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Eat & Drink

10 bars & pubs where Toronto beer experts go to drink

Posted by Ben Johnson / February 14, 2013

Toronto beerWhile we've covered the spots with the best beer selection in Toronto, that doesn't necessarily mean those are the best places in which to drink a beer. Indeed, the right spot for enjoying a pint depends on a combination of things, from the beer selection to the ambiance, to the wait staff, to the food.

So where do the Torontonians who spend their time writing about, brewing, and pouring beer like to drink? I polled a handful of experts from the city's beer scene to find out their favourite spots to head to when they just need to relax with a pint.

Bar Hop
"If I'm on my own or with a few friends, I go to Bar Hop on King/Spadina. Aside from its close proximity to my day job (which is very convenient), they have a wonderful, insanely huge, and ever-changing selection of beers. I can always rely on trying something I've never had before at Bar Hop. It's also fun to chat with the staff as they really know their stuff."
Robin LeBlanc, beer blogger, The Thirsty Wench

Bar Volo
"Volo is the obvious choice for beer selection, so much so that I feel uncool for mentioning it as my favourite spot. It can be a little packed at times, which is why I love to go soon after they open on a Sunday. It's a quieter, more relaxed experience - a great time to talk to whoever is behind the bar or do some light reading while enjoying the best that Ontario breweries have to offer."
Mike Warner, beer blogger, A Year of Beer!

"Favourite spot for a pint is Volo's patio on a Friday afternoon. Always a fresh cask on and at least one or two new beers to try."
Iain MacOustra, Head Brewer, Amsterdam Brewing Company

Bryden's
"Bryden's is my bar for a few reasons. First, geography: it's about halfway between Great Lakes and home, and only a 15 minute walk. That makes it pretty difficult not to stop in and see what's on tap most days. Second, comfort: Bryden's is small enough to remain intimate and the service has always been good and friendly.

When it opened 15 years ago, many bars in the West end were lazy with their food menu; a lot of chicken fingers and tater tots. Bryden's tried a little harder. For me, even if I'm not eating, I enjoy my beer more if a know a bar works hard on their food. Last but certainly not least, there is a solid beer list which has continued to improve and evolve over the years."
Mike Lackey, Experimental Brewer at Great Lakes Brewing Company

Castro's Lounge
"I know everybody there, there's four casks, awesome bottles, and vegetarian food. Plus it's about a 5 minute walk from my front door, so Castro's feels like an extension of my home."
Chris Shryer, beer blogger at TorontoBeerBlog.com

"If none of the casks or taps is tempting you, go up and peruse the beer fridges for hidden gems. Lots of Communist-related imagery on the walls, and loads of wooden furniture that looks like it was rescued from the curb. A hidden gem out in the Beaches."
Mike Warner, beer blogger, A Year of Beer!

C'est What
"If I'm with a large group, I tend to lean towards C'est What on Church/Front, as the venue is not cramped and the sound is at a reasonable volume, which is ideal when I don't feel like getting lost in a crowd or have to strain to hear the person on the other end of the table. Aside from that, the selection is pretty decent and the food is wonderful. The experience is best if your group can score the couches by the fireplace."
Robin LeBlanc, beer blogger, The Thirsty Wench

"if I had to pick just one place to grab a pint in Toronto, I'd head to C'est What. As soon as you walk down the steps I feel warm and comfortable. It has great lighting, a variety of seating arrangements, two awesome bars with an extensive selection of Ontario beer, but most importantly, it has the fireplace. Love that fireplace; You can kind of sit there content forever with a beer in your hand and your feet up."
Chris Burek, Managing Editor, Mom 'n Hops

Toronto beerKensington Market
"When I'm in the Market, Cold Tea and Thirsty & Miserable are my go-to places. I usually start with Cold Tea for a couple of bourbon sours and Labatt 50s, then I try to make it for last call at Thirsty and Miserable for a Peche Mortel [from Dieu du Ciel! in Quebec and imported here via the Morana family-owned Keep6 Imports]. That is the usual combo if the night ends at the market. During the day however, it's Embassy or Ronnie's Local where I'll typically drink Black Oak Pale Ale, Great Lakes' Devil's Pale Ale, or Delirium."
Julian Morana, Operations Manager for barVolo

Le Select Bistro
"My favourite remains Le Select Bistro. My wife and I are pretty much regulars there, which means they'll usually find us a table and welcome us with a smile, no matter how busy it might be. Plus, since my wife can't drink beer, it helps that they have a great wine program and good cocktails to complement a decent assortment of taps and bottles. And the food, it goes without saying, is superlative."
Stephen Beaumont, beer and spirits writer and blogger, co-author of The World Atlas of Beer

Monarch Tavern
"A spot down the street from where I live. Not a lot of people know it, but they actually have the best selection in Little Italy for craft beer. You can find Great Lakes one-offs, Bellwoods, and they even have a cask engine! I usually go there when it's a low-key night with some Volo staff. It's hidden and they have darts and Seinfeld Trivia."
Julian Morana, Operations Manager for barVolo

The Only Cafe
"In the past few years Fabian Skidmore has really honed in the focus of the bar on craft beer and The Only is now a destination for craft beer. They've got 24 rotating taps and a cask engine. They are also one of the few places in the city who offer flights of beer--five for a tenner.

They don't have a kitchen so you are welcome to bring in your own food; my personal favourite is chicken souvlaki on a bun (hold the onions) from Square Boy just across the street, and it's not uncommon to see folks walking in with boxes of pizza.

Plus, the staff in the place keep it real. They all possess the two required characteristics for the job: being friendly and surly. It's bar-service only so grab your cash and wait patiently. It'll be worth it."
Chris Grimley, webmaster for the beer blog Beer With Me TO

Tequila Bookworm
"I've been starting to go to Tequila Bookworm more lately. Most of the times I've gone in there it's been quiet, not too busy and dimly lit, which is perfect if I want to get some writing done or have a contemplative pint. The beer selection is impressive, and I love that they have a decent selection of wines and ciders so I don't feel like I'm choosing a lesser option if I feel like something different."
Robin LeBlanc, beer blogger, The Thirsty Wench

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Discussion

51 Comments

Brian / February 14, 2013 at 08:56 am
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I think Stout Irish Pub should be on this list.
Tiffany / February 14, 2013 at 09:10 am
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Tequila Bookworm is amazing, and I never see them mentioned anywhere. (Probably a good thing, since it's still so chill.) The staff are great, drinks are relatively cheap, and their food is delicious. I'm there at least once or twice/week.
Mike / February 14, 2013 at 09:10 am
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As great as the beer selection is and as nice of a place as it is, I've always found the service at C'est What? to be subpar and downright surly at times.
David replying to a comment from Brian / February 14, 2013 at 09:35 am
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Why? Which Toronto beer expert drinks there?
NotQuite replying to a comment from David / February 14, 2013 at 09:47 am
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technically anyone who drinks beer could call themselves an expert.

And i second the Stout. Great spot.
B / February 14, 2013 at 09:50 am
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Love C'est What. Been there a couple times now. Great atmosphere, great food.. and probably most important.. great beer!
David / February 14, 2013 at 10:02 am
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I am curious; in my beer wanderings since I arrived in Toronto, Victory Cafe is always on people's lists. I am curious as to its absence. Just a personal top 10 ? And Mike, I chuckled at your comment. I always feel guilty for having this opinion and usually leave a year between my trips, hoping the cranky staff have rolled over.
scottd / February 14, 2013 at 10:05 am
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My last visit to Bar Volo there was a crack in the glass of glass in my pint and piece of glass at the bottom. It was clear that when pouring the bartender had hit the glass against the tap spout. One would think they would apologize and even offer a free pint. Not here, I got a not free replacement that was poorly poured with 1 quarter head of foam. Only fools drink here.
Ben replying to a comment from David / February 14, 2013 at 10:47 am
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Hi David,

This is a pretty informal list wherein I polled a handful of people in the city's beer scene about where they like to drink. Victory has a great selection (and patio), it just so happens that no one I talked to mentioned it.
Cyril Sneer replying to a comment from Mike / February 14, 2013 at 10:55 am
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I see a few others have picked up on the shitty service at C'est What! And I've never been to a bar so anal about seating arrangements either. I avoid C'est What at all costs now.
giuliano / February 14, 2013 at 10:57 am
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Victory cafe is a great place. Decently priced pints, too, and a nicer location overall than Volo (though Volo does have an impressive roster just about any day...)
Brent / February 14, 2013 at 11:20 am
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No Beerbistro? It's the only place on this list where you can get a fair selection of good American/Belgian beer - most others are filled with crappy Ontario "craft" brews.
Brian / February 14, 2013 at 11:33 am
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@David. I've had drinks with the guy who chooses the taps at C'est what at Stout, as well as some local brewers.
Kudos replying to a comment from Brent / February 14, 2013 at 11:48 am
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Here's to your exquisite trolling. A list of bars that support Ontario craft beer created by some people who work in and support the province's booming beer scene and you call the whole thing crappy. *slow clap*
Katie / February 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm
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I like beer, but IPAs really get me drunk and I tend to take my shirt off afterward for random boys. Bad scene.
Noah / February 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm
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C'est What would be a fantastic place if their food wasn't so shite.

Agreed on Stout, btw
Que.. replying to a comment from Katie / February 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm
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Are you busty?
Mad Max replying to a comment from scottd / February 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm
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http://i.imgur.com/h6PXrBa.gif
Robert / February 14, 2013 at 01:24 pm
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To start, it's Tequila BookworM guys, not Bookwork. The guys working there are great, there is always something for everyone - great Ontario wine and cider as well. Less taps than some of the other places mentioned but I find it more reasonably priced without all the beer snobbery that goes along with some beer bars. My beer bar of choice for sure. The food is actually pretty good there as well, not a big menu but great burgers and the poutine is delicious. Gets pretty busy at night with a great vibe.
c replying to a comment from Cyril Sneer / February 14, 2013 at 01:26 pm
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C'est What definitely has terrible service. The bartender that served us had was pretentious and blatantly rude. I like to support my neighbourhood bars, but I will never return to that place.
Mitch / February 14, 2013 at 01:58 pm
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If you're looking for a great selection of independent/craft/local brews, try Spirits Bar and Grill at Church and Hayden St. (1 block south of Bloor) Anywhere that serves Hoptical Illusion should be on this list :)
Friz / February 14, 2013 at 02:00 pm
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ughhh... Town Crier (for beer selection) and Tall Boys have been overlooked.
Andy / February 14, 2013 at 02:04 pm
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I love The Monarch! Love the staff! And their beer selection has come a long way. Great news they installed a cask engine. I tried the Hogtown Smoke barbecue as well and it's incredible.
dr dr / February 14, 2013 at 02:45 pm
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Weird, I keep reading about shite service at C'est What, but I've always found the servers really pleasant, helpful & knowledgeable. It's their snotty, obnoxious bouncer/security dude who's always annoyed me. Way too full of that bad mall-cop combination of insecurity & (imagined) authority.
RogueGorilla / February 14, 2013 at 02:45 pm
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I'd have to add the Rebel House on that list. Great little spot with a good list of craft beers on tap and in bottle.
Jason / February 14, 2013 at 05:34 pm
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I've never liked C'est What for some reason. Nothing in particular, but just haven't caught on.

I second Victory as a great spot and would add Smokeless Joe's as one of my favourites (the John St. location, I haven't been to the new one since they moved).

What I don't understand is why people are so black & white about life (I'm looking at you, Cracked Glass Guy). One bartender one time did a crappy pour in a cracked glass and you'll never go back to that bar again? Who really loses?
EMQ replying to a comment from David / February 14, 2013 at 05:50 pm
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I am not an "expert" in that I don't write a blog but I have been drinking beer for over 40 years and I don't mean Labatts.
I drink at both Bar Volo and Stouts, and even on occasion, The Imperial. Bar Volo is the best in terms of variety, but can be too "hipsta" for it's own good. Stouts has a new cask ale each week and a good selection of local brewery selections and has a fun, congenial atmosphere. Imperial is, well, a dive, but manages to serve a few interesting drafts and play the best music of any bar in Toronto.
G / February 14, 2013 at 06:41 pm
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I never make it over to the Cabbagetown area of the city and wasn't familiar with the Irish Stout until now. Having just checked out their site I'm really impressed at their lineup! I had no idea there was such a selection on that end of Carlton.

My top three in the city are easily Barhop, Wvrst, Thirsty & Miserable, with Volo following a close fourth. Barhop has does nothing but continue to get better and better every month since they've been open.
Alex / February 14, 2013 at 10:24 pm
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I've been to a bunch of the places on this list, and look forward to trying the rest. Just wanted to throw in a suggestion of The Monk's Table on Yonge St. near Summerhill. Every time I've been there I've had a great time, and some of their beers on tap I don't often see anywhere else. Food is excellent too, as a bonus. Their "beer passport" is cool too. They put a stamp on a card in your name, and if you try all the beers they have on tap, you get a free tasting and meal.

Sin and Redemption by Dundas and McCaul has always been pleasant for me too, and also has good food. I'll definitely be bookmarking this page to try out some of the others that have come up both on the list and the comments!
Rob replying to a comment from Katie / February 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm
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Katie, when and where are you going out drinking next?
beertoronto / February 15, 2013 at 09:43 am
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Tallboys should have fit into this category. Very non-assuming place to enjoy a good beer, and great selection which is not particularly derogated from by the reliance on cans over draught. But I'm no expert.
Pietro / February 15, 2013 at 10:51 am
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No Rhino, eh? Probably because they're always out of whatever I order!

But seriously, Bar Hop is tops on my list - definitely trumps Volo in many ways.

Bryden's is my second-favourite and I think Tequila Bookworm and the Monarch Tavern should not be anywhere near this list - their staff is simply not craft-beer educated or aware for that matter.

3030 Dundas West is fast becoming a favourite of mine as well.

Overall, a great list of craft beer spots!
Cest what / February 15, 2013 at 08:34 pm
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Everything BUT C'est What! Rude servers and staff (not everyone) but the ones that are ruin it for alll; terrible service, no knowledge about beer they serve or they just don't care; oh and don't show up in a group cuz they won't take you; place is empty yet all tables reserved and not allowed to sit anywhere unless they tell u where. Too many issues all the time...Won't be going back.
Rebecca / February 16, 2013 at 05:27 pm
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So many great places to enjoy a beer in Toronto, all 10 selections are top-notch. How about the often overlooked west end? A fantastic little spot in Etobicoke called the Monk's Kettle. Not just an incredible local and international portfolio, this place has a top-notch service staff and fantastic food. And since this article's title refers to "beer experts," how about sitting down for a pint with a bar manager who is a certified beer expert ....
Beerdude / February 16, 2013 at 08:35 pm
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Confilict of interest anyone?
Half these peeps either work at or have an interest in the places that they mention.
Shillsville!

Shame on you Ben ;)
Sadie replying to a comment from Alex / February 21, 2013 at 04:51 pm
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I second The Monks Table. Great selection of unique beer, knowledgeable staff, and intimate atmosphere.
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roberto / September 19, 2013 at 05:33 pm
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Ok - si I'm at this beautiful pub called cest what and, if i weren't meeting a friend id leave and not come back. I'm appaled at the bartender lady worrying about a large party of 14 blocking two little tables of two. They must have dropped about $600! Mgmnt needs to sort her out. Three othr bartenders that have no time to chat (tho it is farfat from busy! Terrible attitude, so i thought: i wonder if its just me? So i googled it and, alas, same comments. Guys: you can,make this place a gem but drop the attitude...also on your snotty, obnoxious website...read the bit about if you are a band wanting to plau tgere. Jeepers...are we a
little full of ouraelves?
Jason / November 16, 2013 at 05:40 pm
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In defence of C'est What... I've been goin there for 15 years and have been told that their regular clientele are their priority. They aren't very good at taking care of huge groups and put their regulars ahead of even a group of 14 who might even spend $600 there. If you are a regular and the staff get to know you they treat you like family. They've been around since 1988 and are doin just fine. If you don't like the service, don't go back. It makes the place less crowded for us regulars.
Tiffany Leeson / November 16, 2013 at 06:08 pm
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I love how the cover photo is actually taken at The Duke of Devon under the TD building at bay and wellington and they're not mentioned in this list! lol
Mike / November 16, 2013 at 08:33 pm
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What about... nope, this list is pretty cool.
Max replying to a comment from beertoronto / November 16, 2013 at 08:34 pm
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Agree. Tallboys has the largest selection of independent craft beer in Toronto and is totally unpretentious.
Nick / November 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm
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I've always liked the service at C'est What, especially if you want to discuss beer with them. And yes you have to play by there rules but I don't mind that.
Adam / November 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm
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The loose moose has the largest selection of craft/domestic/imported beer in the entire downtown core.
Aleks / November 17, 2013 at 01:36 pm
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No mention of Sauce or The Wren? You downtown twits are missing out.

Bandi / January 25, 2014 at 08:35 pm
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I like C'est What, but they should really hire some wait staff that actually know something about beer, since it's something the pub tends to specialize in.
miserable sod / January 25, 2014 at 09:07 pm
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Good - no need to have crying a sprog when blowing the froth of a few ales - they don't allow tins of beer in kinder garden so all is equal! ;-)
!! / January 26, 2014 at 01:20 am
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THE VILLAGE IDIOT HAS THE BEST OF IMPORTED BEERS.
GregoryPH / October 19, 2014 at 10:22 pm
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It may inspire a head scratch, but I would put Brass Taps, Danforth and Logan, on this list. Always great craft on cask, four rotating taps complementing the 10 other regular taps. It's a happy place for beer!

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