Archive Wine Bar
Archive Wine Bar is the second establishment of its type to land on Dundas West in the past year, following a relative (city-wide) drought for wine-lovers who are more interested in what's in their glass than on their plate. Not to be confused with the nearby tattoo parlour that goes by the same name, this is a casual place that dispenses with the snobbery commonly associated with Toronto's more food-focused "wine bars" (why name them? — it's easy to figure out the types of places I'm referring to here).
Nestled on a section of the street that includes Cocktail Bar and the Black Hoof (not to mention the newer Raw Bar ), there's little doubt that it's a good location for a bar of this nature. One suspects that many patrons of these neighbouring establishments stop in before or after their visits for a glass or two.
I dropped by on a perhaps too quiet Sunday night. While the couple at the front seemed to enjoy having the place mostly to themselves — you two are so into one another, by the way — the sparse, lightly stained wood decor felt a bit sterile in the absence of a crowd. In fairness, this is true of many bars, regardless of the decor. Don't get me wrong, the lighting was adequately low (a plus for someone with a complexion like mine), the low key jazz was just the right pitch, and the wine was nice — but given that I wasn't there with a romantic interest (sorry Luke!), the lack of fellow drinkers had me a bit restless.
That said, we stayed for a few glasses to give Archive the once over. I suspect that this is an entirely different place when there's a decent crowd to fill the room with ambient chatter (based on a few drive-bys on weekend nights this does happen regularly). The concept, after all, is surely a good one. Co-owners Joel and Josh Corea, who have ties to Pizzeria Libretto and Ortolan , get that true wine bars need to live up to their name — 1) serve lots and lots of wine by the glass and 2) make sure the place feels like a bar and not a restaurant.
So what about the wine? The first thing to note is that there's an obvious focus on Ontario offerings. They make up well over half of the 30 some-odd selections on offer. To my mind this is both good and bad. Good in the sense that our local wines could use better representation. There's excellent stuff coming out of Beamsville , Jordan and Prince Edward County (to name only a few popular sub-regions), and it's nice to see a commitment to showcasing these wineries. The problem is, of course, they're not amongst the most value-friendly options.
One thing that the somewhat nearby Midfield does so well — and, yes, this comparison was bound to happen — is to offer fantastic wines in the $8-10 price range. Archive also hits this price point (there's lots of glasses priced around $10), but as far as bang for your buck goes, regions like the Duoro Valley and the Languedoc beat out Ontario every day of the week. In other words, if you want a sample of what Archive does best, be prepared to shell out some cash (i.e. $14-16 a glass).
As for the food, it's all small plates — cicchetti as they're called (it's basically tapas, guys!) — and just right. No complaints here. While I'm a total lush and often enjoy my wine without accompaniment, these snack-like offerings are exactly what you'd want if you're feeling peckish in the midst of a wine tasting/consumption session.
Archive has a lot of good things going for it. And while it might not be the best Toronto wine bar in my books, the very fact that there's another establishment in this city that does honour to that moniker is just good, good, good.