Northwood recently opened in the grey zone of Bloor between Koreatown and Ossington, filling a void for residents looking to imbibe locally. Owners Richard Pope and Ang Reynolds have lived in the area for years, but as they found themselves "always going out to Dundas, Ossington or Queen West" (perhaps to Pope's other watering hole, Mr. Pong's ?) rather than in the area, when a corner space at the edge of Christie Pits became available, they jumped on it.
After an afternoon of running errands in the Annex, I strolled through the park to check out Northwood last weekend. The owners and bar supervisor, Ana Wolkowski, told me that they want to provide a warm and inviting space that is connected to the community. It was quickly apparent that this goal has shaped all aspects of the place, including the drinks menu, the hybrid bar-café business model, and the atmosphere.
The draught selection focuses on local craft breweries ($6.50-$7.50), and true to Pope's upbringing, there are plans to bring in more Québécois brews like Dieu du Ciel. The short wine list emphasizes Ontario grapes, and the liquor selection is "Canadiana-inspired," with a wide range of whiskies. "Actually, we have a lot of ryes," Wolkowski observed, a little shocked, when looking behind the bar.
Northwood also offers a seasonal cocktail list that is designed to be accessible and unintimidating, with recognizable classics like the Manhattan and Old-Fashioned, classics with a twist, and in-house creations (all $10). Wolkowski describes her cocktails as "cozy and romantic," showcasing rye, scotch, bourbon, and warm flavours like maple and clove. The menu will soon feature more summer tastes like citrus, cherries and watermelon, sourced locally where possible.
The most popular cocktail at the moment is the Lady Grey Sour, with earl grey infused rye, lemonade syrup, lemon and bitters. Relying on the old adage that "it's 5 o'clock somewhere!" I tried it out during my afternoon visit. The drink was refreshing, crisp, and dangerously easy to drink. The added touch of ground pepper as a garnish balanced the citrus and added some warmth. As Wolkowski promised, I was left relaxed but not totally KO'd, thanks to the little kick of caffeine.
Speaking of caffeine, Northwood doubles as a daytime coffee shop, offering a menu of coffee drinks (featuring Pig Iron Coffee Roasters beans), teas and baked goods. The owners want to provide a comfortable multipurpose space that people can make their own, like other hybrid establishments in Toronto . People ask Pope how he manages the balance — "how do you kick the laptops out at night?" — but he says the transition is natural.
Having a drink there not once, but twice, in one day (hey, it was a long weekend!), I can attest to the natural transition. In the afternoon, students, young professionals and local artists typed away or chatted while sipping on espresso or a pint. The laptops and notebooks were still visible in the early evening, but were tucked away as the ratio of coffee mugs to alcoholic beverages shifted in a boozy direction. By 10, Northwood was packed with 20- to 30-something bar-goers, politely clamouring for seating and service from friendly (and very busy) staff.
The music and dÃ©cor at Northwood also succeed in creating an inviting atmosphere at all hours. The Victorian/industrial design — with exposed brick, vintage chairs, metallic light fixtures, and a wrought-iron liquor cage behind the bar — is bright and clean during the day and cozy at night. The mellow, ambient beats pick up as the sun goes down, with a sprinkling of crowd-pleasing pop and hip-hop favourites that create a fun and unpretentious vibe.
If there's one thing Northwood lacks, it's food. Sipping on such powerful and tasty cocktails, my friends and I could've used something to nibble on. Northwood offers pop-up brunches and, rest assured, they are looking to develop a food menu emphasizing Québécois comfort food. In the summer, they hope to sell picnic baskets with sandwiches and cold coffee beverages, and to rent out bocce balls and frisbees for use at Christie Pits. "We're so close to the park, why not take advantage of it?" Reynolds notes.
With a strong commitment to fitting in with the neighbourhood — and a patio in the works — it's easy to see Northwood quickly becoming a favourite spot for locals and not-so-locals, myself included.