The Lowdown is literally low down, found below Torito Tapas Bar in Kensington Market . This dimly lit, subterranean speakeasy-like space will soon be your new go-to spot on Augusta, if it isn't already.
Proprietor Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall has lived in this area for over a decade, and Torito is his favourite restaurant, so he happily took over the space beneath it when it became available (it was previously Bar Pepe, but that didn't stick around for long).
Snacks come from upstairs, including tapas like pan con tomate (Catalan bread with tomato) or Spanish olives and bread ($4 each) along with artisanal cheese and serrano ham boards ($8 for cheeses, $10 for ham and bread or $15 for a mix of everything).
Like Torito, both Spanish and local beers are on offer in bottles ($7/$6 each respectively) and on tap (16oz of Estrella Damm, $7; two Flying Monkeys options, $6 each). Spanish red, white and Cava are also available by the glass ($10/$12) or bottle ($45/$55).
A short list of The Lowdown's own seasonal signature cocktails, with names that sound like pulp fiction detective novels (Grifter's Paradise, $10: Codorniu Cava, Stolichnaya, Cynar, hibiscus tea), catches my attention.
Turns out Bishop-Stall is a published author ("Reads like a film noir pounded out by a pissed-off, hung-over John Irving," is how one review describes his novel), writes a column for Sharp mag (you may even run into its EIC here) and is a professor of creative non-fiction at U of T. Ah, writers and booze. It's a perfect(ly complicated) combination.
One of my fave drinks is the Girl with the Copper Eyes ($10) - Tanqueray gin, Pedro Ximenez sherry, Aperol and orange peel garnish - a play on the classic Negroni, only lighter, a bit less bitter and more citrusy.
Another drink, called Moon Under Mezcal ($12), contains Jaral de Berrio mezcal, Luxardo Maraschino, Green Chartreuse, citrus, cucumber and mint, and is a tribute to George Orwell's essay on his ideal (non-existent) pub, " The Moon Under Water ."
Bishop-Stall considered naming his bar after Orwell's favourite fictitious pub, but eventually decided against it. It'd be a lot to live up to (and besides, a ton of other places have already done the same). This joint definitely would have been a fave of mine if it had only been around while I still lived by here.
"The Market is a unique kind of beast," Bishop-Stall says. "There are not a lot of options late at night and bars here can feel insular."
His goal with this personal labour of love is not to cater to any specific demographic; he believes there's too much homogeneity with certain bars (he doesn't name any names), and aims to welcome a cross-section of humanity here. "It makes the dance moves more interesting."
Originally only open on Fridays and Saturdays, the bar is now slowly expanding to more days, with programming that includes an open mic night on Wednesdays, a "Standup at The Lowdown" comedy night on Thursdays and a soon-to-launch night with trivia and music bingo on Sundays, geared towards weary travellers from the local hostels.
Fridays and Saturdays are usually reserved for DJ nights (writer Russell Smith has spun some tunes here) and live music of varying genres played in the small alcove-esque space at the front. The cozy venue fits about 35 people comfortably.
Bishop-Stall hopes to host everything from art shows and literary events to wine tastings (Torito's wine cellar is down here) and parties of all sorts (birthdays, Kwanzaa, everything) - dance parties 'til 3am are highly encouraged. "I want when you come down these steps, you won't know what to expect."