The Best Manhattans in Toronto
The 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.
Writing by Leilah Ambrose
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »