Kristen Voisey is TO’s Cocktail Queen

Toronto's fledgling cocktail scene has a Queen on Queen West. The owner of retro chic, BYOB Cocktail Emporium talks to us about her booze-centric boutique.

Kristen Voisey has always been fascinated by vintage design and eclectic artifacts of classic and mid-century cocktail culture. Her hobby rapidly evolved into a business plan – and then her Queen West emporium, BYOB – after visiting Bar Keeper, a Los Angeles booze-tique devoted to bar ware, small-batch spirits and bitters.

“It hit me that I really loved this stuff,” she says. “So I found a space, it all came together and I opened within a couple of months.”

What began as a serious collection of vintage glassware and refurbished mini-bars stashed in her parents’ basement back home in Newfoundland found a new purpose as the original inventory of BYOB Cocktail Emporium, which opened at 972 Queen West, near Ossington, in spring 2011. 

Voisey’s eye for design translated into a curated retro-chic retail space that anticipated the boom in Toronto’s fledgling cocktail scene and was an immediate success. 

Her travels continue to inspire her merchandise and fuel her love for all things cocktail-related.

“Wherever I go, I always seem to end up in a bar,” she laughs. “I like seeing what people do with their back bar, what kind of glassware they use, what tools they’re working with – all the small personal details.”

Earlier this year, she flew to Japan to seek its coveted bar ware after struggling to source everything she wanted via the internet. Now BYOB carries the widest selection of Japanese bar tools in Canada.

Voisey’s drive and aesthetic continue to satisfy a persistent demand for unique gear. BYOB is a one-stop destination for the sleekest tools and the newest cocktail books, for funky tiki mugs and clear ice moulds – not to mention the most extensive selection of bitters in the country. Stock was so abundant that Voisey and her partner, Eric Tindale, opened 1/2 Oz. Cocktail Emporium (20 Kensington) in July. 

Though there are definite stylistic parallels between the two businesses, 1/2 Oz., with its flamingo-hued exterior and intimate white-and-gold-accented Miami deco-style showroom, has its own identity that reflects the neighbourhood. 

“There’s more vintage stuff and kooky, weird things in Kensington,” Voisey explains. “BYOB, where you’ll find more of the high-end Japanese bar ware and crystal sets, is like the more serious big sister.”

BYOB’s Kristen Voisey: lightning round

Coolest new can’t-live-without products?

• Wintersmiths Ice Chest: “I use it all the time. I still don’t know how it works – probably magic.”

• Japanese shakers, jiggers, spoons, strainers and other bar gear. Rose gold finish coming soon. 

• Mr. Bitters, an Australian line new to the shop with amazing flavours like apricot and smoked hickory, pink grapefruit and agave, and fig and cinnamon.

Manhattan or martini? 


Bourbon or rye? 

“Hmmm. Rye, I think, for a Manhattan. A bourbon Manhattan just kind of tastes like bourbon to me.”

Tiki mug or cut crystal? 


Beer or wine?

“If I were to choose my desert island drink, it’d be red wine.”

Fave drunk food? 

“A double McDonald’s poutine – I call it the Double Pou. Usually I’ll eat one in the cab and one when I get home, but you can it put in the oven the next day for hungover breakfast.”

Guilty-pleasure booze?

“Does Corona count? Maybe I’m too much of a booze snob to have a guilty pleasure.”

Dream bar? 

“The Broken Shaker in Miami, for sure. They have a lot of really cool tropical vintage pieces, but it’s not strictly tiki. The craft cocktails and the whole atmosphere are awesome: the tiny little cubby bar, the garden patio, the pool.”

Check out Kristen Voisey’s favourite one-stop bar shops here. 

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