I’ll wait at the bar

So now that you know which eateries are the hottest, are their bars worth the big buzz, too? Here's what we think are the best of the bunch – and why – with tips on what to suck back while you're there.


Drake One Fifty

150 York, at Adelaide West, 416-363-6150, drakeonefifty.ca, @thedrakehotel

Maybe I’m biased, but I dig the drinks more than the food. The tight cocktail list offers signature concoctions by the Drake’s resident mixologists, with a few contemporary and old-school classics tossed in.

Alcoholically restrained but intensely flavourful, The Suppressor #21 (Amontillado sherry, Barolo Chinato, Cynar and orange bitters, $13) has day drink written all over it. The Drake’s popular 86’d Mondays have morphed at One Fifty into Cocktails With Spirit, a weekly cinq-à-sept with a rotating guest spot for some of the city’s best drinksmiths. It’s the one day of the week when you don’t feel too self-conscious about rolling into the financial district’s grand gallery/diner in Chucks and a toque.

Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 1 am, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 2 am, Saturday 5 pm to 2 am, closed Sundays. One step to entrance, washrooms on main floor.


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Bar Isabel

797 College, at Shaw, 416-532-2222, barisabel.com, @barisabel797

Bar Isabel is one of those special establishments – like the Harbord Room, Ursa or Geraldine – where the bar is as much a destination as the dining room. In addition to providing an ace vantage point for scoping the whimsical, red-lit taverna, the bar’s a great spot to kill cocktails.

Try the Jerez Fashioned ($14) – cream sherry, Flor de Cana 5, Angostura and house-made Smashed Spaniard bitters (macerated with the remnants of a smashed Torres cask that bar manager Mike Webster brought back from the Isabel crew’s expedition to Spain last year). If you’re feeling adventurous, throw out a few descriptors and leave your drink at the mercy of your bartender’s adept digits.

Nightly 6 pm to 2 am. No barrier at entrance, washrooms in basement.

Photo by David Laurence


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Ursa

924 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-536-8963, ursarestaurant.com, @ursarestaurant

Bar manager Robin Goodfellow’s cocktail menu does meticulous justice to chef Jacob Sharkey Pearce’s beautiful plates. The bar and kitchen at Ursa work together more harmoniously than at any other local resto.

Goodfellow’s thoughtful drinks, which include non-alcoholic options, are part of what makes a trip to Ursa a must. Just as the kitchen staff grow their own herbs and veggies in the summer months, Goodfellow takes house-made to the next level, fermenting his own grapefruit wine and honey kombucha, and macerating his own liqueurs and amaro with spectacular results.

6 pm to 2 am nightly. Two steps at door, washrooms in basement.

Photo by Sarah Parniak


Bar Buca

75 Portland, at King West, 416-599-2822, barbuca.com, @barbucatoronto

I’m addicted to Bar Buca. Any excuse to go for the 20th time transforms me into a giddy schoolgirl. The lack of seating at the actual bar, which also dispenses unreal coffee and pastries, might be a potential downside for barflies and cocktail enthusiasts, but buck up.

Bar manager Nick Baldassarre’s Italian-influenced list has something for everyone, one of my faves being the Cacciatore, a silky, herbal mix of Alberta Springs rye, Cynar, Strega and house bitters ($12). Plates of cicchetti, small bites customary during Venetian aperitivo hour, are dished out to drinkers 4 to 7 pm, but I don’t think it’s physically possible or morally correct to visit without ordering at least one dish.

11 am to 2 am daily coffee and pastries from 7 am. No barrier at entrance, washrooms on main floor.


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Chantecler

1320 Queen West, at Brock, 416-628-3586, restaurantchantecler.ca, @ChanteclerTO

One of Toronto’s most darling dining rooms – like an urban Provençal kitchen with a retro sheen – is a date night favourite, not to mention the perfect warm-up for a night of play in Parkdale. Co-owner Jacob Wharton-Shukster keeps Chantecler’s cocktails (mostly) classic – sip a Manhattan ($11 to $15 depending on your choice of whiskey or vermouth), a Corpse Reviver #2 ($11) or a Tequila old fashioned ($12). Considering the gorgeous wine list, there’s no shame in straying into bottle territory post-aperitif.

Nightly 6 pm to close. One step at door, washrooms in basement.

Photo by David Laurence


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Hudson Kitchen

800 Dundas West, at Palmerston, 416-644-8839, hudsonkitchen.com, @hudsonkitchen

Though it doesn’t get much prettier than Hudson’s Kitchen’s quaint front room, I can’t wait to lounge on the corner patio in oversized sunglasses with a tall drink sweating in my hand. Until such time, I’m content to perch at the rounded bar and have resident mixologist Jay Meyers, who recently won judge’s choice at Toronto’s massive Made With Love cocktail competition, fix me a stiff drink.

Try an updated classic like the Ohbijou – Dillon’s gin, green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering and Fernet Branca ($14), a spicy and herbaceous seasonal bridge – or spring for a chalk-scrawled cocktail special.

Tuesday to Sunday 6 to 11 pm. Weekend brunch 10 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday. Half-step at door, washrooms in basement.

Photo by Sarah Parniak

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