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Best of Toronto

The Best Cocktails in Toronto

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / March 28, 2012

Cocktails TorontoThe best cocktails in Toronto are a far cry from the blind pouring and dashing of Toronto's club scene. Rather, they recognize the cocktail as an artisanal craft and, without exception, have mastered the layering of flavours that makes for a drink that one must sip at a glacial pace.

I've said it before, and will say it again: the city's renaissance of classic cocktail culture is trickling down from leather-and-glass gentlemen's clubs and from Toronto's up-and-coming neighbourhoods onto the menus of most restaurants worth their salt. It's refreshing to know that even on such a varied list, any of these establishments will gladly and gamely scroll through centuries-old recipes to create a storied drink for you, tweaked for the modern palate.

No longer is alcohol buried under mountains of pre-made mix, juices or soda — rather, the full flavor profiles of the liquors themselves are highlighted. The resulting drinks are meant to be savoured, not chugged, and you might surprise yourself (as I often have) by learning that you love the taste of aged bourbon or smoked whisky when its given the space to breathe in a glass.

This year's choices are a mix of old favorites, such as Barchef and the Harbord Room, hidden gems like Kensington's Cold Tea and Goodnight, and newer entries like Yours Truly. They all bear this cocktail-lover's stamp of approval.

See also:

The Best New Bars in Toronto 2011
The Best Hotel Bars in Toronto
The best martinis in Toronto
The best cheap drinks in Toronto

BarChef

BarChef

Aside from the black-curtained windows, the light-absorbing black decor, and going cross-eyed within minutes from the incense fumes alone, the stars of the show are the epic mixologists behind the counter, helmed by Frankie Solarik, and the complex finished products that expertly command all your senses. Expect your drinks to be set on fire, captured and distilled into foam, or awash in waves of scented smoke. More »

Cocktail Bar

Cocktail Bar

Perhaps the bar that most recognizes the timeless worth of a classic cocktail, Jen Agg's Cocktail Bar remains one of my favorite haunts. The bartenders are unflappable as they exactingly concoct house-made bitters and hard-to-find ingredients like violet liqueur. Almost everything on the menu has been modernized in a subtle manner, and the results are fantastic. Just don't ask for vodka. More »

Sidecar

Sidecar

Sidecar, named for the famous early 20th century European cocktail, serves a damn good one. This Little Italy standby imbibes Torontoians with freshly-prepared, unpretentious drinks like a Dark & Stormy, raspberry-sweetened mojitos and the frothy combo of Sailor Jerry spiced rum, bitters, lemon and egg whites. More »

Harbord Room

Harbord Room

Hankering for a touch of class? Look no further than this brick-walled and plush-chaired home to a well-chosen selection of some of the world's finest cocktails. At The Harbord Room, find the Bronx Cocktail, a fast-talking mix of gin, vermouths and orange, or a Stinger -suitable for captains of industry after a long day of deal-brokering. More »

Origin

Origin

Renowned chef Claudio Aprile designs the dishes at this King West standout, but Origin's drinks are the brainchild of its bartenders. Enjoy a cocktail in the impeccably designed interior or take in the panoramic corner view that the generous patio affords. And the drinks? Classic cocktails turned modern, and entirely innovative concoctions reflecting seasonal fruits and trends, using their own in-house syrups and top-shelf liquors. More »

Yours Truly

Yours Truly

Yours Truly has garnered piles of press for their innovative food and the drinks, as you'd expect, follow form by cleverly complementing their classics menu with a list of deviations. Try a Gin Collins surprisingly elevated by thyme, or a maple-coated rye and ginger concoction that's sugar, spice, and everything nice. More »

Parts & Labour

Parts & Labour

Parts & Labour is a rollicking two-level monolith where Parkdale dames and gents start their eve up top with finely balanced cocktails such as the Peacemaker, a hair-on-your-chest mix of Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whisky, Amaro Montenegro, cherry heering and bitters, then head downstairs for music and beats as the night devolves. More »

Cold Tea

Cold Tea

Cold Tea is a bar where other bartenders end their night; high praise indeed for this hole-in-the-wall down a Kensington back alley serving an all-original line-up of cocktails with Asian flair, like a touch of sake in a gin and ginger mix. The ever-changing menu is built around bartender Sarah Parniak's love of exotic flavors. More »

Discussion

31 Comments

Frank / March 28, 2012 at 10:24 am
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Gotta say this is actually a strong list. I might add a few places (Comrade, Toronto Temperance Society), but wouldn't take any away.
wiser one / March 28, 2012 at 10:36 am
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While this list boasts an impressive group of cocktail bars, this seems like a list taken off the web, rather than the author finding our where the best bars for cocktails are in the city. While these are some of the typical hotspots, perhaps venturing outside the "hype bars" for some other ones that should have been on this list, maybe some aren't considered because they have a restaurant program associated. like: the county general, campagnolo, acadia, toronto temperance society, the comrade, reposado, the drake, origin, bohmer, lucid, among others.
there is a great cocktail scene developing in toronto, and while im not faulting the ones listed, i will say there are others that stand out more than some listed.

Unwise Post replying to a comment from wiser one / March 28, 2012 at 10:43 am
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If you were as wise as you claim, you would know these lists are reader voted, not the author's choices.
CirhossisCirhossisCirhossis replying to a comment from wiser one / March 28, 2012 at 10:44 am
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This list is based on the opinions of BlogTO readers. There are always objections to the 'best of lists' published here and while your argument is valid, perhaps you should be aware of future calls for your two cents when the time comes to compile another list.
GirlyDrinkDrunk / March 28, 2012 at 10:55 am
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Can we talk about cocktails in Ontario for a minute? This whole "1oz of booze" thing, that sad little collection of milliliters barely wetting the bottom of our glasses, then topped up with whatever? It's sick. When you order a drink in the rest of the world (and pay $10 for it), it comes as just that: a drink. In Toronto, your Maker's might as well be served in a thimble.

Recently, too, I went to that Mexican place "Millagro" and on the menu, I shit you not, they had sangria listed (at $8-$9 per glass) with "2oz" next to it, implying that they would give you two whole ounces of shitty wine in your fruit juice. And people PAY for that! It's criminal.

I'm not a drink-to-get-drunk type of fella, but I love a good drink. In Toronto, however, it seems impossible to get one outside of these cocktail bars mentioned above (but, of course, you pay the price of an entree for a single glass). Where's the value, guys?
Luke replying to a comment from GirlyDrinkDrunk / March 28, 2012 at 11:07 am
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The majority of the places on this list are serving 2.5-3oz cocktails.
wiser one / March 28, 2012 at 11:30 am
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in response to girlydrinkdrunk,
you must know that bars pay more for booze than joe regular on the street yes? because they do, by about 5-7%

also said booze, if premium, at COST can be up to $4 an oz in some cases (think good scotch or cognac) so for 2.5-3 oz, $17 for a cocktail is priced accordingly so to pay the staff who make your drink, keep the lights on, and the door open.

if you're talking about nightclubs and premium hotel bars that charge insane amounts of money for alcohol with soda/tonic/juices, then yes i'll agree, a hotel at wellington and bathurst charges $56 for a shot of maccallan 18, where as the cost is only 9.60, thus you're correct. However your point is invalid for other places..
David L replying to a comment from Frank / March 28, 2012 at 11:35 am
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But TTS requires a membership. Would've been a mighty fine place to go, but definitely not for casual enjoyment of cocktail.
Nala replying to a comment from GirlyDrinkDrunk / March 28, 2012 at 11:41 am
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If you're only interested in large sized, cheap drinks, why look at and comment on a list of the best cocktails? It's like commenting on a best restaurant list and complaining that Jack Astor's will give you bottomless fries for cheaper.
Brendan / March 28, 2012 at 11:41 am
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Lucid in Queen West gets an honorable mention from me
Disagreem replying to a comment from Brendan / March 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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That place is cheesy with its dry ice cocktails.
GirlyDrinkDrunk replying to a comment from Nala / March 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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No way man, I'm interested in drinks from across the gamut. Haven't been to BarChef yet, but I love Cocktail Bar and am definitely game for supporting the establishments (and I recognize that 3oz of cognac costs a lot for the bar).

What I'm trying to understand is (and word, probably the wrong thread/post), why does, say, a semi-decent bourbon cost so much more for so much less in Toronto compared with other countries? Is it JUST the LCBO's taxes on bars/restos, OR, and this is what I suspect: are we just used to getting less for more money?
Nala replying to a comment from GirlyDrinkDrunk / March 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm
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I think it's fair. I have checked out the great cocktail scenes in NYC, San Francisco, and the drinks are not larger or differently priced. But alcohol in Ontario is more expensive for both consumers and businesses, so you might even say we're getting more.
GirlyDrinkDrunk replying to a comment from Nala / March 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm
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No way man. Order a Marker's in NYC anywhere outside a hotel and it handily beats the TO version 5-fold for value (though they pay less for a bottle of Maker's, to be sure, I still think the numbers don't add up).

I honestly think it's a cultural thing. That "2oz sangria" at Millagro—I wonder if that would fly in any other city?

The accepted rule in Toronto seems to be: "The LCBO charges more here, we pay more tax, so shut up and drink your carefully-measured 1.15 oz beverage and stop trying to ruin the lives of independent businesses." But I don't buy it (or, actually, I do, and it's delicious—see above establishments).
BarGuy replying to a comment from GirlyDrinkDrunk / March 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm
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GirlyDrinkDrunk - the rest of the world's bars typically have access to wholesale pricing on alcohol they are buying so they will pay very little for that bottle of vodka or whiskey that they sell. In Ontario the bars have to buy their alcohol from the LCBO and pay retail prices like we do. In order to make profit they must charge a premium over that.

Furthermore, Ontario has set prices of alcohol at a minimum and until recently did not even allow "happy hour" pricing.

In this case we cannot blame the pricing on opportunistic business people operating the bars but rather on paternalistic old fashioned government.
GirlyDrinkDrunk replying to a comment from BarGuy / March 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm
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So what you're saying is the accepted rule is accepted for a reason. Our government dicks we the punters and you the purveyors.

Maybe related: Anyone hear that story on the CBC a couple weeks ago where it was revealed that what we know as "butter" is a lower-fat variant and we've only now allowed for high-fat butter (like in France) to be produced?

It's a "don't know what you're missing 'til you travel" thing and man, Ontario's food and drink laws sure seem antiquated.

Obviously we should organize in the name of better business for you and better quality for the consumer. Better food and drink laws today!

Ryan / March 28, 2012 at 01:03 pm
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Great list. Barchef super pricey, and not necessarily for the purist. I know a number of Europeans think Barchef is quite Canadian and quite ridiculous - don't really care for the new-world take on its cocktails.

Another great spot, believe it or not, Jacobs & Co. on Brant St. They make a mean Manhattan. Great little lounge under the restaurant - fireplace, live pianist, etc.
wiser one replying to a comment from GirlyDrinkDrunk / March 28, 2012 at 01:26 pm
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GDD: all alcohol is cheaper in 90% of other countries. the alcohol will always be cheaper in the states, so comparing them to the cocktail scene in toronto is invalid..

as for milagro, a 2oz sangria would mean there is 2oz of boose in the beverage, and most places serve liquor in their recipe.. like brandy, rum, port, and other fruit liquors to add depth of flavour.. they usually use cheaper wine as to keep costs in line for the price of the beverage. Perhaps as what's in a milagros sangria/sangrita, as they have an amazing list and well worth the price..

as i mentioned to you earlier, the lcbo, as a purveyor of alcohol, charges an "extended price" to licensees.

also something to consider. Most alcohol costs across the board in general have gone up 15-30% due to the rising demand of the new middle income brackets emerging in the far east and asia. while the lcbo is the largest purchaser of alcohol, there are companies buying up complete allotments of spirits for consumption abroad. This drives up price and demand here in north america... the same sentiment felt when you go to the grocery store now and have to pull out a few more bills...
GirlyDrinkDrunk replying to a comment from wiser one / March 28, 2012 at 01:37 pm
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Looks like comparing TO to other country's cities IS invalid, as you say, if it's really our laws that keep us from competing. Still, the experience for the consumer is just so (painfully) different.

I asked the server at Milagro and they said 2oz of wine, but they were probably mistaken. Your story sounds more plausible.

Le sigh... I need a drink!
Jb / March 28, 2012 at 02:39 pm
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At Czehoski Robin's "Dirty Gentleman". Everyone go get one so you can vote for it next time.
wiser one / March 28, 2012 at 05:38 pm
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GDD: yes our provincial govt taxes and profits on what we love most, booze, smokes, gambling, etc..


also:

if you want a mean cocktail, try to hit up sandy de almeida at reposado or churchill and ask for a FULL METAL JACKET
Jenny Suryun / March 29, 2012 at 03:11 pm
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I have to add some hidden new gems..... This End Up at Dundas west. They even make their own sodas and they are divine.... Also Actinolite Restaurant has some great cocktails and wines!
Ola / March 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm
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Love, love, love the opening photo!
Michieboo replying to a comment from GirlyDrinkDrunk / June 4, 2012 at 05:28 pm
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AGEE 100%
Michieboo replying to a comment from Michieboo / June 4, 2012 at 05:29 pm
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Whoops, that's AGREE 100%
Sandy replying to a comment from Luke / September 26, 2012 at 10:41 am
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At Reposado We put 21/4 oz of quality booze in our margaritas which is why they taste so frickin good not much $ margin on that but lots of happy people
If the Ontario govt would permit wholesale pricing to the hospitality industry , locals and tourists would be a lot happier too
Dullard Mcguinty might even net more tax $ that he can burn
1 bottle of Don Julio (@89.95) or 100 the cost is the same- hence the thimbles ..
Cosplay / September 26, 2012 at 09:59 pm
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If you were as wise as you claim, you would know these lists are reader voted, not the author's choices.
halloween costume ideas / October 15, 2012 at 06:15 pm
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Michael Scott / April 19, 2013 at 02:46 pm
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I am trying to start a challenge with @REDSWINETAVERN , @TTSSpeakEasy, @FairmontHotels , and a few others. Little put them on the spot. Who wants to hear what happens?
Dennis / October 12, 2013 at 09:51 am
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New WINNER of this category - Jabistro
Ken Seto / December 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm
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You guys totally missed Spirithouse, URSA, Chantecler, and County General, all of which have top notch cocktails.

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