The Best Whisky Bars in Toronto
The best whisky bars in Toronto are adult places--havens for drinkers open to letting their evening unfold in a leisurely, amber-coloured light, and a refuge from boisterous pubs awash in pints or noisy clubs packed with giddy youth fuelling their evening with syrupy sweet coolers and alcopops.
This might be why even the newest place on our list aims for a venerability that can only come easily to a hotel bar that's been serving since Bennett was prime minister and Model As were as common as Honda Civics. Even if the place was a noodle house or a nail salon a year ago, they want you to take your seat at the bar confident that the bartender knows the difference between a Bowmore and a Blanton's, and when it's permissible to drink it with water.
It's an illusion of age that hopes to get you thinking that you're a regular (even if you only heard of the place a week ago) with a friendly agenda that will see you graduating from big icy tumblers of that rye your Dad drank, to precious little snifters of rare single malt. Because frankly, you're old enough, and it's about time.
Here's the list of the best whisky bars in Toronto.
This King West bar is basically the storefront for the Toronto Institute of Bartending, where black leather couches line the walls and the brightest light comes from beneath the bar. The liquor list features 145 whiskies including the Glenlivet 25 (and you can even opt for a sampler flight), though the house specialty is barrel-aged cocktails that you’re meant to inquire about, like asking for something special in your coffee cup at a speakeasy. At $48 for eight ounces, they’re either a special occasion treat or a reward for a good day’s trades for the brokers. No beer on tap, so don’t even think of it. More »
The name tells you all you need to know. Scotch whisky and beer front and centre, served by a friendly owner/bartender with a suitable brogue. Choose from 140 single malts and 10-20 blends, or come in for their scotch and beer tastings. There’s haggis, scotch eggs and fish and chips on the menu, and an atmosphere that’s regarded as among the friendliest in the town. A dram of whisky will run from around $7.50 for what you’d expect (Glenlivet, Abelour) to $200 for the Glenrothes John Ramsay limited edition, which would be very fine stuff, but not exactly thrifty. More »
A Danforth fixture, this worthy successor to a much-lamented John Street eatery has been around long enough to be as venerable as any other bar on this list. A dark and woody room that opens up onto one of the most popular patios in the city, Allen’s boasts 179 single malts behind its bar, including 28 Canadian whiskies, 3 ryes, 18 American, as well as occasional tastings, and a really very fine jukebox. Once sleepy, the Danforth is booming, but it hasn’t made Allen’s any emptier on busy nights and weekends, a sign of the loyalty of its regulars. More »
This high end Italian restaurant near Sherway Gardens is the oddball on the list, a big ticket fine dining eatery that just happens to have an exceedingly well-stocked bar that hosts over a thousand (yes, you heard that right) whiskies. That includes a nearly definitive collection of Macallan going back to 1937, and 1960 Bowmore single malt, which makes Via Allegro very nearly as venerable as that ancient oaky hotel bar of myth. Stop in for regular tastings, as well as food and scotch pairings. More »
Old Scarborough was once the most British area of Toronto, which makes Feathers a tribute to a vanishing past. It distinguishes itself with a very well-curated selection of single malts (over 400) including Port Ellen, Rosebank, and Brora, some of which can be sampled through their 3 flights, or test yourself with their whisky challenge. Try their “Whisky Tour,” a pleasantly educational tutorial on the regional qualities of Scottish single malts in six parts, delivered half an ounce at a time. More »
This discreet bar near the West End YMCA has someone with whisky smarts behind the bar, as the spirits menu makes the distinction between bourbons and American whiskey. Yeah, it’s pedantic, but it means that whoever’s buying there cares enough to bother. It’s a healthy selection to be sure, which features 176 whiskeys such as Arran Malt Sherry Cask, Jura Prophecy Isle, and Colonel E.H. Taylor, and including all the Scottish greats and even an annex of spirits from Sweden(!), France(!!) and India(!!!) More »
It was once the Jolly Miller, way up in Hogg’s Hollow, but it got serious a while back and opened a location downtown this year, with a clubby-looking room and a tidy wall of bottles. It’s notable for its over-100 whisky options, including Crown Royal XR and George Thickle Tennessee Whiskey, some of which find their way into their 11 different styles of Manhattans. There are also some rarely-seen bottles like Sazerac rye, a whiskey that would have been at home in some prosperous ancestor’s liquor cabinet, which somehow suits the Miller’s onetime reputation as an occasionally boisterous country club bar that lacked a golf course. More »
A bright updating of an Irish pub in Leslieville, Ceili has a very tight selection of 65 whiskies, which makes it more like a regular pub than a connoisseur’s bolt-hole. You’ll find Middleton, Green Spot Irish Whiskey, Lagavulin 16 year-old single malt, and Oban 14-year-old single malt. It’s really a patio with a restaurant attached, and its featured whisky cocktails are more the point than a tidy dram; front and centre is the Irishman in New York, a Celtic Manhattan with vanilla-infused Bushmills. Michael Collins might be rolling in his grave, but remember Jake, it’s Leslieville. More »