The top 10 neighbourhoods for bars in Toronto
The top neighbourhoods for bars in Toronto each foster their own kind of intuitive pub crawl. This city is a great place to eat and drink, and while Torontonians are an adventuresome bunch, we tend to frequent the same watering holes over and over again. But barring local pride, which one is the best? If you had to drink in one 'hood forever, which would it be? Which is your favourite?
Here are my picks for the top 10 bar neighbourhoods in Toronto.
Dundas West grew out of an extension of the Ossington scene, and while Ossington got posh, Dundas has kept its grittier - and in my opinion, more fun - roots. Closer to Ossington, you'll find popular bars like Communist's Daughter, Get Well, Camp 4, and the Red Light. Moving towards Bathurst there's Cocktail Bar, Archive Wine Bar, May, Montauk and The Press Club. To the west, you can catch a show at the Garrison or Lula Lounge, hit the dance floor at Bambi's, watch sports at Dock Ellis, get your beer at Unlovable, a bottle of wine at Midfield, a cocktail at This End Up and finish off with a visit to Japanese rockabilly bar Black Dice.
Slow gentrification has kept Parkdale weird and wonderful and a little rough around the edges. Start with some day drinking and grab a pint at either Mezzrow's or The Sister, spend cocktail hour at Seventeen Eighteen, then go for a live show at the Shop under Parts & Labour or Wrongbar. You'd be a fool not to experience the charm of bar veteran Chris Harper's Pharmacy or one of the great DJ nights at the Yukon.
10 years ago there wasn't much on Ossington aside from Vietnamese karaoke bars and the Crooked Star, the only casual bar in a sea of Portuguese chicken and auto-body shops. Then came Sweaty Betty's, and now...The Ossington, The Painted Lady, Baby Huey, Reposado, The Well, and the many restaurants that offer more formal cocktails or wine. The street's favourite honkytonk tavern, The Dakota, is a guaranteed good time.
Queen West/West Queen West
Queen West was Toronto's original arty bar scene, and there are still lots of favourites here. For live music you can't go wrong with The Horseshoe and the Cameron House, barflies congregate at the Done Right Inn, Squirly's and The Paddock, while others sample elaborate cocktails at Barchef or get their party on at 416 Snack Bar The Drake, The Gladstone, Dog & Bear or The Beaver. Nobody does the patio tan/post-work beer than the Black Bull.
Large scale clubs and VIP bottle service set the tone of the King West party scene, making possible places like Weslodge, Brassai and the Hoxton, but occasionally even hedge funders need to chillax. For post-work brews they head to Bier Markt and Bar Hop, Bar Wellington, the Wheat Sheaf or the Olde Yorke. Music fans make use of Adelaide Hall or the Rock N Horse Saloon, and if you prefer a lap-dance with those pints, there's always For Your Eyes Only.
Call it what you want - Bloorcourt, Bloordale, Blansdowne - but suddenly bar-rich neighbourhood has a lot going for it. I like to think of the area's bar vibe as casual fun with twist. Duffy's Tavern has been a mainstay for years, with Disgraceland picking up the slack, The Steady is queer-positive, and there's often great little or no-cover shows at Holy Oak and The Piston. Get the gang together for food and booze at industry staples The Emerson, Whippoorwill, or 3 Speed, and jokesters head to the Comedy Bar for laughs. For top notch cocktails, hit up Northwood and for craft beer head to Wise Bar.
Little Italy has a long history as a social mecca that shows no signs of stopping. Here old school Italian favourites like Bar Italia mix with new kids on the block like Crawford and Weldon Park while the reputation of otherworldly cocktails at Bar Isabel draws a new crowd. Old rockers and college kids hang out at No One Writes to the Colonel, Ted's Collision, the Mod Club and Sneaky Dee's. Strangely, Little Italy also has a concentration of pubs like Snakes & Lagers, The Emmet Ray, and The Monarch Tavern.
The Junction's bar scene has been on the rise for a few years now, and can hold its own against many neighbourhoods with older establishments. Start with a pint at brewpub Indie Alehouse, then head to the Hole in the Wall or 3030 Dundas West for a flight of craft beers and a bite. Finally, catch a show at the newly opened Junction City Music Hall before capping the night with tequila shots and tacos at Playa Cabana Cantina.
Toronto's gay village is a rainbow of fun for everyone. There is no place like Woody's, the HQ of nightlife on Church, and you just can't have partied on the strip without a wild wander through its doors. Bears and leather enthusiasts reign supreme at the Black Eagle; Byzantium was Toronto's first martini bar and still kills it on the dance floor, while Church on Church and Boutique Bar added a touch of sophistication with all those great cocktails. For a classic pub try the Hair of the Dog. And don't forget Crews and Tangos, which is always packed and fun.
The east side's newest nightlife destination is home to one of Toronto's new country and western bars so get your bull riding and line dancing on at the Boots 'N' Bourbon Saloon. If you can't stomach the weekend line-ups to get in, hit up nearby watering holes - the An Sibin Irish Pub and the Prohibition Gastrohouse for simple pub food and pints, or the Opera House for live music. For something more current, there's pseudo dive bar Hi-Lo (order the pickled eggs.) The Comrade has you covered for something a bit more sophisticated in the cocktail and beer department.
Did I miss your favourite? Tell us your favourite neighbourhood for a bar crawl in the comments.