bars. What’d gin ever do to you, Toronto?
While I’d love to see something in the vein of those excellent Spanish specialty G&T bars where you choose your poison plus tonic and receive a goblet laced with complimentary herbs, fruits and spices, maybe that’s asking too much in a primarily cool climate.
So whether it’s a showcase of local new wave and old-school product or a house of (real) martinis, any old gin palace will do.
Until that time, Nota Bene (180 Queen West, 416-977-6400, notabenerestaurant.com) offers a Spanish-style gin and tonic program so you can get your juniper fix. Choose from a dozen gins, different brands of tonic and ice and your G&T will arrive garnished accordingly with lavender, cucumber, citrus or camomile.
There’s hope for T.O. Gin-A-Palooza, Canada’s first gin festival, hits bars from April 29 to May 12. More info at ginapalooza.com.
Although there are occasional mighty proper monthly parties and one-off nights, Toronto has yet to tackle full metal tiki.
The roots of tiki culture are all tangled up in exotic delusions and escapist fantasy – and who’s in more desperate need of faux sunshine and cocktail umbrellas than Canadians?
Since Rhum Corner (926 Dundas West, 647-346-9356, rhumcorner.com) raised up an oft-maligned spirit, T.O.’s been buzzing about rum. The time is ripe, but true tiki takes a lot of love, time and commitment to creating spectacle it cannot be half-assed.
Until some brave bar owner cannonballs naked into the rum punch, there’s tiki lite on the Bovine rooftop (542 Queen West, bovinesexclub.com, 416-504-4239). Geraldine (1564 Queen West, 647-352-8815, geraldinetoronto.com), Civil Liberties (878 Bloor West, 416-546-5634, civillibertiesbar.com) and TTS (577A College, torontotemperancesociety.com) occasionally throw pretty legit tiki nights. The best way to stay in the loop? Surprise! Social media updates.
The keen reception of cozy, pared-down wine bars like Archive (909 Dundas West, 647-748-0909, archive909.com) and Midfield (1434 Dundas West, 647-345-7005, midfieldwinebar.com) proves Toronto’s thirst for sophisticated grape juice.
With kegged wine trending across the border and revolutionary tools like the Coravin on the market, next steps may take Toronto in a more specialized direction. Natural wine bars? Sparkling wine temples? Sherry bodegas? Bring it on.