5 Top Craft Cocktail Bars in Toronto
After all the urban adventures I conquered during my first trip to Toronto, from culinary scavenger hunts to graffiti alley bike tours to hanging off the CN tower at 116 stories, I was thirsty. I went on a hunt to find Toronto’s finest cocktails.
Where New York City’s craft cocktail movement is established and nearly blasé, Toronto’s mixology mastery is just beginning and you can feel the excitement throughout the city's drinking establishments.
Here are Toronto's top shelf bars to whet your whistle at.
BarChef: The sensory experience begins as soon as you step in the candlelit space as the air is thick with spicy, cedar aroma. BarChef, home to the mixology magician, Frankie Solarik, takes cocktails to a new height with molecular foams, infusions and smoked concoctions. No wonder it was voted by Food & Wine mag as one of the top seven innovative bars in the world. Get ready to shell out some serious cash for this space-age innovation though. For example, Solarik’s signature cocktail, the Vanilla Infused Manhattan is served in a science-lab bell jar, billowing with smoke, made of cherry vanilla bitters, rye, vanilla cognac and hickory-smoked syrup. It may be the best $45 dollars you ever drank.
Cocktail Bar: Jen Agg doesn’t believe in vodka, but she does believe in mighty fine classic cocktails with an elevated twist. Across the street from Cocktail Bar, Black Hoof and Raw Bar, also owned by Jen Agg and Grant van Gemeren, offer the same standard of sophisticated sips, but each cocktail menu has a different take. Cocktail Bar’s Hoof Manhattan is one of the best I’ve ever had of rye, sweet vermouth, house-made spicy bitters and bourbon soaked cherries.
Cold Tea: Deep within the Kensington Market, a hidden bar awaits. Passing vendors selling everything from suckling pigs to silken Chinese pajamas, it feels like you’re headed for something illegal. Look for the sign that reads “Dim Sum Buns” and you’re there. Co-owner and bartender Matthew LaRochelle created this discreet concept bar in homage to Toronto’s Chinatown restaurants that offer the not-so-secret "cold tea" – a teapot of beer served after legal drinking hours. Some favorites to try include the South of the Border of bourbon, tequila, mint, agave, lemon and Broken Flowers of gin, lillet, violet syrup, earl grey and lavender bitters.
The Toronto Temperance Society: Keeping in line with the good-things-are-hard-to-find motto, Toronto Temperance Society is a members-only pre-prohibition style speakeasy. Their website sums up the experience as ‘a haven for those who enjoy drinking well with other civilized adults’. If you don’t have connections, take a Culinary Adventure tour with Chef Scott and he just be able to pull some apron strings and get you in. It’s worth the effort for the wickedly skilled barkeepers' cocktails and exotic spirits menu.
Harbord Room: When I asked Cold Tea’s Matthew LaRochelle where he liked to tipple in Toronto, he enthusiastically suggested Harbord Room. Come to find out David Mitten, owner/bartender of Harbord Room, is one of the original craft-cocktail crusaders in Toronto. Harbord Room’s drinks range from classics like margaritas and Pimm’s Cup to originals like the Ronald Clayton, inspired by Mitten’s grandfather, of tobacco syrup, maple bitters, Crown Royal whisky, and vanilla.
Images by Lanee Lee