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Best of Toronto

The Best Manhattans in Toronto

Posted by Guest Contributor / August 14, 2012

Manhattans TorontoThe best Manhattans in Toronto are an intriguing patchwork of the classic and contemporary. One school favours the purist's approach: a bracing blend of rye or whisky, bitters and sweet vermouth, sipped in a leather club chair. In the other corner, the innovators of Toronto's exploding cocktail renaissance, who preen with exotic blends of homemade bitters and big, artisanal bourbons.

But far from a bitter tension, the traditionalists and risk-takers share values. Each decisively respects their ingredients and presentation. Each has negotiated their approach to sweetness versus smokiness. Finally, every one of the following Manhattans does the one thing a great Manhattan should do: transport you to a time when men pretty much wore three-piece suits to bed.

Here are the best Manhattans in Toronto.

See also:

The best cocktails in Toronto
The best martinis in Toronto
The best margaritas in Toronto
The best sangria in Toronto
The best hotel bars in Toronto

Writing by Leilah Ambrose

The County General

The County General

The County General may seem like a dark horse on a tour of the city's great Manhattans. But 10 minutes with new bar manager Jeff will assure you that they're not wielding their stir sticks lightly. After an educational chat about ratios, he recommends a Manhattan made with Knob Creek, offset with the housemade cherry masala chai bitters and Dolin - the grand dame of vermouths. After a bit of flaring with an orange peel, the result is a fragrant, complex cocktail full of woodiness and spice ($18 for a double). More »

Cocktail Bar

Cocktail Bar

Some may mourn Fried Chicken Sundays at the Hoof Cafe, but Jenn Agg's craft cocktail culture deserves a sultry, Billie Holiday-infused temple of its own. Cocktail Bar's Manhattans are a robust mix of Alberta Springs whisky, Carpano Antica vermouth, and Agg's own bitters. Fight the urge to finger dive for the house preserved cherry. Your wait will be rewarded with a cleansing snap of sour. Add an accompaniment of some of the Hoof's bone marrow, and prepare to enter the champion class ($16 for 3 oz.). More »

Park Hyatt Rooftop

Park Hyatt Rooftop

If ever there was a place designed for drinking Manhattans, it's the Park Hyatt Rooftop, with its wood paneled interior, requisite leather club chairs and hushed conversations about grand enterprise. The Manhattans are warming and no-nonsense, classically mixed by bartenders in formal wear offering an unpretentious mix of rail whisky, bitters and sweet vermouth. Come for the classic Manhattan experience and sweeping terrace views, stay for the strange sensation of living inside Atlas Shrugged ($15). More »

BarChef

BarChef

This is a bar that focuses on spectacle as much as ingredients and technique. And their Manhattan is a tour de force performance piece with a Cadillac price tag. Here we have a combination of Crown Royal Extra Rare, lemon, in-house cherry vanilla bitter, smoked syrup, vanilla cognac and vanilla. The cocktail is then placed in a glass dome with smoking hickory sticks to infuse flavour. Allow the smoke to infuse, remove the dome, imbibe. Bravado? Perhaps. But an experience your mouth and wallet won't soon forget ($45). More »

Toronto Temperance Society

Toronto Temperance Society

Sadly, you pretty much have to be a card-carrying member to enjoy the old timey charms of the Toronto Temperance Society, which I was well tempted to do after an hour in their sultry digs. Bar manager Oliver Stern did offer a traditional pour, but nudged me to consider a variation, the peaty Laphroaig Scotch, Sazerac, a bitter bite of Punt e Mes and maraschino. Though more akin to a Meat Hook, the cocktail and the crackling notes of gramophone tunes effortlessly sip you back 100 years ($13.50 plus membership). More »

Sidecar

Sidecar

One may assume that Sidecar would be overshadowed by its speakeasy neighbour TTS, but their efforts are no less lively. In this case, Bulleit Bourbon is kissed with Dolin sweet vermouth, Angostura, house cured brandy cherry, and a twist of lemon. It's by far the most summery twist on the classic I've had, and inexplicably conjures images of white suited men on wraparound porches ($12). More »

Parts & Labour

Parts & Labour

Parts & Labour hardly requires introduction as a two-year player in Toronto's cocktail culture. On this particular night, a sunny bartender walks us through her use of Alberta Springs 10 year whisky, and an extra drip of syrup from their house cured brandy cherries. The simple touches do it proud, such as the decision to stir instead of shaking, so as not to bruise the liquor. The result is a lovely balance of smoothness, booziness and floral cherry ($12). More »

The Library Bar

The Library Bar

That Manhattan your beleaguered father mixed to take the edge off was almost certainly modeled after this one. The Library Bar is perhaps one of the last pockets of unironic, pressed collar hotel style. It's dimly lit, warm, darkly carpeted and replete with tuxedoed waiters. Manhattans here are serious stuff, poured tableside in a deft move involving one hand and a strainer. The balancing act is impressive, and mirrors the bracing symmetry of the Manhattan itself. More »

The Comrade

The Comrade

Shockingly, the drink scene at Queen and Broadview can no longer be sustained by Jilly's alone. Find a higher grade of talent a block east at The Comrade. The bartenders at this airy, antique addition to the city's bourbon scene "like to keep things classic." This explains the choice of Danfield's 10-year rye, which makes for a mellower overall finish. For a punchier variation, try the Log Cabin. It's composed of double smoked bacon infused rye, maple syrup, dry vermouth, bitters, orange and a whole lot of hot damn ($12). More »

SpiritHouse

SpiritHouse

Given that Spirithouse is co-owned by the Toronto Institute for Bartending, you'd expect the bar manager to be knowledgable. But Brad Gubbins' enthusiasm goes beyond dry expertise. Asked to create "the manhattan he'd make every time," Brad produces a "perfect" manhattan poured with George T Stagg bourbon and orange bitters, which is sharp and smokey and deep. He seems to have the Goldberg Variations of manhattan repertoires in his head. Repeat visits are in the cards ($15). More »

The Ace

The Ace

There are those who swear by the cocktails being dished up in the dimly lit diner charm of Roncesvalles' The Ace. Here, assertive fruitiness is a top note to Crown Royal Black, sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. The fruit itself is novel addition of apricot stewed in mulled wine, lending the drink a heady confectionary quality ($10). More »

Discussion

17 Comments

Grand Slam / August 14, 2012 at 11:10 am
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Denny's makes a wicked one too.
Duarte / August 14, 2012 at 11:43 am
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Best Manhattan I've had was at Acadia with Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon.
Helen / August 14, 2012 at 04:07 pm
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The best Manhattan to be found in the GTA is at This End Up, at 1454 Dundas St. West. But don't take my word for it - go and try it.

bulleit, rebel yell, carpano classico, angostura, cherry
Geordie / August 14, 2012 at 10:25 pm
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The Harbord Room. Obviously.
Brock / August 14, 2012 at 10:48 pm
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The Ace! was hoping to see that on here! Well deserved, great twist on the classic.
evan / August 14, 2012 at 11:15 pm
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TTS barrel aged is my pick
SGB / August 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm
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Bryn from This End Up makes an amazing Manhattan. By far the best I've had in this city.
liz / August 16, 2012 at 05:51 pm
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This End Up.. ftw!!!
Nicole Crozier / August 18, 2012 at 08:38 pm
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Good list. Looking forward to a Manhattan crawl. Cheers. I'd like to add, Barbarians to this list
JT / August 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm
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I am a bit confused by all the bourbon being mentioned since I thought the Manhattan was alway made with rye whisky. Only a couple of the bars mentioned used rye.
Wise Guy / August 21, 2012 at 11:29 am
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Moe's Tavern used to make the best.
donna / August 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm
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Great lit ... Union on Ossington makes a great one as well.
Bing Crosby / September 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm
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One of the best-tasting Manhattans I've ever had in Toronto (besides Harbord Room which has already been mentioned) was at The Woodlot Restaurant & Bakery in Little Italy. I believe the bartender was using his own preserved fig syrup.

Also, The Beaver Cafe on Queen West has served me some excellent Manhattans before.
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm
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Bryn from This End Up makes an amazing Manhattan. By far the best I've had in this city.
Dave / April 15, 2013 at 02:36 pm
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Three very notable misses are in order of my preference:

1) Salt Wine Bar- smoked cedar Manhattan (they actually light it on fire).

2) Weslodge- tobacco tenture Manhattan.

3) Cold Tea- I don't remember why but I remember it being great.
LisaM / April 23, 2013 at 01:21 pm
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Had the most fabulous manhattans at the globe on Danforth.
CityPainter / March 21, 2014 at 10:11 pm
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I've had some great Manhattans at Cold Tea, always a little different depending on who's behind the bar, but always good. The new Carbon Bar also made a very nice one, very classic.

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