Spiked ice cream! Rose-coloured glasses! World Cup boozing! Tiki cocktails! Japanese whisky! It’s all here in our annual guide to summer boozin’ in Toronto.
1. Because you’re milking the summer
Although we’re still waiting for a craft answer to the Tequila Paralyser (milk, coke, tequila, and Kahlua), three Toronto bartenders have turned their attention to creamy treats. Kentucky transplant Lucas Twyman has introduced clarified Milk Punch ($9)—a Southern brown-liquor tradition—to the Junction’s 3030. If the concept sounds bizarre, think Bailey’s Cream, only better. Twyman switches the ingredients up, but he’s currently offering a sweet, slightly tart pineapple-infused rum milk punch.
For a more continental take on the soda shoppe, the Float, Italian Style ($12) at Jen Agg’s Cocktail Bar is made with chinotto and Fernet-Branca, two products that are, shall we say, acquired tastes. The rum and housemade vanilla ice cream combine for a potent root-beer float, with a subtle but entirely intriguing orange and herbal finish.
The most indulgent boozy ice cream can be found at County Cocktail. There, Veronica Saye revived a lost soda-fountain classic, the Egg Cream ($10). Hers is a grown-up, fizzy, refreshing milkshake with a burst of cherry from the Cherry Heering and a sweet vanilla kick from the bourbon. Chocolate syrup brings it all together.
›3030, 3030 Dundas St. W., 416-769-5736. › Cocktail Bar, 923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511.
› County Cocktail, 798 Queen St. E., 416-781-4743.
2-33. Because it’s a World Cup!
And there’s a bar in this city for every allegiance. Here’s where (and what) to drink during the World Cup.
34. Because Bovine Sex Club has a new tiki bar
We tally up what went into its tropical patio.
› 223 boxes of cocktail umbrellas.
One goes in nearly every drink. Even so, Tiki Bar is stocked for about four years.
› Six tiki mugs.
Boxes of tiki glassware are en route. For now, there are stand-ins like Hurricane glasses.
› One graffiti-covered wall.
Before Tiki Bar opened, the patio walls were heavily defaced by anyone who could get up there. The Bovine kept one as an homage to its gritty past.
› One blue drink
Neon-blue drinks are popping back up after a decade in exile. The fruity Blue Typhoon ($13) will ease you in.
› 26 bendy straws
Many drinks, including the Blue Typhoon, are served with these super-long straws.
› Three pretty offensive statuettes
Tiki Bar bought an entire collection of ephemera for décor, but only a small portion has made it outside at this point.
› Four bottles of bitters
The drinks here rely heavily on Angostura (plain and orange), Aztec, and Elemakule Tiki Bitters, which impart island flavours to cocktails.
› 32 bottles of rum
Four white rums, three spiced, six for sipping, and 19 suitable for cocktail making. The Bovine is cleaning out LCBO stores to build its collection.
› Seven leis
On opening night, everybody got lei’d and, as a result, the bar is down to seven. Reinforcements are coming.
› 46 hibiscus flowers
The east wall of the rooftop patio is lined with planters full of orange hibiscus flowers.
› Three cans of spam
What’s a Hawaiian-themed bar without spam? You can even order it as a burger topping.
542 Queen St. W., 416-504-4239.
35–41. Because everything’s coming up roses
This summer’s cocktail scene is truly in the pink, courtesy of four fetching ingredients. There’s something local (Dillon’s Rose Gin), something exotic (rose water, a traditional Mediterranean ingredient), something old (edible flowers, last seen as fine-dining garnishes in the ’80s), and something new (Gilead 66 rose bitters).
Clockwise from top centre:
› Spring Flower at Canoe
This aptly named drink is indeed hyper-floral, with clear elderflower and rose water rounded out by sweet lychee. The Dillon’s Rose Gin and chamomile tea keep this cocktail firmly out of potpourri territory. $12. 66 Wellington St. W., 54th floor, 416-364-0054.
› Gulab at Byblos
The insanely popular Gulab at Byblos looks like a pink mint julep topped with an edible flower, but it tastes like a rich, zesty, and healthier version of a sweet berry sno-cone. The rose petal–infused vodka and cardamom tincture provides a little peppery contrast to the dense pomegranate. $13. 11 Duncan St., 647-660-0909.
› Femme Fatale at Bar Isabel
With its pink hue and innocent good looks, this Femme Fatale will get you to drop your guard. Careful, though: It’s dangerously heavy on gin, packing a strong punch and some complex herbal layers of citrus oil and caraway. $15. 797 College St., 416-532-2222.
› Scarlet Carson at Geraldine
Named after a rose varietal, this drink mingles bittersweet Campari with citrus-forward gin, orange-heavy Lillet, rose water, grapefruit, and sweet honey. There’s a lot going on, but the elements are pulled together with painstakingly perfected proportions for a smooth, rosy drink. $11. 1564 Queen St. W., 647-352-8815.
› Petal Pusher at the Beverley Hotel
Made with gin, rose syrup, amaro, and lemon, this elegant frothy concoction has a dry, bitter side. A slightly floral gin sour with hints of caramel, juniper, and orange, it’s the perfect way to start an evening. $13. 335 Queen St. W., 416-493-2786.
› Chasing the Dragon at The Grove
This crisp, cool gin cocktail tastes like a refreshing lemon-and-cucumber drink—with a whiff of coconut cream pie. Lavender, rose, and black cumin tame that tropical froth, so you don’t entirely give yourself over to island time. $13. 1214 Dundas St. W., 416-588-2299.
› Rhubarb Gin Fizz at the Harbord Room
More than half of the Harbord Room’s summer cocktail list is pink this year, but the Rhubarb Gin Fizz, a pale carnation–coloured long drink, is the standout. It tastes like a tarter version of the ultra-fine cherry powder that came with Lik-A-Stix, all topped with a pillowy meringue foam.
$15. 89 Harbord Ave., 416-962-8989.
42. Because Northwood is keeping you up
Cold-brew coffee is so, um, hot right now. Here’s how the folks at Northwood use it to make the Storm Brewing, their perky riff on a Dark and Stormy.
STEP ONE Mix coarsely ground Pig Iron coffee beans and chicory. (Northwood keeps its proportions secret, but owner Richard Pope says it’s far more coffee than chicory.)
STEP TWO Add coffee mixture and water to the bottom of a Toddy cold-brew machine. (Again, Pope’s staying mum, but the standard cold-brew rule is one part coffee to four parts water.)
STEP THREE Steep coffee for 16 hours in the fridge. If the fridge is full, Pope says the counter will do just fine.
STEP FOUR Add cold-brew coffee to rum and ginger beer over ice.
STEPH FIVE Garnish with a lime wheel.
$11. 815 Bloor St. W., 416-846-8324.
43–51. Because you’re drinking with these guys
Photographs by Shlomi Amiga/The Grid
We check in with a few of your friendly neighbourhood regulars.
Dave Delibato, 37, advertising writer
Where: Reposado Tequila Bar.
He’s having: Beer.
“I live two doors down. Even though I think Reposado has the city’s largest selection of tequila, I drink beer. I just like it here.”
136 Ossington Ave., 416-532-6474.
Michelle Culligan, 34, flight attendant
Where: The Drake Hotel.
She’s having: Super spicy Bloody Caesar.
“I actually moved to this neighbourhood to be near The Drake, since it’s more than just a drinking hole—it’s an art and music venue. No matter what time I get off work, I could go and someone I know would be out on the patio.”
1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.
Alistair Munro, 35, director of business development
Where: The Miller Tavern.
He’s having: A-Munro Flip.
“You meet a lot of interesting people here, from models to hockey players to TSX traders to CEOs.”
31 Bay St., 416- 366-5544.
Paul, 49, output distribution, and Leah, 48, designer
Where: The Comrade.
He’s having: Gin and tonic.
“The Comrade is a beautiful bar. The atmosphere is congenial, the conversation singular.”
She’s having: Bourbon sour.
“[Bartender Jess Toombs] makes the best bourbon sours.”
758 Queen St. E., 416-778-9449.
Keli Maksud, 30, visual artist
Where: Midfield Wine Bar and Tavern.
She’s having: Red wine.
“The Midfield is the only place in the city where you can drink excellent wine while listening to house music and reggae—what more can you ask for?”
1434 Dundas St. W., 647-345-7005.
Christie Blatchford, 63, columnist
Where: The Caledonian.
She’s having: Red wine.
“I go to The Caledonian because the
food is fantastic, the atmosphere is fantastic, and I love Donna [Wolff, the owner], and her hubby, too.”
856 College St., 647-547-9827.
John Filin Krug, 40, collectibles storeowner
Where: Cold Tea.
He’s having: Hogtown beer.
“I was a DJ in Europe, and I just love the music at Cold Tea. They have great DJs.”
60 Kensington Ave., @coldteabar.
Tamara Salpeter, 28, medical researcher
She’s having: Boulevardier.
“The understated elegance here gets you right away. The staff are all really lovely—and [bar manager] Michael [Mooney] brings a story to each cocktail.”
1564 Queen St. W., 647-352-8815.
Joel Gregorio, 41, creative director
He’s having: Tame Impala cocktail.
“Dustin [Keating, owner] has a sense of humour that he’s infused into the décor. The bartenders make great drinks and have a real sense of class.”
765 Dundas St. W., 647-281-9897.
52–53. Because arak is taking over for absinthe…and because you can drink it alongside these mighty fine dishes
With hummus being the new ramen, it was only a matter of time before people looked to the Mediterranean for liquor, too. But the esoteric arak—a grape distillate that gets its characteristic flavour from anise—has traditionally been a tough flavour profile to sell in North America.
“The people who recognize the name are mainly the ones who have tried it in Turkey, Lebanon, or Israel,” says Kathleen Shattock, bar manager at the Mediterranean(ish) restaurant Fat Pasha.
Absinthe helped prepare our palates for arak, since both spirits have a distinctly minty, liquorice taste. They also perform a “louche”—starting out clear, these spirits turn cloudy when cold water is slowly added, a result of light refraction. But absinthe has more intensely herbal notes, whereas arak goes harder for the aniseed.
Fat Pasha currently offers six brands, and a glass will set you back $7–$10. Start with Negev Mabrouka Fig Arack ($8), a fig-based arak from Israel, or the Arack de Musar ($10), a clean and crisp version made by top vintners in Lebanon.
Clockwise from top left:
› Chopped liver à la Sammies Roumanian ($16)
Of all the rich, fatty dishes at Fat Pasha, the chopped liver might be the most decadent. An homage to Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in New York, it consists of seared chicken livers, hard-boiled eggs, fried chicken skin, caramelized onions, and shredded radish, all bound together by schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and served with thick slices of grilled challah. A sip of arak cleanses the palate between bites.
› Latka platter ($22 for five)
Crispy latkas are topped with a rillette of smoked pickerel, beet-cured lox, beet-stained pickled eggs, sour cream, charred green onions, and plump fish eggs that have been soaked in arak. The key to perfect latkas? “Simplicity, and a good amount of black pepper,” says chef Kevin Gilmour.
› Mixed grill ($8–$12/skewer)
Don’t pass on the beef-tenderloin skewer (marinated in sour yogurt for added tartness), the beef tongue (salty and ridiculously juicy), or lamb kabobs (spiced ground lamb shoulder). The meat sticks are served with sweet, tangy amba (apricot chutney), spicy, bitter skhug (cilantro hot sauce), and fiery pickles. The arak will cool things down.
414 Dupont St., 647-340-6142.
54. Because vodka doesn’t totally suck
As brown liquor’s stock has gone up, vodka has taken a few hits. It’s an easy (and understandable) target, since vodka is often used as a vehicle for candy syrups to create potent pop cocktails for those who find the taste of alcohol unpalatable. Recently, I got a flyer for a Martini Week at a venue that was offering seven different confectionary cocktails, all made with vodka. The show-stopper was made with two types of sweet blue liqueurs.
But it’s not vodka’s fault that it’s used so poorly. And what if its worst flaw—an extremely mild flavour—could also be its chief virtue? I know we’re all seduced by barnyard-y wine and shots of Fernet-Branca, the bitter that tastes a little like dirt. But sometimes, as with mozzarella di bufala or hearts of palm, it’s nice to scale back the excess.
In particular, I’d like to defend a shot of good vodka over a big ice cube at the end of the day. That tradition probably started with my love of a pre-dinner Greyhound, a drink that I’ve tried with gin, tequila, and pisco. But, to me, nothing works as well as vodka. To use a chef cliché, I want to let the ingredient—in this case, fresh grapefruit—speak for itself.
Yeah, sure, I could just have grapefruit juice. But that misses the point of the pre-dinner cocktail. It’s not to teach you the subtle differences between a reposado and an añejo, or encourage you to appreciate the merits of iodine in single malt whisky. It’s to put a little distance between you and the workday. With nothing to hide behind, vodka’s just a clear and honest admission that it’s time for a drink.
…And because these LCBO bottles will prove it
› Ketel One Vodka
This copper pot–distilled Dutch wheat spirit starts off with an intense whiff, but mellows when it hits the tongue. The long finish and spicy-citrus flavour almost tip it into gin. $31.95.
› Tito’s Handmade Vodka
Distilled six times in copper stills, this Texas corn-based vodka starts off slightly grassy, fades into a lightly spicy burn, then winds up sweet, like a trickle of granulated sugar. $34.95 ($3 off till June 22).
› Absolut Elyx Vodka
Perhaps the most complex vodka in the group, this Swedish citrus-heavy spirit is a rebuttal to the charge that vodka is trashy and flavourless. $48.95 ($4 off till June 22).
› Double Cross Vodka
Don’t judge a vodka by its (admittedly ridiculous) bottle. That’s the only complaint worth making about this smooth, clean-drinking Slovak import. Perfect for straight sipping. $59.50.
55–60. Because you should really try Japanese whisky at Dundas West’s Black Dice
From left to right:
› Nikka Pure Malt Black ($14)
Butterscotch wafts off this blend, a fine and lightly peated whisky with a long, spicy finish. The cute bottling and labeling of Nikka’s Red, White, and Black series shows the savvy packaging of Japanese whisky, part of the reason it’s the hottest brown liquor in cities like London and New York.
› Nikka Pure Malt Red ($14)
This light malt is a crowd-pleaser that might fail to wow the Japanese whisky neophyte. Although blends are less coveted than single malts, the rival major Japanese whisky company, Suntory, produces an award-winning blend named Hibiki that’s one of the finest in the world. Saito would gladly carry it (and other Suntory products, like the respected Yamazaki single malt), but it isn’t at the LCBO. His stock represents everything currently available.
› Nikka Pure Malt White ($14)
This is a good starter shot for people who come to sample Japanese whisky at Black Dice—one of the only Toronto bars that carries a range of them. They’re impressed, Saito says, at how comparable it is to Scotch. The peat, so pronounced in the Nikka White, is part of the resemblance.
› Taketsuru Pure Malt 12-Year-Old ($10)
Slightly more mature versions of this spirit—the 17- and 21-year-olds—have won the World’s Best Whisky award five times. The name comes from the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, who established the two oldest distilleries in the country, Suntory’s Yamazaki (1924) and Nikka’s Yoichi (1934). Although not as exquisite as the award-winning versions, the Taketsuru 12 is still smooth, hearty, and floral.
› Yoichi Single Malt 10-Year-Old ($14)
This is Black Dice owner Hideki Saito’s favourite whisky—and not just because the Yoichi distillery is so close to his hometown of Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido. With its smooth, light body and perfectly integrated flavours of spice, caramel, dried fruit, and vanilla, this 10-year-old could easily pass for a fine highland dram. Some would say it’s even better.
› Miyagikyo Single Malt 15-Year-Old ($18)
Hailing from a distillery near Sendai, some 400-kilometres north of Tokyo, the Miyagikyo is a rich, smoky, and creamy liquor presents a new side of itself with every sip. It’s one of the more expensive single malts in the LCBO and it can pretty hard to come by—so while $18 for a shot may seem steep, it’s actually something of a bargain.
1574 Dundas St. W., blackdicecafe.com.
61. Because a Hurricane hit Toronto
New York Cocktail experts say that the Hurricane cocktail—rum, passion fruit, and lemon juice shaken over ice—was actually invented for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, at a boozy exhibit called the Hurricane Bar. Presumably, people wanted to thumb their noses at the “Yankee Clipper” storm whose destructive path the previous year threatened to derail the entire fair.
New Orleans Despite its birthplace, the Hurricane is usually associated with New Orleans, mainly because Pat O’Brien’s, a semi-charming tourist trap with dueling pianos, claims the drink as its own. Allegedly, the Hurricane was born in a WWII–era whisky shortage and named after a prohibition-speakeasy password, “Storm’s Brewing.” Good story, bad drink: Half-and-half rum and “Hurricane mix” (corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, red dye #40, and brominated vegetable oil) conspires to make a sickly sweet, day-glo hot mess.
Key West In Florida, things have a way of getting weird. That’s the only explanation for the Key West version of the Hurricane, which appears to have been interpreted as “the drink you make from whatever’s on hand when you’re stuck in the house because a hurricane is coming.” It’s not uncommon to use gin, vodka, tequila, or anything else kicking around.
Toronto While vacationing in Key West, Oddseoul’s John MacDonald was inspired by the fact that they flout general drinking laws and guzzle on the streets. His cocktail, then, tends toward the Floridian notion of the drink: a generous pour of spirit, blended with crushed ice and fresh juice. The result is the Chupacabra Hurricane ($14), a refreshing, tequila-spiked Orange Julius with light mint and a five-spice kick. Too bad it doesn’t come in a go-cup.
90 Ossington Ave., 416-628-3586.
62. Because bottle service will only set you back 40 bucks
Until now, the term “bottle service” has been the universal shorthand for douchebaggery. It’s the sort of thing we usually associate with clubs that have roped-off VIP sections. The kind of place where all the real action takes place in the bathrooms and where Bieber and RoFo might come to blows.
But Hudson Kitchen has a new, patio-centric, and completely affordable version of bottle service. Bartender Jay Meyers sends over a whole bottle of Lillet (an orange-laced French aperitif wine), served with orange zest, ice, and whatever fresh house-made syrup he has in his rotation. It’s the perfect poison for a highly civilized drinking ritual like the cinq-à-sept.
800 Dundas St. W., 416-644-8839.
63. There’s still decent drinking at the SkyDome
For beer geeks, the baseball season got off to a rocky start before it even began: In March, the Jays announced that Steam Whistle—the only local option in a sea of overpriced foreign-owned beer at the Rogers Centre—would no longer be available. While craft-beer devotees cried into their Bud Light Lime, more open-minded drinkers found that a slushy Piña Colada took the sting out of the crappy selection. Oakheart is the default liquor added, but for those who don’t like spice, it’s easy to request plain Bacardi from the “mixologist.” Although a titch too sweet for some, the Dome’s Piña Colada is remarkably creamy, tastes like real pineapple and coconut, and makes baseball a hoot.
$10. Available at stands throughout the Rogers Centre, 1 Blue Jays Way, 416-341-1000.
64. Because you’re in a Jack Astor’s
Maybe it’s the closest licensed venue to the theatre on a rainy night. Maybe the suburban relatives are in town and want something familiar. Or it could be the perfect place to conduct an affair. Who knows how these things happen? Anyway, you’re drinking at a Jack Astor’s—but you don’t need to despair. Nestled in between the Razzmopolitan and the Blueberry Mo-Tea-To is a seriously good option: Jack’s Bottled Sangria.
For the most part, sangria is either too heavy on the wine or the sugar. Jack’s, amazingly, is a light and dry white-cranberry-and-pineapple concoction, made from white wine and some flavoured liqueurs we’d rather not know too much about. Ample fruit and ice is added, and the whole thing is topped up with Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz. The red adds enough tannic, berry-rich wine to make an above-average sangria.
The bartender notes that the two wine options give patrons a reason to come back and try the other way. Sangria once, sure. Twice, and it’s like you’re doing it on purpose.
$12. 2 Bloor St. E., 416.923.1555.
65–67. Because you don’t need bartenders after all
› Historically, bars and clubs were the only option for cocktail enthusiasts seeking artisanal concoctions. Take orgeat, for example: The French almond syrup is mandatory for Mai Tais, but it was impossible to find a good commercial version in Toronto and next-level hard to make from scratch. Leave it to Le Lab, a Montreal bar that recently branched out into selling syrups. Its velvety-smooth orgeat is sweet and nutty ($20).
› Even Jeffrey Morgenthaler—the Oregon-based bartender, writer, and stickler for making your own ingredients—says store-bought orgeat is okay in his new release, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique ($37). But his book provides recipes for everything else, like ginger beer with a kick and grenadine that doesn’t glow in the dark. He also shares his cocktail-making techniques, from proper muddling to carving your own ice spheres (the height of cocktail bartending tricks!).
› Presumably, the Wintersmiths Ice Baller wasn’t available when Morgenthaler’s book went to press, since this new gizmo threatens to render the art of ice-carving obsolete. The Ice Baller costs $100, produces a seam-free, clear sphere, and requires no special training—just the ability to turn on the tap.
Available at BYOB, 972 Queen St. W., 416-858-2932.