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Cocktail Bar

Photo: Jesse Milns

Posted by Robyn Urback / September 17, 2011

Cocktail Bar may not be the fine dining restaurant initially expected from Black Hoof owner Jen Agg but it does deliver the well-crafted cocktails of which she has become famous, as well as a laid-back, speakeasy vibe that seems perfect for Dundas West.

Part of that underground cocktail lounge atmosphere comes from Cocktail Bar's sidewalk discretion. No, it doesn't have a back alley entrance like Goodnight, but its exterior is totally ambiguous, save for a small "Cocktail Bar" sign in the window. So hungry carnivores jonesing for some blood sausage and wandering aimlessly by the former home of Hoof Cafe may have been slow to notice the space reopen as Cocktail Bar about a month and a half ago.

When Hoof Cafe closed last spring, the plan was to open Black Hoof and Company (BHCO), a tasting-based fine dining restaurant in its stead. But the plan never materialized and Agg later parted ways with former Black Hoof co-owner and chef Grant van Gameren. Now, Cocktail Bar is quickly becoming known on the scene, especially for what's on--or rather--what isn't on its menu.

"The problem with vodka is that it's dumb," Agg writes in a February blog post. "It is not special or time consuming, has nothing to do with terroir and doesn't wear the character of its maker in subtleties of flavour."

I wish Agg was at Cocktail Bar when I stop in so I can ask her more about the favourite spirit of buzz-seeking teenagers, but since she's out of town, all I can do is scan Cocktail Bar's menu.

The bar offers classic white and brown cocktails, as well as craft beers (bottles) from local brewers. Among the signatures are Cocktail Bar's 3oz Manhattan made with housemade bitters ($16), and its 2½ oz martini (gin, obviously) for $11.

Though Cocktail Bar doesn't look dramatically different from when the space was Hoof Cafe (same layout, bar stools, lighting, and the same tin roof--though really, why would you want to change that?), it has a decidedly different vibe. Maybe it's the absence of the printed wallpaper, or the smooth '30s and '40s jazz (which sounds like Ella Fitzgerald, but the bartender tells me is not), that makes it feel very throwback and cool. And the candles in mason jars seem to work so much better with cocktails rather than brunch.

But since the Cocktail Bar's food options are limited just to cheese plates, patrons looking to pair their Negroni with some pork belly pastrami should probably head down the street.

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
Signature Drink:
Bar Snacks:
Cheese plates
Live Music:
Who Goes There:
Hoof fans, classic cocktail aficionado
Thursday to Monday 5:30 p.m. to last call



The Pontiff / September 17, 2011 at 6:06 PM

"New York Style" cocktails?

how provincial.

I seem to recall bourbon is from Kentucky, and Whiskey, oh dear, even the Japanese have some fantastic blends.

tunder / September 18, 2011 at 1:33 AM

Sorry Jen the hoof is popular because of grant's food. No one cares about your cocktails. Good luck with the $16 Manhattans.

scott d / September 18, 2011 at 10:21 AM

"New York Style" cocktails?" Is that like New York Style Fries? Or California wraps? As soon as you use another place name to describe something then you wont last long.

I did not know there was a "problem" with vodka.I can tell that this joint has more pretension that actual beverage knowledge. I mirror the Pontiff, Japan has award winning whiskey and vodka that is worth trying.

hater / September 18, 2011 at 4:15 PM

wow, those douchey suits at the bar totally wrecked it for me.

cee In replying to a comment from tunder / September 18, 2011 at 7:17 PM

People who have good taste in drinks do. She is one of the city's top bartenders, so yeh, people do care about her drinks. It's pretty obviously going to be a success.

agentsmith / September 19, 2011 at 10:14 AM

"World English Dictionary:
— noun
The combination of factors in winemaking, including soil, climate, and environment, that gives a wine its distinctive character."

So vodka has no terroir, but gin, which is basically juniper-flavoured vodka, does? LOL. This place screams of douchebaggery.

Steve / September 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

The height of pretension. Denigrating the tastes of others is so self-servingly smug; it's amazing there's anyone left that hasn't been offended by the self-satisfied/customers-know-nothing attitude and musings of the owner. People will applaud when this place Deadpools.

TraderZed In replying to a comment from tunder / September 19, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Jen's cocktails are some of the best in the city (if not THE best). $16 is totally fair for the insanely good Manhattan she has perfected.

Lucas In replying to a comment from agentsmith / September 19, 2011 at 6:59 PM

Also there is no climate/part of the world that produces/manufactures all of Gin's ingredients (and produces the end product), making terroir argument even more hilariously sad.

She needs to go to school to study before she can write an 'essay' bashing vodka. She calls is classless and for 'non interesting people' to paraphrase... Wake up Jen Vodka was a prize possession and obsession of Mendeleev. This guy had more genius and class in his dandruff then Jen will ever possess.

People loved the Hoof for food, get over yourself Jen.

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barjohn / October 26, 2012 at 1:57 AM

The irony of pretentious blog/bartenders is that they betray the very roots they mean to portray. Jerry Thomas or Harry Johnson would never make someone feel bad for ordering the most popularly consumed base spirit of the time- period. Making good balanced cocktails has never (since prohibition) been more possible or appreciated by people, but the kind of attitude projected by Agg jeopardizes the very revival of cocktail culture itself. Bottom line: You can make great drinks but your bar will be empty empty if you treat people like crap. Get over yourself!

michael lupolover / March 24, 2014 at 8:52 PM

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