The Calvin Bar
The Calvin Bar represents something of a rebirth for the Trump Hotel here in Toronto . Helmed by an INK / O&B partnership, the stuffy Stock has become the America restaurant , while downstairs the lobby bar, Suits , has become the Calvin Bar. Though it's only a small space of twenty or so seats, the plan is to get more of Joe Public's bums on them, so a street entrance has been devised to avoid having to creep through the hotel itself.
Every fixture and fitting has been hand selected by 'King of Clubs' Charles Khabouth himself, and it shows: a dramatically-lit back bar dominates a room of muted grey and plush leather. The bar, composed of a striking zebrawood finish, adds to the ultra-luxe feeling of all the materials in use. However, the music is controlled by a simple iPod playing inoffensive lounge beats.
The challenge for any hotel bar , as far as I understand it, is that modern Toronto has no shortage of outstanding places to spend your money on great cocktails and food, and, if it wants to win people off the streets (as opposed to just serving hotel guests), it'll have to compete by virtue of its food and drink offering.
Anthony Walsh, executive chef of Oliver & Bonacini, has designed the menu along with chef de cuisine Bill Osborne. While Khabouth has brought on board one of his most trusted mixologists, Wes Galloway, to create a cocktail selection. Wes was behind the bar as we visited, though I understand he's entrusted the day to day operation to another bartender.
So does it compete? On the basis of the food, not with the prices currently being charged. The iced jumbo shrimp & blue crab cocktail ($28) comes on a bed of undressed greens and undercooked (and therefore inedible) artichoke. Twenty-eight bucks for a single shrimp, a dollop of crab and some leaves is not an ideal starting point.
The trio of sliders ($18) are a little more promising - the three mini wagyu Big Macs are delicious. The beef is tender and juicy, the bourbon thousand island dressing is creamy with a slight smokiness, which is then complemented by the salty crunch of the pickles.
The chips and dip, on the other hand, are frankly ridiculous. Ordering the Melting Maytag Cheese ($19) gets you an onion dip topped with blue cheese (which is tasty), and a selection of chips made from taro, yucca, potato and plantain, with some celery, cucumber, and three whole raw heirloom carrots. Seriously, they're not even peeled. I'm not sure whether they constitute garnish or not, but I'd love to know how much of the nineteen bucks goes on them.
Ahi Tuna Poke Ceviche ($21.00) comes served in a fake coconut shell. It consists of pieces of ahi tuna and pineapple atop a passion fruit and coconut yogurt, and then finished with coffee jelly and macadamia nuts. Before I mention that 'Poke Ceviche' is a redundancy, like PIN number, or ATM machine, I'll admit that the tuna itself was very tasty, though the rest of the dish was as redundant as its name.
Drinks, then, must provide a better reason to visit the Calvin Bar, and, for cocktails, wine, or bubbly (or Louis XIII , if you can get it out of the prominent display case), they succeed on that note.
The Sour Ramazaty ($12) is a terrific amaro sour with a cinnamon and vanilla tincture, while the Lemon de Paris ($14) is a lighter affair, shaking gin with sauvignon blanc, lemon, sugar, and both Seville orange and grapefruit bitters.
If cocktails aren't your thing, then get into the wine list. Calvin Bar has the excellent, and not always easy to find, Billecart Salmon Rose by the glass ($35) or bottle ($165) Heck, for a hundred and twenty five bucks, you can even have a glass of Dom Perignon.
Every wine, in fact, is available by the glass, including one of my Napa Valley favourites, Cakebread cabernet sauvignon ($55). Beers, however, are both limited and pricey. Ten dollars gets you a bottle of Steam Whistle, Amsterdam Blonde, or one of the usual hotel suspects. There are also cans of Brickworks Cider ($8).
I'm not sure who would choose the Calvin Bar over any of the other places in Toronto, but it wouldn't surprise me to see this place fill with corporate visitors. I'm just not sure that anyone who actually lives here is going to be beating the doors down anytime soon.