Bar culture gets fresher – and more varied – every year. We've got mezcal, funky beers, neo-dives and contemporized cozy locals. Here are our picks for the year's top spots.
THE FARSIDE 600 Gerrard East, 647-347-7433
If Dundas East, once desolate after dusk, follows its westerly counterpart in becoming a beacon of nightlife, Farside will be the visionary outpost to thank. This quirky bar, opened by industry vets Rachel Conduit (Handlebar and the Avro, RIP) and Mike Reynolds, is half retro rec room, half art space, and among our new favourite watering holes.
Abra Shiner (left) and Rebecca Lawton’s Swan Dive has tons of character.
SWAN DIVE 1631 Dundas West
Those who don’t appreciate the simpler things in nightlife might be surprised to find Swan Dive on this list. It is, after all, a self-proclaimed dive. But this spacious and eclectic bar nails what makes a bar memorable: character and heart. And free pool, cheap drinks and rad bartenders are part of the mix, too.
CLOCKTOWER 1210 Yonge
This was the year that cocktail bars finally started to creep north of Bloor. Opened by the owners of the adjacent Boxcar Social and named for Summerhill’s towering timepiece, Clocktower bar, with its white-and-wood decor, appears minimalist at first glance. But make no mistake, the back bar is fully loaded with everything necessary to mix a great cocktail, whether it’s a simple Amontillado and tonic spiked with orange bitters or something way fancier – a Pistachio Fizz or Banana Flip, perhaps?
BAR BEGONIA 252 Dupont, 647-748-3287
Opened in early January, back when 2016 still looked hopeful, Bar Begonia introduced Dupont as a destination for cocktails, and chef Anthony Rose’s steak tartare and chicken liver and foie gras parfait were strong additional incentives. The snacks might be French, but the house cocktails take you around the globe – everything from pisco and mezcal to rum, sherry and Canadian whisky make an appearance, artfully mixed by Begonia’s skilled bar team.
GOOD FORTUNE 130 Eglinton East, 647-351-0130
La Carnita’s uptown offshoot champions a simple concept that too many bars overlook: fun. House cocktails include strawberry daiquiri Jell-O shots and a series of boozy milkshakes made with Sweet Jesus soft serve, plus tasty spins on retro drinks like Midori and Amaretto sours. Considering the playful approach to cocktails, the beer list is surprisingly serious, featuring the latest from Toronto breweries like Burdock and Blood Brothers as well as hard-to-find brews from Sweden’s Omnipollo.
Cocktails are a hit at cozy Pray Tell.
PRAY TELL 838 College
At this cozy spot at Ossington, sturdy cocktails make nice with rib-sticking snacks like gooey house-made pocket pizzas. If you haven’t yet pulled up a bar stool to order the seasonal Manhattan-ish Ludacris’mas and soak up the good vibes this tiny bar has to offer, do it.
BIRRERIA VOLO 612 College
The shuttering in September of the original Bar Volo, arguably Toronto’s most impactful beer bar, made a lot of people sad, but the opening of hipper and more modern Birreria in the heart of Little Italy was a serious consolation prize. It focuses on sour and spontaneously fermented ales served by the glass, and more recently, natural wines. The heated back patio can accommodate a modest squad, while the long concrete bar is perfect for a solo birra alla spina (aka glass o’ beer).
EL REY 2A Kensington
T.O.’s first mezcal bar opened to heaps of hype last summer. There are lots of reasons to visit: to people-watch on the street-side patio (not applicable in mid-December, but still), to sample chef Grant Van Gameren’s Oaxacan-inspired snacks – but above all to explore varieties of mezcal previously impossible to find in Toronto. If diving straight into a flight of the mighty Mexican agave spirit is too intimidating for your taste buds, break them in on a few of co-owner/bar star Owen Walker’s excellent mez-cocktails.
PRETTY UGLY 1237 Queen West
Parkdale’s new mezcaleria/cocktail bar is ambitious, original and stuffed with coveted bottles of booze – all trademarks to be expected from a team composed of Robin Goodfellow, Grant van Gameren and Michael Webster.
An entrance-way boutique hawking vibrant Oaxacan rugs does double duty as a tiny bar dedicated to mezcal. Push further into the dark and find a fully loaded, glimmering bar helmed by some of the city’s most capable cocktailians.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS 392 Pacific
Booze and literature are a heady mixture that this newish Junction bar mingles thoroughly and with a fairy-dusting of elegance. Books and words are everywhere – on the wallpaper, on shelves, on the Scrabble-tiled bar top. Bound and embossed cocktail lists are full of lit-themed drinks, complete with glossary. All good drinks include a story, and at Famous Last Words you can take that literally.
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