Toronto bars have a tropical cocktail for every situation, whether you’re feeling blue, feeling fiery, or just need a bunch of booze in a pineapple shell.
Neon-blue cocktails could be the only remaining bartending prejudice. Last seen at a Pete and Marty’s restaurant circa 1989, these drinks were abandoned by the craft-cocktail community as it recoiled from colours not typically found in nature. But with bartenders reconsidering tropicals, blue drinks were bound for a resurrection.
Leading the charge is Bar Isabel—maybe not the obvious choice, since it’s a venue better known for sherry, bold whiskey, and dry minimalism than for island flavours. But Mike Webster and Guy Rawlings have crossed into uncharted waters with Baby Blue ($15), a playful, refreshing, and dangerously potent drink. The sweet-orange flavour of the blue curaçao is tamed with tangy lime and an aromatic hint of cardamom.
It’s not the first time bartenders in Toronto have hit the beach for inspiration—The Miller Tavern has showcased tropical flavours since it opened in 2012—but this revival comes as a reaction both to an era of overly serious, bitter brown drinks and to the lingering cold. “It was sort of an eff-you to winter,” says Nick Kennedy of Salt Wine Bar. “For an extra four dollars, I’ll put any drink in a pineapple. I wouldn’t recommend someone tiki-fy a Manhattan, but I’d do it.” He fields the most “tiki-fication” requests for his Piña Colada ($12, or $16 with pineapple shell), a smooth and creamy take on the classic, balanced with the vivid flavours of fresh-squeezed pineapple and lime juices.
Kennedy has been known to ham up the presentation with multiple parasols, but he’s adamant that tiki doesn’t have to be tacky. The Parkdale bar Geraldine agrees, so it’s paying tribute to tiki with a new cocktail, the Carthusian Shipwreck Swizzle ($14). Head barman Michael Mooney stumbled upon a vintage Trader Vic’s recipe book at the antiquarian bookstore The Monkey’s Paw, and he spent the winter boning up on the Polynesian-themed restaurant. For a one-off event on April 29, Geraldine is even bringing in a spit roast, leis, patio tables with straw umbrellas, and proper tiki mugs.*
Mooney’s Swizzle is a slightly bitter and complex herbal drink that marries island-spice flavours (like ginger and clove) with sweetly tart tropical fruit (like pineapple and lime). It’s served over crushed ice and topped with a flaming lime garnish, making it look a little like the warm rum is melting the snow below. Hey, sometimes winter needs a little shove, just so we can be sure we’re really done with it.
Bar Isabel, 797 College St., 416-532-2222. Geraldine, 1564 Queen St. W., 647-352-8815. Salt Wine Bar, 225 Ossington Ave., 416-533-7258.
CORRECTION, APRIL 14, 2014: The original version of this article—as it appeared here and in the April 10, 2014 print edition of The Grid—incorrectly inferred that Geraldine’s tiki theme was an ongoing feature, when it is in fact only for a one-time event on April 29.