The Best Hotel Bars in Toronto
The best hotel bars in Toronto are, at least at the end of 2010, living evidence of how our drinking habits are changing. Take the fact that a wine bar is on this list - certainly a departure in what would once have been dominated by dark, woody rooms off the lobby, with discreet veteran staff and a pianist tinkling away at jazz standards in the corner, if it was a high end joint.
Hotel bars are a refuge, both for travelers and city residents, with a dynamic very different from a nightclub or a local pub, though they often have the best traits of both. Some of the bars here are venerable, decades-old watering holes, while at least one feels like the paint is
still wet. The piano players have given way to weekend DJs, and the new roof bar has an infinity pool; no one can deny that the hotel bar is evolving.
Here's a list of the 12 best hotel bars in Toronto.
See also: The best hotels in Toronto.
For most Torontonians, the Drake is a bar with a hotel somewhere overhead, but bartender Simon Ho says that it took a few years for the bar to develop its identity after the grand renovation and reopening seven years ago. With just a handful of rooms in the hotel, guests will always be overwhelmed by local regulars, many of whom come from the neighbourhood, and it's the kind of place where wedding parties will rent the bar and restaurant, and every room upstairs. Popular for parties and functions, locals have learned to be ready to be turned away. Signature drink - The Gourd Hannah (bourbon, Jagermeister and squash syrup). More »
There are few success stories like the Gladstone’s, whose painstaking reinvention from flophouse to destination was centred around the Melody Bar, a Queen West/Parkdale institution that united hipsters and locals in karaoke. The booths are new and the floor is clean and there’s some lovely wood paneling, but continuity has been kept alive with, yes, karaoke, and with day bartender Nick Sotirakos, behind the bar at the Melody for 40 years. Signature drink - The Queen Sidecar (a sidecar with rum). More »
It’s survived takeovers and makeovers, but the Park Hyatt’s rooftop bar remains a Toronto destination, the city’s equivalent of the Blue Bar at New York’s Algonquin Hotel, and part of its appeal is Joe Gomes, behind the bar for 51 years. “It’s my living room here,” Joe says, surveying the closely-packed tables and club chairs, and the windows overlooking one of the city’s best views, over the ROM, U of T and Bloor West’s mink mile. He’s served everyone, but discretion is his motto, and he keeps the atmosphere dignified. Signature drink - Let’s be honest, practically anything. But it’s hard to take a seat at the bar and not order a scotch, rocks. More »
It’s quiet here during the day, with business regulars murmuring work over drinks, but it gets pretty merry at night, with hotel guests – many regulars for years – and locals in a celebratory mood. Bartender Mike Astins, a 10-year veteran, says that the room was literally a library for over four decades, until management put in a bar in the early ‘70s, without really changing the room’s oaky vibe. Signature drink - the sidecar, with a festive Santa Sidecar offered during the holidays on a menu of festive tipples. More »
Bartender Stefano Sabbatini pulls out a vintage bar menu from the King Eddy, circa 1961, when martinis were just 90 cents. The three martini lunch has gone from regulation to a barely-tolerated vice, and almost half the rye and scotch brands have since vanished. A veteran of hotels in Venice, the bar car on the Orient Express and a handful of Toronto’s best hotels and restaurants, Sabbatini is a philosophical bartender, who looks over the tables and stools in the Consort Bar with a protective eye. It’s a business bar in the daytime, as it always has been, thought he says it gets much livelier at night. Looking back, he says that the no smoking laws changed hotel bar culture forever. He still remembers the first time a woman breastfed in the bar. Signature drink - Sabbatini won’t say, but the Cosmopolitan – “with Grey Goose vodka, I can’t tell you why” – is their biggest seller. More »
A decade ago, the woody, dark Standing Room Only bar was transformed into the light, airy Avenue, and that is how it will go out when the Four Seasons moves to the other side of Yorkville in 2012. Manager Cesar Mesen says that the new bar there will be similar but smaller, but that they’re relying on their core crowd moving with them, from the 60-year-olds who remember the SRO bar, to the younger ones who were drawn in after the renovation. Until then, the best time to hit the Avenue is for a mid-afternoon shopping break, when the reliable and very tasty buffet is on offer. Signature drink - The Well Being (ginger-infused vodka and green tea). More »
Open only in the evenings, the Soho Met’s lobby bar attracts a suit-heavy crowd for business meetings, alongside pre- and post-dinner drinkers, well-heeled clubbers, hotel guests and residents from the condos above. It’s a pretty low-key scene, says bartender Dylan McCue, and if you’re looking for privacy, this might be just the ticket. Signature drinks - saucily-named concoctions like the Affair (high-end vodka, with pomegranate and lichee) and the Temptation (vodka with melon liqueur and citrus.) More »
New money, old money, the gallery crowd, celebs, hangers on – it’s a varied crowd at the bar at Yorkville’s Hazelton Hotel, according to bartender Jess Concz. “It sort of keeps things interesting,” he says. Like the Drake for locals, One is a bar that happens to have a hotel on top, especially when the patio is in full sail in the summer, and when the film festival is raging. Spotted holding court at a table on a late autumn afternoon is Gordon Pinsent. Signature drinks - The One (vodka and a bouquet of fruit) and the Lipstick Martini (raspberry vodka, lime juice, sparkling wine.) More »
In the summer, you’ll find shirtless people drinking mojitos here, by the infinity pool, looking out over King West to the skyline. Bartender Rob Dvorchik compares it with the city’s other rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt, where he thinks patrons like to go for a bit of privacy. “This is more of a place where you can be seen.” Just a few months old, the Thompson Roof Lounge in wintertime has more of a reputation for parties and hotel guests, but the whole sandless beach vibe will prove to be irresistible when the sun returns. Signature drink - The aforementioned mojitos, plus champagne by the bottle (Dom, Moet, Veuve Clicquot). More »
Alina Budzinski runs this tiny bar in the mezzanine of the august downtown hotel by herself, from Monday till Friday, closing just after the last commuter has headed across the street to Union Station and home. She calls it “a little pub,” and it certainly is cozy, even cute, with the little electric train that runs around the overhead rafters. Opened in the early ‘70s, and modeled after a railway club car, it’s a legacy of the Royal York’s history as a grand railway hotel. For regulars, it’s a cherished little secret. Signature drink - a martini “for purists,” made with Beefeater gin and Noilly-Prat vermouth. More »
Sommelier Sheila Person takes her job seriously at this little pair of rooms off the Cosmopolitan’s even tinier lobby. She says she likes to help patrons learn about wine, with a list that groups vintages by style, not country, and a bargain dollar-an-ounce special on Friday nights. The ceilings are high and the lighting is moody but colourful, which makes the rooms seem somehow bigger. This definitely isn’t your dad’s hotel bar. Signature drink - Ice & Bubbles (ice wine mixed with sparkling wine). More »
In the summer, Proof spills out into the Intercontinental’s courtyard to become the Skylounge, with its umbrellas and grill specials. In the long, dark months Proof hunkers down behind its picture windows, staring across the snow-filled courtyard, warming itself by the fireplace. Bartender Gina Pace says that things get livelier on weekends, when regulars make reservations for the booths and a DJ spins old school soul, funk and hip hop. A change, but not a drastic one, from when this was the Harmony Lounge, with its tasteful pianist in residence every night. Signature drinks - A whole range, including a Ginger Cosmo, a “Dirty Spicy,” the Blueberry Lichee and those party favourites, the mojito and the Caipirinha. More »