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Best of Toronto

The Best Whisky Bars in Toronto

Posted by Rick McGinnis / November 19, 2012

whisky bars torontoThe 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.

See also:

The best cocktails in Toronto
The best manhattans in Toronto
The best martinis in Toronto
The best margaritas in Toronto
The best cheap drinks in Toronto

SpiritHouse

SpiritHouse

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 Caledonian

The Caledonian

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 »

Allen's

Allen's

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 »

Via Allegro

Via Allegro

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 »

The Feathers Pub

The Feathers Pub

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 »

The Emmet Ray

The Emmet Ray

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 »

Miller Tavern

Miller Tavern

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 »

Ceili Cottage

Ceili Cottage

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 »

Discussion

24 Comments

Matt / November 19, 2012 at 02:29 pm
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A solid list, but I have a few qualms with the order of appearance.

Via Allegro and The Feathers are on par with some of the best whisky places on the planet, such as Glasgow's Bon Accord & Pot Still. That they are not ranked 1 and 2 is a bit irksome. Allen's is fairly placed, and The Emmet Ray truly is deserving of the 4th spot on this list as Andrew's passion for whisky is on par with that of Joseph at Via Allegro, Reid at Feathers, and John at Allen's.

However, all things considered, you could have done much worse and for that, I applaud you.

Slainte!
1800Paul / November 19, 2012 at 02:52 pm
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not traditionally a 'whisky bar', Insomnia has the one of the best/cheapest lists in the city.
Matt C. / November 19, 2012 at 04:38 pm
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It is so not pedantic to separate American whiskey from bourbon (re: The Emmet Ray review), or for that matter Irish whiskey from ye olde Scottish stuff. It's more than about accuracy or sophistication - it just makes sense when each country (let alone region) produces a different-tasting spirit.

Now if we could just have fair access to all the lovely stuff you can get south of the border...
Jer replying to a comment from Matt / November 19, 2012 at 05:30 pm
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Like most list on BlogTo, this list is from readers voting. They are the ones that caused the list to appear in that order.
Jer replying to a comment from Matt / November 19, 2012 at 05:31 pm
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Actually, I am second guessing my comments. Normally they specify that it is a reader survey but I don't see it mentioned this time around unless I am missing it. I think it is likely still a reader survey but they should make it clear...
evan / November 19, 2012 at 07:28 pm
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Feathers is awesome, it feels so homey and warm, I've never been anywhere else like it. Worth the trek. BlogTO uses voting so they can claim that these are the best. These have never said, "As Voted By…" so it's kind of both because the voting is clearly based on their demographic so it's skewed enough to not objectively be "The Best". Which I guess is why everyone always misunderstands?
Gabe / November 19, 2012 at 08:09 pm
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Do people get HamZammered at this place? Do they booze you up and give you whiskey dick?? Or the Whiskey really ain't flowin like that at this place?
Eric / November 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm
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Finally! Great list, great to see Toronto emerging as a true whisky city...but some questions re The Miller Tavern....really? the Emmett ray really?
The cornerstone of Toronto's whisky scene: Allens, Via Allegro and the Feathers all there....great newer spots....The Caledonian is tops on my list....you gotta try their Scotch Eggs by the way....
Great to see....FINALLY Toronto!

Ted / November 20, 2012 at 07:22 am
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Bartender? I'll have a vodka tonic.
Tom / November 20, 2012 at 09:20 am
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I wonder what the Scotchblog guys think of this list?
Jason MacGregor replying to a comment from Matt / November 20, 2012 at 09:52 am
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What?
Bon Accord...The Pot Still? I worked at Bon Accord for 4 years you idiot. You are comparing a Italian Strip Mall resto with a real whisky bar? I understand they have a list but WTF?It is not a whisky bar but an Italian Resto that has a great list..... Has this guy ever been to Scotland? A whisky bar in Scotland is a bar/pub that has an extensive knowledge of malts..... The Emmett Ray?....this guys has no clue...or do you work at The Emmett Ray? I like the list and have not been to several on the list but mind you I will in the next few weeks...Come on guy...


Jason....having just a wee bit of knowledge of malts...
Matt replying to a comment from Jason MacGregor / November 20, 2012 at 01:44 pm
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Not saying they're better than the Bon Accord. But I've chatted with Paul at the BA on a few occasions 9even watched him fume at the prices at Feathers haha), and a chat with Joseph who curates the collection at Via Allegro will pleasantly surprise you. He's the measure of any great publican. It's not the list that makes it special, it's the person behind it. Also, couldn't agree more about the location, but hey, that doesn't change what ends up in my glass.

That said, you can't rely on the regular staff at any of these places to be as knowledgeable as the staff at the great Glasgow whisky bars I mentioned. Of course, that's not what were discussing here is it?

But once you cool down and re-read what I wrote, I only called VA & Feathers to be in the league of the Glasgow greats. Naturally, I based that declaration on the selection as I trust myself to know what I want. But if it's knowledge in service you're seeking, then Joseph at VA stands alone right now.

As for The Emmet Ray, talk to Andrew before stomping on the place. You'll find someone who readily admits that he doesn't know everything, but rather wants to learn all he can. So perhaps you could take your superior wisdom gained from the Bon Accord and do us all a favour and help educate him. One thing is for sure, you won't find better prices on a dram in Toronto. Believe me, I've tried.
Matt replying to a comment from Jason MacGregor / November 20, 2012 at 01:50 pm
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Oh, I missed answering your question. No. I don't work for any bar, or even in the hospitality or restaurant industry.

My preferences are based on selection, location, and price. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Jason MacGregor replying to a comment from Matt / November 20, 2012 at 03:57 pm
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Love it when people tell you to cool down.Lets see...
Quote by you...."
"Via Allegro and The Feathers are on par with some of the best whisky places on the planet, such as Glasgow's Bon Accord & Pot Still. "

So yes you are comparing them....and you cannot. The Emmett Ray is a bourbon bar.....and yes a good one....but it is not a bar that compares to these....these are Malt bars....Allens is good, Feathers is really good and The Caledonia just down the street from The Emmett is actually really amazing and I question your best prices comment as I have never seen such amazing prices on higher priced malts...just look at their website and compare...the landlady there is from what I understand is Scottish and from Inverness or Elgin? Why would you not include an actual Scottish Whisky Bar in your comparisons with other Scottish Malt Bars...So if your comment and comparison is with Scottish Landmarks I would assume you are talking about malt bars like The Caledonia.....so thanks for letting me calm down I just do not see how your comments are justified saying that Feathers and Via Allegro are on par....Via Allegro is not a whisky bar....its an Italian Resto with a great whisky list.....if you like location, price and list as you said....

Thanks for helping all us non informed malt lovers.....if you like malts and want something that compares to a Scottish whisky bar like Bon Accord then do to The Feathers, The Caledonia, or maybe Allens....skip Via and Emmet Ray...
Thanks
Jason
Mark replying to a comment from Matt / November 21, 2012 at 01:07 pm
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Very well said, Matt. I'm eagerly awaiting a visit to Via Allegro soon.
Mark replying to a comment from Matt / November 21, 2012 at 01:08 pm
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Very well said Matt.
Hugh / November 21, 2012 at 04:07 pm
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I whole heartily agree with Jason's comments....I have been to almost all of the places on the list...other than the winner....which I will head to this weekend. Not sure how anyone can agree with Matt's comments.....

Well said Jason!
Paul Bryce / June 13, 2013 at 07:40 pm
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I was born in Scotland, from Cowdenbeath, Fife, just north of Edinburgh, and am planning my first visit to the Caledonian with a couple of lady friends next week. Have to have the haggis, neeps and tatties, but am definitely going to try some of the singles (malts). Thursdays are supposed to be 25% off on whisky. Looking forward to it with great anticipation.
Jug City / December 6, 2013 at 09:40 pm
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It's a crime that Habits is not on this list.
Christopher / December 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm
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How about y'all settle the f**k down. Have a sniff of whiskey and chill out. It's an article not the goddamned bible. Sheesh
whiskey face / December 7, 2013 at 02:04 am
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you missed the best place from this list. but I will not tell it as I do not want others to know.
Whisky Lady / May 19, 2014 at 12:03 am
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It's too bad that Habits still hasn't made this list - their back bar is an impressive sight (and they also differentiate between their 'bourbons' and 'American whiskies'.
Iain / July 8, 2014 at 10:09 pm
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Small detail; Feathers is in Toronto about 2/3 blocks away from Scarborough border
rob / August 8, 2014 at 10:48 pm
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Irish Embassy. carried 60+ whiskeys since before some of these places existed

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