With stellar drinks popping up at snack bars and neighbourhood joints, Toronto has grown into a mature cocktail city.
Before bourbon and bitters ruled the city—not even five full years ago—it was rare to stumble across a Toronto bartender who thought beyond powdered sour mix or knew that a bottle of Angostura wasn’t just for good luck. But they were out there, if you knew where to look: a handful of early adopters, ranging from cocktail traditionalists to straight-up alchemists. And those scattered innovators nudged other spirit enthusiasts to ban the powders and embrace something new.
The sign of a truly adult cocktail city, however, isn’t the presence of several very good cocktail joints. Instead, it’s when spirit culture starts to seep into bars that don’t define themselves as devoted to the art of the drink. That’s how we become “post-cocktail.”
Which isn’t to say that in a post-cocktail city, well-made drinks are passé—just that treating spirits properly has become a fact of life here. Now, even the most unpretentious neighbourhood bar stocks proper glassware and a bottle of Pimm’s. If you want to find these harbingers of a post-cocktail Toronto scene, take a trip to the Junction, Bloorcourt, Parkdale, and Leslieville.
3030 (1) may be best known for its live music and tasty cheap eats, but it’s landed on the boozehound radar courtesy of a fantastic bourbon selection curated by barman Lucas Twyman. The Junction spot has upped its game with a new cocktail menu that offers the fresh and powerful Toronto Nighthawk ($13), as well as other boutique, bitter-heavy whiskey drinks.
Although Parkdale’s Food and Liquor (2) has no cocktail menu, the understated snack bar still takes its liquor plenty seriously: There’s house-made ginger beer, a forthcoming signature tonic water (a pro move if we’ve ever heard one), and daily cocktail specials like the crisp, sophisticated Cucumber and Celery Fizz ($11).
Bloorcourt’s Northwood (3) is a hybrid of local coffee hangout and full-blown late-night destination, neither of which typically coincides with craft cocktails. But the bar’s two-inch cubes and impressive booze tell another story. Come here to find sturdy mid-century drinks like the cherried whiskey Remember the Maine ($13).
Even Leslieville—poor, maligned Leslieville—shows signs of the post-cocktail stage. Hitch (4), a relatively new addition to the strip, offers three options for its Manhattan ($11.50): dry, sweet, or perfect, with equal parts white and red vermouth. Not too long ago in this city, nearly everybody thought the perfect Manhattan just meant chucking in a day-glo maraschino cherry. We’ve come a long way.