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Bar Volo

Posted by Staff / Reviewed on April 20, 2012 / review policy

Bar VoloBar Volo opened on the corner of Yonge and Dundonald in 1985 and, while it was initially an Italian-focused cafe, it has found a new life — and hit its stride — as the city's premier destination for beer fans.

Father and son team Ralph and Tomas Morana have essentially turned Bar Volo into the city's headquarters for all things beer. The bar features 125 different beers in bottles and 13 beers on tap--an ever-changing selection of unique craft beer--plus three taps pouring house ales brewed on-site in their own nano-brewery.

When I visited this week, the draft selection included the rare and hard to find (e.g. Black Oak's Imperial India Pale Ale "10 Bitter Years," $6.95), the experimental (e.g. Great Lakes "Radish du Cheval" spiced with horseradish, $6.95) and the perennial beer geek favourites (e.g. Dieu Du Ciel's "Peche Mortal" and "Corne du Diable" both $8.25).

The bottles range from Quebecois selections to Belgian and Unibroue beers and American craft offerings.

Basically, if you're looking for a beer, it's probably here.

Bar VoloThe decor at Volo lies somewhere between eclectic and rustic. There are a few remnants of the bygone Italian restaurant days (a lone, kitschy chandelier, for example), but the tables, chairs and benches are no-nonsense stained wood with some leather and the walls are adorned with myriad beer paraphernalia that just seems to continue accumulating. A wall devoted virtually entirely to prints for Beau's All Natural beers, for example, seems to be a new edition left behind after that brewer did a tap takeover there just recently.

The bar is quite small but far from being stuffy or uncomfortable, the atmosphere is decidedly laid-back; and if one were to find fault with Volo somewhere it would likely be here. They often run on a decidedly short staff and, while laid-back is a great vibe for a restaurant, it can be a tad frustrating from service staff when you're looking to order something to eat or your pint glass is empty again.

Bar VoloBar Volo's menu is consistent with the relaxed vibe and these days, while there's still some vaguely Italian holdovers — soprasata ($10) and a caprese buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomato sandwich ($12) — the pizza and pastas have long since been replaced with beer-friendly snack boards and sandwiches that comprise the short menu.

To start, we opted for the three dip platter ($10); a serving of crispy nachos with spicy, black bean jalapeƱo, pico de gallo, and decent guacamole; and the charcuterie platter ($16) which consists of five rotating cured meats, house olives, spicy mustard, pickles and taralli (basically big Italian pretzels). The meat selection that night was thin-sliced porchetta, boar prosciutto, spicy calabrese, and caribou.

As a person who could essentially live off cured meats and pickled things,I'm not an easy sell when it comes to meat platters and this one was great (full disclosure: I've had most of the meat platters available here before and I've never been disappointed). The accompanying mustard is perfectly spicy and crazy good, as are the olives and pickles--just don't eat that little red pepper that comes with them. Trust me.

Factor in that I washed it all down with a pint of Farmhouse Ale, the multi-layered and dry saison from new Toronto craft brewery Bellwoods Brewery and I was pretty content.

Bar VoloFor main courses, my guest and I had the BLT ($12) and the bison burger ($16). The BLT, pictured, was everything you'd expect from a BLT, with crispy, double-smoked bacon, lettuce, and fresh tomatoes and was served with another portion of house pickles, fantastic homemade coleslaw and a probably-unnecessary-given-our-apps handful of nachos.

The camera-shy bison burger was served with the same accompaniments and was juicy and tasty enough to prompt revelations ("Wow. Apparently I really like bison?"). While it is usually served on brioche bun, this one came sans bun owing to my guest's gluten intolerance (and they knocked a buck of the price for it!) and was topped with pancetta, tangy buffalo cheese, lettuce and sweet roasted peppers.

With my meal I had a Great Lakes Radishe du Cheval because I love Great Lakes and had to try beer with horseradish in it. I was pleasantly surprised. The beer was predictably cloudy and (probably for the best), did not actually taste like horseradish but did have a nice spicy finish. My guest did not opt for a gluten-free beer (of which there are a few available) and instead had a Wapous cider from Prince Edward County which was sublty sour and sweet.

By the time we wrapped up, the place was starting to get full as is often the case as an after work crowd continues to trickle in on most weekdays (notably on Mondays when all pints are $5).

And while Bar Volo is almost certainly the best beer spot in the city, you don't need to be a beer fan to appreciate it — though an appreciation of the lengthy selection would help (as would a little patience).

barVolo tap listWriting by Ben Johnson / Photos by Kathy Coleman



Dan Dickinson / September 10, 2006 at 11:54 pm
Being beer fans, we've been visiting Volo a lot lately as well. It's one of the very few places in the city where I can get a bottle of Delirium Tremens and my wife can get a Church Key cranbery-maple lager. The verdura pasta is damn good too.
Garry / September 11, 2006 at 08:20 am
cool how you're reading the Variety. ;)
Andrew H / September 13, 2006 at 12:57 pm
Those are your rules for return visits? Do you need a shoe shine, too? I take it mom and pop places or small establishments don't make the cut if they can't take your dish away the moment your knife and fork hit the plate.
john / October 6, 2006 at 03:26 pm
sounds delightful, and i agree with you about your "rules", although I am sure you were not being literal. Seems you have pissed off Andrew however, and he somehow figures that Mom and Pop places are only comprised of people who have no sense of food, style, or good service. Shame on you Andrew, Shame.
Ingrid / November 6, 2007 at 11:19 pm
This place is awesome!!!!!!!!!!! We need more restaurants like this along Yonge. Those gross dollar stores have to go!!
Bunny / April 7, 2009 at 11:54 am
What a pompous twit.
Joey / November 2, 2009 at 03:07 pm
Yes, Bunny, you ARE a pompous twit! Thanks for noticing!
hophead / November 23, 2009 at 06:50 pm
i think that this place needs a more recent review..the volo three years ago is much different.
al / March 18, 2012 at 12:49 am
Who goes to Volo and orders wine?
Jason Moody / June 14, 2012 at 12:23 am
Had drinks with friends this eve. Overall a lovely evening until we paid the bill. A dining companion inquired with the server about being charged twice for a diet coke when she asked for a refill. She was referred to one of the owners who gave a very animated and brash overview of his pricing scheme. My companion explained that she had asked for a refill, and expected that if she was going to be charged for it, she should have been informed in advance. In my 20 years of experience in the service industry in this city, this would be a reasonable expectation.

The owner's response was crass, trashy and insulting. He was clearly someone who was groomed for work that would have him......more removed from humanity. That such a lovely evening should end on such a sour note for something so petty was frankly sad. It is very unlikely that I will return.
lol / January 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm
Who asks for a refill at a place like Bar Volo. This isn't Mcdonalds son.
Roy / January 29, 2013 at 12:03 am
This review is completely outdated. It's all different now. Proper bar vibe without table service and 32 taps.
Luiz / April 17, 2013 at 03:42 pm
Bar Volo is soooo overrated!
Selection of Belgian Ales is not that great. US microbrewery items are almost entirely missing from the menu (with the exception of a few good, like Lagunitas).
Service is decadent. Servers will treat with indifference and with their own version of blase-ness if you are not one of their regular, "exclusive clients". Often when their matchbox space is packed, servers will shoo you out of the door.
If your thirst for a good Belgian Ale combined with good atmosphere and good service, look elsewhere.
My suggestion, The Beer Bistro, if you don't mind paying a little bit more for your beer. Or, if you want to pay from 3-8 dollars less for the same trappist bottle or tap that you would find in Bar Volo, go to Sin and Redemption.
Peter / June 3, 2013 at 11:46 pm
Agree with Luiz, I went there today was my first, I swear that I will not go to that place anymore.

Service is what make them worst.
TheGeorge / June 9, 2013 at 04:28 pm
Cyclemania and it!
Josh / August 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Volo has the best selection of beers in Canada. Hands down.

Luiz & Peter, you guys are clearly not educated about the world of beer or know whats involved in getting the selection of beers these guys have.

Anyone reading this post should go to Volo and experience one of the best selections of beer you can find. Don't listen to this chumps.
Luiz / August 11, 2013 at 08:37 am
I would concede that Volo has the best selection of beers of Canada (Ontario, especially) in Toronto. But to claim that they have the best selection in Canada is dishonest to say the least. Pretentious would be more accurate. My point exactly about the place and about some of the clientele that will rub shoulder-to-shoulder to drink some unknown microbrew from Oshawa or Brampton.
You know, local is not necessarily synonymous of good quality. And this is what Bar Volo ignores.
And yes, there are huge gaps in their beer menu. They claim to be all about North American microbreweries and they are not. They serve Ontario beer of erratic quality.
In my opinion this is not the best beer selection in Toronto.
The Beer Bistro still holds the title.
John T. / March 6, 2014 at 09:52 am
Don't care if Volo has the greatest of anything in Canada. Poor service is the killer. I spent 50% of my time on my last visit in line at the bar as they had no staff waiting on tables. Here is an idea...great beer selection and decent service. What do you think Volo?

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