Food and Restaurants 6320 Views SARAH PARNIAK

The Best Bars In Toronto

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    Descend the stairs at the back of Marben, take a hairpin left, pull back a velvet curtain and you’ve successfully located the Cloak, a hidden bar that feels exclusive without edging toward pretension. They do a lot of things right here, like not succumbing to labelling the bar a speakeasy. (Booze is legal, people, so, seriously, can we kill that word?) It’s like a plush British man-cave with the warm, beckoning scents and ambient lighting of a bar you can trust. The cocktail list, which includes punch bowls for two or more people, flexes the Cloak’s excellent collection of spirits and liqueurs while integrating an assortment of house-made ingredients. 

    Hours Monday to Saturday 6 pm to late

    Access Stairs to basement bar, washrooms on same level

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    Hit the Hoof’s trim, intimate cocktail spot for imaginative signature drinks and expertly mixed classics. The list switches up seasonally, but the relaxed-elegant vibe and drink quality are always on point. After a couple of cocktails, you could migrate across the road to sister establishment Rhum Corner (926 Dundas West, 647-346-9356, for rib-sticking Haitian fare, spiked slushies and a few fingers of rum to shut down the night. Considering there are almost 100 bottles of rum on the wall, it’s not hard to justify one more.

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    The alma mater of some of the city’s shiniest industry talent, the Drake has been influencing the Toronto bar scene for over a decade. The empire has expanded in the past couple of years, with haute spots Drake One Fifty in the financial district and Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, a rural retreat that’s quickly becoming Toronto’s more humble Hamptons. Come to the downtown Drake for weekday après-work specials, Ivy Knight’s 86’d Industry Mondays, shows and cocktails that, thanks to the team of kick-ass bartenders, are fantastic. 

    Hours Monday to Friday 11 am to 2 am, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 2 am

    Access A few stairs at main entrance, washrooms on ground floor

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    Over the course of 30 years, Volo has evolved from a family-run red-sauce Italian eatery to the city’s most celebrated spot for craft beer. The extensive, locally focused tap list is always in flux and includes a selection of small-batch house ales brewed on site. For committed beer geeks (who spend a generous quarter of their income on drinking well and bragging about it), there’s a cellar loaded with lots of weird, rare and accordingly priced bottles. If you’re looking for nerdy deliciousness like Cantillon, Trou du Diable or Evil Twin, this is where to find it. 

    Hours Monday to Wednesday 4 pm to 2 am, Thursday to Sunday 2 pm to 2 am

    Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

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    I love that one of the city’s best Scotch selections is housed in the least pretentious place imaginable – a snug and bustling Scots-run pub. For those just starting to explore single malts, the whisky wall, which pushes 200 labels, is far easier to navigate once you enlist the help of the friendly staff. Self--proclaimed whisky geeks should pull up at the Caledonian’s well-loved wooden bar at regular intervals to take advantage of rare whiskies stocked at random.

    Hours Monday to Thursday 5 pm to close, Friday to Sunday 4 pm to close 

    Access One step at entrance, washrooms inbasement

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    Smack dab in the heart of clubland, recently opened Candyland is shimmering with potential. It’s a new cocktail bar slash supper club that takes the concept of mystery dinner theatre to the next level – for Toronto, at least. Contortionists, trapeze artists and burlesque dancers randomly emerge throughout the evening to entertain an awestruck, vodka-pounding audience. Even if it doesn’t sound like your scene, embrace the atmosphere and you’ll have fun. Expect to pay $20 entrance for the show. 

    Hours Wednesday to Saturday 7 pm to 2 am 

    Access Steps at the door, washrooms on main floor

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    A trip to Get Well is like a night-long licence to be a kid again – except the pocket shrapnel you’re spending on pinball and video games aren’t pilfered from your parents’ wallets and your treat options have matured to craft beer and a fresh Margherita slice from in-house North of Brooklyn Pizza. Given Get Well’s influence on Toronto’s games-bar scene, we’re not so patiently waiting for a second similar venture from owner Alan Kelley to open in the old Kitch space just north of Dupont on Geary.

    Hours Daily 5 pm to 2 am

    Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

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    Channelling the big and easy spirit of the world’s greatest party city, Fat City Blues nails every aspect of a good time. It’s a loud, greasy, sexy slice of New Orleans. Chow down on a po’ boy to prime yourself for a slew of Sazeracs and French 75s. In true NOLA fashion, there’s live music every night of the week except Monday, because everyone needs at least one day of rest. 
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    This huge subterranean playground has successfully convinced Torontonians that shuffleboard and bocce are cool, probably by embracing the philosophy that stupid games with good pals equal unadulterated fun. And really, doesn’t that epitomize a perfect night out? Whether or not you’re the “athletic type” is irrelevant when it comes to geriatric sports, but just in case crokinole tables provide an even more leisurely pace. Cold beer and refreshing cocktails (including some on tap) keep your energy levels high enough to ride the competitive edge. Half the lanes can be reserved for large parties at $40 a pop, while the others are up for grabs on a first-come, first-serve basis.

    Hours Daily 5 pm to 2 am

    Access Steps down at entrance, washrooms on same level as bar

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    In a quiet but significant way, Burdock has contributed to Bloordale’s radness since opening last summer, not least of all by offering a variety of services to the quickly developing neighbourhood. Thirsty residents can swing by on the way home for a pack of Pilsner (the bottle shop is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm) or perch at the crescent-shaped bar to sip a crisp Vermont Blond Ale while gazing into the tidy microbrewery where it’s made. Live local talent is featured almost nightly in the adjacent but fully soundproofed venue, so pints and plates are available in the airy dining room without a single imposing peep from next door. 

    Hours Daily 5 pm to late

    Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

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    The crown-jewel bar in Anthony Rose’s ballooning empire, this sexy Frenchish joint is where it’s at for cocktails and small, indulgent plates north of Bloor. Come for a sturdy drink like the Pomme Sunday (Calvados, Cocchi Americano, yellow Chartreuse, absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters, $16) and stay for a local cider or two and definitely some tartare. Should you feel the urge to order a bottle of wine and more food, don’t fight it: you can easily spend hours nestled in Begonia. 

    Hours Sunday to Tuesday 11 am to late, Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 2 am

    Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms on main floor

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    Foodie buzz reached a fever pitch for Bar Raval’s opening on Valentine’s Day 2015. It sets the bar high (lazy pun intended) in a city distressingly prone to playing it safe. This is where you come for a morning-glory cortado, sherry in the afternoon and cocktails after dark – and snacks, always snacks. Can’t score a seat in the beautifully designed, consistently packed bar? Hit up the heated patio.

    Hours Daily 8 am to 2 am

    Access One step at door, washrooms in basement

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    Suddenly last winter, Toronto received the liquid gift it had been waiting for: a true tiki bar. The eastern sister project to a three-year-old Vancouver bar, Shameful has everything a tiki nut or habitual escapist could want: a thatched bar; traditional, hand-built decor; smiley, heavy-handed bartenders in Hawaiian shirts and tropical tunes. The cocktail list is 40-deep and features all classic recipes from mai tais to Jungle Birds, Navy Grogs and Painkillers – and flaming Mystery Bowls, of course.
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      The Ossington landscape continues to get an underwhelming makeover every four to six months – it’s now so packed on weekends or after dark, it’s almost intolerable – yet Reposado remains one of the neighbourhood’s few stalwarts. Though it’s been operating for almost a decade, it hasn’t swayed from its original mission to be an eclectic, laid-back showcase for sweet, sweet agave spirits. It’s by far the best place in the city to explore tequila, and increasingly, mezcal, poured by bartenders who know how to talk about it. Sip to a live soundtrack Wednesdays to Fridays (and some Saturdays).

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      Austere but cozy Archive is Toronto’s coolest vinotheque, offering a well-curated and ever-changing list of wines by the glass and bottle that won’t send you hurtling into the red. Usual suspects are locals, industry vets sipping post-shift or on their day off, rosy-cheeked girlfriends sharing bubbles and cheese boards, awkward and successful first dates, casual drinkers and passionate wine geeks. The perfect wine can be found here.

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