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Photo: Jesse Milns

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / April 27, 2012

SpiritHouse is rather non-descript from the outside, announced by a wooden sign and steps heading downwards. When I stop by, the bar has been open for just an hour and a half. The wave of staff that greet me in white shirts and black vests and ties, with tremulous but excited smiles, will probably be less confrontational in a few weeks.

My gut reaction to the decor is that its eerily reminiscent of living room sets at Restoration Hardware--in a secondary back room, you'll find a large desk topped in globes and empty vases that I'm fairly certain I've seen in West Elm. The couches are plush black leather, tables look to be made of salvaged wood (or a fair approximation thereof) and there are framed vintage photographs on the walls. A nod, perhaps, to the yesteryear that the bartender tells me they're trying to channel with their drinks.

Now, to the drinks. The bar is apparently run by the people behind the Toronto Institute of Bartending, which shares the location and sets a high standard from the get-go. A seat around the wraparound bar will grant you an impressive vantage--hundreds of bottles of high-end liquor on a center island, flanked by recessed shelves against the walls holding, you guessed it, more of the same.

I also spot barrels, and a quick glance at the menu reveals that, while they don't list barrel-aged cocktails, they do have a sly note requesting that you inquire further. They currently offer a Boulevardier which has been barrel-aged for 2 weeks, and arrives brimful in a stoppered 8 oz. bottle, labelled with cursive script, and sealed with wax (all very Count of Monte Cristo). Word to the wise: be sure to also inquire about the cost, as the whopping $48 price tag might come as a shock. On the plus side, you can take home the bottle, which would double nicely as a spice jar. For the near future, they're planning to barrel-age a Manhattan as well.

I try the Hemingway Special (2.5 oz for $12) and it goes down smooth--sweet with a bit of tartness thanks to a blend of Havana rum, maraschino, fresh-squeezed grapefruit and lime and gomme syrup. From the old guard of cocktails, a sazerac will run you $16 while an old-fashioned comes in at $14. They also have a small selection of local beer such as Mill Street Organic and Tankhouse ($6), Steamwhistle and Amsterdam Blonde. An impressive list of spirits and liquors served by the glass pads the drinks and a small menu of elevated bar snacks such as sliders is available, but the staff mentions the food so often than it becomes a bit pushy.

The crowd is a bit hard to suss out so early in the game but steers towards an older demographic; an obvious benefit (or pitfall) of the neighbourhood. On their opening night, the washrooms are pristine, and bonus points for the mandarin and vetiver-scented soap--another seemingly designer touch--while a note above the dryer cheekily lets you know that your shoes look great, and suggests you go order another cocktail.

It's difficult to gauge how well another King West area cocktail bar boasting classics and their updates will fare when there are so many other options readily available, but if you don't mind a steady stream of early '90s American tunes streaming through the speakers, SpiritHouse ain't half bad.

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
Signature Drink:
Any of their long list of cocktails, but the barrel-aged Boulevardier is quite impressive
Bar Snacks:
Small but elevated menu
Early '90s Americana
Live Music:
Who Goes There:
King West crowd, Financial District stragglers
Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.



Sprite / April 27, 2012 at 4:11 PM

This place sounds nice, and I really don't think $48 is extravagant for 8 oz of barrel-aged liquor. Just think of it this way: if you went to a night club and bought 8 1oz. drinks at $7 each, then that would already be $56 (I use a 1 oz. example because clubs are notorious for small portions/shots are popular).

Victor / April 29, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Checked out this place on Saturday! Great crowd and an amazing cocktail list! The food was simple and filled with flavor..the front entrance by far makes it inviting, save yourself the expense of walking further down the street and pop into Spirithouse!! It's somewhat addicting.

Ryan / April 30, 2012 at 9:05 PM

I've been to Spirithouse twice since it's opened and I think it's a great spot. Good food, great cocktails and knowledgeable bartenders.
A couple points for the blogger: 1.Next time you're going to review a bar or restaurant, don't go in an hour and a half after opening on the opening day. Give it a couple weeks so you give a more accurate review. People will think your blog is more credible. 2. That $48 8oz barrel age cocktail you gave a negative comment about? Ya, that's meant to be split into three 2.5oz cocktails which is $16 per barrel aged cocktail. Learn to understand cocktail menus before you review them. People will think your blog is more credible. 3. Where are all these cocktail bars you're talking about? King West is polluted with clubs and bars and only 3 of which actually serve good cocktails - Brassaii, Fynn's of Temple, and Blowfish (Spoke does as well, but it's members only). Now a fourth, Spirithouse, has arrived. Learn to differentiate between a bar that serves proper cocktails and one that serves vodka sodas. People will think your blog is more credible.
Spirithouse is a welcome addition to the King West neighbourhood. It's not a club or a pub serving cocktails, they're a cocktail bar serving cocktails. Thank you for opening, Spirithouse.

Brye / April 30, 2012 at 10:32 PM

I will also add a comment for this blogger to review. While mentioning mandarin scented soap is quite pertinent when reviewing a cocktail bar (read: completely futile), I think she should have focused on what cocktails are on the menu and not simply talking about two. The Sazerac and Hemingway Special are simply a slight dent into the vast menu of orginals and classics that Spirithouse offers. This cocktail forward bar with the "pitfall" of old folks (early 30s, mind you), are exactly the clientele it means to attract and not early 20-somethings who only know which kind of vodka they want with their soda. And I concur with the comment above mine, that I don't know exactly which other readily available cocktail bars exist on King West with actual mixologists that this blogger is referring to- cleary she also enjoys her vodka sodas. If she looked around at WHO was sitting in the bar that night, it was the who's who of National Liquor Ambassadors, Restaurant Managers and Bartenders- all industry people (who are the real guage of what's great). Next time, this blogger should stick to reviewing pubs, or perhaps BlogTO should acquire writers who work in our business and know what makes a great drink. Welcome, Spirithouse! You are a breath of fresh air in a city that posseses few cocktail-creating gems.

Fabavg / May 19, 2012 at 10:47 AM

I recently caught up with a friend, and he suggested we head to the SpiritHouse. They recently opened at the end of April, founded by the Toronto Institute of Bartending (aka they know how to make great cocktails). My friend ordered the Boulevardier for us and wow! Normally not my usual type of cocktail (I'm a Chivas & ginger type of gal), but the sweetness of the bourbon balanced with the slight dryness of the vermouth was perfect. And they served it with a large ice ball - very cool presentation.

What is cool about SpiritHouse is that they specialize in barrel-aged cocktails and also offer tasting flights. Pretty unique if you're into exploring and learning about different spirits and cocktails. I was there on a Wednesday night and it had good ambiance. Thankfully there was a snack menu for late-night munchies. It is a bit nondescript at night so it could be easy to miss (or maybe it was because I'd already had a few).

Some may find the cocktails a little pricey, but you are going for quality. These are fabulously crafted cocktails. And they have an extensive selection of premium brands to choose from. And don't forget the barrel-aged cocktails - how cool is that? Can't wait to go back!

Rupert / May 20, 2012 at 11:04 AM

SpiritHouse is a welcome change for the area. The staff are very friendly and great conversationalists. The cocktails range from the classics to contemporary interpretations of those classics to their very own recipes. Prices generally range from $12 - $16, which is quite a steal in my opinion. The bartenders know their craft very well and their selection of spirits is outstanding. I will definitely be coming back.

1st Date / October 4, 2012 at 1:38 PM

Last night I dropped in Spirit House for a drink during my wait for a table at Gusto across the street. However, I ended up staying at Spirit House due to the impeccable service, great food and expertly made drinks.

Stop by if you get a chance, you won't be disappointed.

Max / December 3, 2012 at 1:27 AM

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Jamie / June 8, 2013 at 12:51 AM

Service was great - food was great - cocktails are out of this world - esp. English Therapy. good god!

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