Last weekend I drove up to Toronto and discovered that not only is it a culturally and culinarily rich destination, but the city contains one of the most creative cocktail spreads I'd ever experienced. There were twists on old classics, never-before-tasted liqueurs, left-field ingredients and an overall subtlety that makes me excited to further explore what the bars are up to back home.
First, a note about Torontonian bars. These things are bursting with noteworthy design and concepts, and range from pint-sized to mid-range, which is just the speed of bar I prefer. There was something extra special and unexpected about finding a new tiny bar at every corner and something extra special about the hospitality in Toronto, which must be experienced to be believed.
Now, onto the very best cocktails I tried (which was nearly all of them, but here they are). If Toronto wasn't on your "must-see" list, bump it up to the top, and hopefully these picks will be the lure you needed.
Cocktail - Greener Grass | Bar - Loveless
I'm not kidding when I say that this is the cocktail of my dreams. Crisp, refreshing, citrusy, perfectly balanced—a great complement to the late summer heat. Special ingredients include celery bitters and basil syrup.
Address: 1430 Dundas Street West
Cocktail: Amarula Lychee | Bar: Mây
You know when a bar concept feels a little too tidy? Mây is not that. It serves Vietnamese tapas and cocktails with South African liqueurs. It was founded by a husband and wife team who donate much of its proceeds to benefit stray cats. It hosts local artists in the basement (freestyle rap backed by a band was there when we visited). It has four arcade games and a pool table. And the vibe is like lounge-meets-grandparents basement with big, cushy leather couches and ambient red lighting. Our first pick would have been the cocktail with muddled snow pea, tarragon and gin, but alas, they were out of snow peas. So we'll go for the Amarula Lychee. Amarula is a the South African-answer to Baileys, made from the Marula fruit and has nutty, creamy and sweet undertones. Top this with Lychee juice and you have a unique and delicious cocktail.
Address: 876 Dundas St W, Toronto
Cocktail: Yuzu Gimlet | Bar: Black Dice
Black Dice touts itself as a Japanese Rockabilly Bar, which is pretty cool already, but what's even cooler is that its cocktail list is almost all Sake-based, with just a few exceptions. We had a true Sake based cocktail (the "Ronin") as well as a non-Sake based one the "Yuzu Gimlet," a pretty classic gimlet + Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit. Not being the biggest Sake fan (YET), I would opt for the Yuzu over the cocktail, but the selection was truly awesome.
Address: 1574 Dundas Street W
Cocktail - Blueberry Ice Tea | Bar/Restaurant - Maison Close 1888
This restaurant is packed into a Victorian-style house built in 1888. The menu changes daily and that means ultra fresh salads like the watermelon feta and thai basil one we were lucky enough to try. Our favorite was a stubborn tie between the blueberry ice tea spiked with vodka and the strawberry gin fizz with fresh strawberries.
Address: 21 Kensington Ave
Cocktail: Bellini Fiori / Summer Negroni | Bar: Pizzeria Libretto
For our last night in T-town, we did a double dinner, with part one at Maison Close (above) and part two at Pizzeria Libretto which had mind-numbingly good pizza topped with 'nduja sausage and eggplant/ricotta. Their drink specials (or features) were thematically based as well, starring Italian spirits like Aperol, Campari and Amaro Montenegro. Among the five of us, we may have tried them all—and they were all excellent—but my personal favorites were the Bellini Fiori and Summer Negroni; the former adding elderflower syrup and hibiscus to the Bellini formula; the latter swapping sweet vermouth for white vermouth and Aperol for Campari in the effervescent answer to a Negroni.
Address: 221 Ossington Avenue
If these creative concoctions get you pulling on your DIY gloves, learn from the best at The Chopping Block's Mixology 101 class which will give the primer on making your own perfectly chilled drinks for your family and friends at your next cocktail party.