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.