It goes without saying that a stop at Canada’s Best Bar, Civil Liberties, is essential. Now, you can also grab some bottled Civil Pours from the same mixologists: they recently ran a Bloor West pop-up, and watch for wider availability soon. A stop at Mother Cocktail Bar, an inventive Toronto fermentorium that’s steadily climbing the ranks of North America’s 50 Best Bars, is also a must. For the speakeasy set, there are inception-style spots tucked inside Coffee Oysters Champagne and under the restaurant Little Sister, but we won’t spoil those secrets here. Make your reservations now for these buzzing bars.
On the hot Ossington strip, look for the split-banana emblem one door north of restaurant of La Banane and climb upstairs, to the bar that’s home to 2023 World Class Global Bartender of the Year Jacob Martin. Open for just a year, this bar has finely honed its approach: drinks look as vibrant they taste, like a nearly neon Nitro Swizzle (whisky and yellow Chartreuse with clarified pineapple) that’s bright and juicy. A coral coloured Forbidden Negoni is opulently coconut-washed for creamy mouthfeel, with a cute coin of dried fig “fruit leather” garnish winking to the savoury white-fig-infused vermouth that makes it so delicious.
This unassumingly hip art gallery and bar at Dundas and Dufferin has some of the funniest drink names (Lisa Needs Braces, Giovanni Ribisi) around. Cool girlies might be taking fashion selfies in the front, but behind the curtain this is a serious bar. Several shelves heave with a selection of amari to rival any in Canada, and the whisky selection is equally strong. The Big Ern cocktail blends gin, rum, falernum and tepache molasses into a drink that’s both classic and tropical at the same time. Don’t skip a trip downstairs to the washrooms, with Door #1, 2, 3, and 4 décor that’s as curated as any art installation.
The last stop on the tipsy road home to Rosedale and neighbourhoods north, this tiny, chic bar (from the Cry Baby folks) gives bourdoir vibes. The glam pink quartz slab bar gleams in rosy light boucing off sponge-painted pink walls (and yes, there’s tiger décor… roar!) A fun, young crowd piles into the conversation nook near the stairs and guzzles from a Martini-forward menu. The Dirty is dished with house brine and olives on the side on silver tray. The Ashley Madison is a colourful, showy tropical drink, that’s certainly not for the discreet. Serious imbibers select the Senor Spielbergo, an Old Fashioned riff with tequila, amaro, white miso and crème de cacao.
Library Bar at the Fairmont Royal York
Now under the steady hand of James Grant, the 2022 World Class Global Bartender of the Year, this luxe-hotel classic bar has only gotten better and more thoughtful, with Poetry, Science Fiction, and Folklore sections on a deep bar menu. Save up for The Luxe, the bar’s signature birdbath Martini (using bespoke made-in-Ontario house Quill gin or vodka), rounded out with a house spirit washed with olive oil and butter and served with a big caviar bump perched on a mini-pretzel bun. Top shelf cocktails like the Curator (Michter’s 10, Averna, truffle honey, amontillado sherry and cherry bark for a cool $85) are worth every sip. Cap off a night with the popular dessert drink Dominicana, an espresso martini with salted caramel whipped topping.
East of fashionable of Yorkville and handy to the Sherbourne TTC station this spot gives Rich Friend Mansion-Party vibes. It’s quietly owned by hospitality giant Oliver + Bonacini Hospitality, which means it has excellent food: think comfort cocktail eats like frites, French onion soup, shrimp cocktail remoulade style (plus $10 happy hour cocktails!) With different rooms done in eye-popping wallpaper and vintage themes, it’s big for private parties and dinners but equally intimate for a drink at the bar. The real catbird seats are in the speakeasy-style basement Bar Sous Sol, where Underground Originals drinks include a Far East Collins (with Rangur Gin, sage, lemongrass and a touch of Peychaud’s bitters) and a Dream Weaver (a vodka-pineapple sour with a dash of decadent cream).
The new bar from TV-famous Frankie Solarik (Drink Masters on Netflix) is more bijoux and luxe than nearby BarChef. With an entry foyer disguised as a vintage apothecary (and a less-glam exit into the alley at the back), the bar smells softly of smoke and the evergreen and botanical sprigs on the bar awaiting their garnish moment. Velvet stools stand out like jewels in the softly lit room, and the cocktails are gems, too. Choose from the Forest, Woods and Smoke section of the meu for the most aromatic sips, like a Boulevardier elevated with cedar and neroli, or the Kyoto Forêt, a Japanese-whisky Manhattan-ish riff with balsam fir, fennel, caraway, oregano and rosemary.
Though this team’s Overpressure Club (@overpressureclub) is the most hotly awaited new bar in Toronto (any day now!), the innovation all began here. Land on the “Unique and Interesting” section of the menu to dive into the savoury cocktail trend. Project Alla Vodka has elements of tomato, penne and dairy; the Garden Party tosses tequila and sherry with olive oil, parmesan plus thyme and snap pea; and, yup, there’s a Pho-inspired soup-tail! A stiff Smooth Sailing makes the most of decadent Ontario-made Valley of Mother of God Smoked Gin, stirring it with sherry and a rosé aperitivo and just enough coffee bitters to give you a jolt.
W Hotel bars
At any time of day, a fishbowl-like Flower Power (a glass bowl of blue gin, lavender, lemon and Prosecco, crowned with flowers and a glass straw) is the signature sip at the Living Room lobby bar. (Don’t miss the Champagne vending machine!) At night, ascend to the Skylight 9th-floor roof bar, and snack on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inflected food alongside a creamy, bright and crushable Arafistik cocktail (Ontario gin, arak, vermouth, lime and pistachio) lit by flamed cinnamon.
—by Charlene Rooke