New Toronto patios for 2012: Cocktail Bar
Since opening late last summer, Cocktail Bar has built a reputation as a place for those who take their drinks seriously. You won't find mixologists here — can we ban that word, please? — but instead a small group of bartenders who have mastered the art of preparing classic cocktails for modern tastes. These are the types of drinks that deserve to be sipped slowly, and what better place to do that over the summer months than a small, private-feeling patio overlooking Dundas West?
The small space fills with couples and small groups as the sun starts to dip. There's an air of refinement as far as patios go, so the conversation, while at times lively, never gets loud enough that one feels the need to raise his or her voice. As far as demographics go, the patrons are typically a stylish bunch in their late 20s and 30s. Good cocktails aren't cheap, so the just-turned-19 set aren't exactly frequent fliers here.
There's certainly a speakeasy vibe that defines the indoor space at Cocktail Bar, but the patio plays off the subtle cottage-like attributes of the main room, like the cream cupboards and white tile behind the bar. It's a dignified but laid back place to have a drink.
These are the best cocktails in the city. You can find fancier concoctions and more traditional preparations, but Jen Agg and her crew offer the most elegant drinks in town, right down to the stemware and oversized ice cubes. While the Manhattan is as good as they come, for the patio I'd suggest trying the Negroni, which is another standout. Slightly less bitter than most versions out there (the Campari is dialed back a bit), it's one of those cocktails that's so well balanced it's easy to forget that it's all booze — well, that is until you've had three.
Another favourite is the Aviation, a not-so-common cocktail built around gin, maraschino liqueur, and house-made crème de violette. You won't find many legitimate versions of this drink around town, as the last ingredient is difficult to find and is thus often left out altogether.
Other cocktails that would make for ideal patio companions include the Rumhattan, the oak-aged Martinez, the Corpse Reviver, and the Daiquiri (of course). Price-wise, you're looking at $12-17 per drink, which range between two and three ounces. If you're not up for a cocktail, there's a small selection of wine and beer.
Food options are limited — you can always head across the street to the Black Hoof or Raw Bar if you're after a full meal — but there's a small menu to accompany the drinks. Surely the highlight here is the duck wings, though I suspect the cheese plate is the most popular. The fact that the food is kept to minimum just underscores that the cocktails are of chief importance here.
The patio is sandwiched between two buildings, so you're not going to get a lot of direct sunlight. But given that it's umbrella-free that's a good thing. This is an evening destination, so the muted light that does make its way to the patio until nightfall is just perfect. As a bonus, the embedded location tends to shelter the area from wind, which is a good thing when you're dealing with cocktails that often feature subtle scents and flavours. Should you land one of the front seats, there's ample opportunity to do some people-watching on Dundas West.
If there's miss in this parade of hits, it's the hours that the patio is allowed to operate. Closing time is 10:00 p.m. each night, which is at least an hour earlier than is reasonable. I'm pretty sure that the Chelsea Room, which occupied the space prior to the Hoof taking over, is the culprit behind the short hours (there was always lots of noisy street activity outside that place). Perhaps if we all send angry letters to local Councillor Mike Layton that'd help to address this most unfortunate manifestation of Toronto the Good.
By the Numbers
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 10: p.m. daily
Best time go: 8:45 p.m. to close
Photo by Jesse Milns