The Libertine is the new underground speakeasy-style lounge now operating from under a blinking tarot reader sign on Dundas West at Rusholme. Co-owned by Byron Dill and Forrest Kendlbacher, the pair wanted to recreate a little Prohibition-era glamour with a dash occult and old-time carnival appeal. Deep colours, dim lighting, a stuffed peacock, and sculptural, mythological themed art work from Christy Langer do the trick.
Descending the stairs, there's a fortune teller performing readings behind a beaded curtain. Once inside, a long bar lines one wall, while high top counters streak down the centre and crescent shaped banquets, upholstered in tufted leather line the opposing wall.
The bar majors in strong drinks and carefully crafted cocktails like the Baudelaire ($12) blended with Amaro, Grand Marnier, gin and Campari. Bubbly served in champagne coupe is equally appropriate.
In the kitchen ex-Momofuko chef Leonie Lilla has assembled an all-ladies kitchen (an accident I'm told, but still awesomely rare). The menu lists 10-15 dishes each night and will change on a whim or per seasonal availability.
Nightly, the menu promises at least a few vegan and vegetarian options. Tonight there is an artichoke heart salad ($11) composed with roasted potatoes, shaved truffle and woody chicory greens.
There's also a grilled asparagus salad with torn rye bread, black olives and ponzu tofu. Eating salads in the dark is a bit like a treasure hunt, and each dish boasts varied textures.
For omnivores there's boneless fried chicken ($12), pork ribs ($19) and house cured salmon ($15). For my table, the trio is plated onto one large board inviting my party to graze over the delicious spread. Not one dish requires a knife. Chopsticks would have been fitting but aren't supplied.
The fried chicken is served with bib lettuce, creamy kohlrabi slaw and carrots. On another night you might find it paired with anchovy and capers, but the golden cornflake coated nuggets are likely to become a menu fixture.
The ribs are boneless too, and easy to eat delicately sans mess. They're glazed in sweet smoke and topped with candied watermelon rind.
The fish is laid over sourdough croutons and paired with beet chips, Ontario peaches, pistachios and cream.
For sweet tooths, there will typically be one or maybe two desserts. Tonight there is a semi-sweet chocolate mousse topped with a panna cotta-like Tonka bean cream which to me tastes heavily like almonds, but Lilla explains that they're more akin to peas (and furthermore are actually outlawed by the FDA in the U.S. for containing a paralysis causing chemical).
The Libertine is open Tuesday to Saturday from 7pm 'til 2am and the fortune teller is to be a regular feature. Readings are $25 for a three card reading or $45 for more in-depth insight.