Linwood Essentials is located at Queen and Shaw, in the former home of celebrated noodle house A-OK Foods , a space long eyed by any number of savvy restaurateurs who might want to break into an increasingly celebrated neighbourhood.
With neighbours such as The County General , Carmen and Fonda Lola , anyone moving into the space could expect to be thrown into some pretty stiff competition. With that in mind, it came as something of a surprise when virtual industry unknown Jake Valianes opened up the post-speakeasy Linwood Essentials recently.
Fresh from a year of traveling around the globe, visiting around 30 of the ' 50 Best Bars in the World' list, Jake arrived back in Toronto full of ideas and enthusiasm, and, after raising investment, has put together a bar packed with ideas, tricks, and clever nods to molecular technique.
The space offers up a mix between Library Bar aesthetic with an industrial wrought-iron and leather sturdiness applied to the tables. There is also a real sense of sophistication incorporated into the lighting.
Jake himself dons an enormous leather apron as if to complete the look. There's a cheeky nod to West Queen West locals with the adapted photograph that adorns the East wall, and the back wall is a pixelated image of the Linwood (the prohibition-era smuggling vessel from which the bar takes its name).
Cocktails range in price from $13-$15, with some outrageous garnishes applied to several. The Artisanal Middle Finger ($15) mixes up Mezcal with Fernet Branca, passion fruit, and a PBR syrup. Containing 'ingredients that are trendy right now', the drink is served in a handle mason jar, is garnished with a pair of glasses and an orange zest cut into the shape of a moustache.
The Breakfast in Portland ($14) is a neat play on the classic Ramos Gin Fizz, shaking up Hayman's Old Tom Gin with Aperol, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and a 'Froot Loop milk' before topping with soda. It's served up in a mini milk bottle and a paper straw.
The Dr. V's Quick Fixer Elixir ($15) is a blend of grand marnier, becherovka, amaro montenegro, lemon, sparkling wine and served in a pill bottle with the matching box. It's reminiscent of an old snake oil salesman. A cute touch, and certainly something different.
Chef Ryan Law has also recently returned from travels in Spain, and brings a number of tapas-style touches to the menu. Dishes are a hit and miss affair, with the excellent crispy eggplant, goat cheese and arugula salad with a tahini miso vinaigrette ($8) the best of what we tried.
At the other end of the scale, the smoked salmon and spinach toast ($9), with tobiko was not especially enjoyable, with the pungently fishy components clumping together, leaving the dish texturally wanting.
Portions, however, are pretty decent given the prices, and the roasted chicken, chili, and blue cheese croquettes ($7) atop julienned celery and carrots are well worth grabbing.
Though the adage in Toronto is usually that people will come for the food, and stay for the cocktails, Valianes hopes to change all that, addressing what he perceives as a shortage in dedicated cocktail bars in the city. Aside from the cocktails, it's worth stopping in for an outstanding international bottled beer list, and well-priced, top-shelf liquor.