An insider's guide to going out for drinks with friends in Toronto featuring the coolest mixologists, honky-tonks and wine bars
Best new Yonge & Eg sips
Jeremy Walker mans the bar at midtown’s Bar Batavia.
Midtown meets Queen West at this nouveau addition to the blossoming north of Bloor bar scene. Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel opted to open up a younger and boozier sibling to accompany their buzzy Indonesian food bar, Little Sister. Patrons need only walk up the stairs, past the red lights and into the no-attitude space. There, well-crafted riffs on classic ’tails (like an old fashioned done with Bruichladdich, Ardbeg and Jägermeister) go down with ease. And yes, there are snacks. 2031 Yonge St.
Crowd: Uptown cool kids who finally have a bar of their own
Food: Sumatra beef croquettes; shrimp lettuce wraps
Top tipple: Double G&T
Best new Annex sips
We know, we know — Anthony Rose keeps on getting all the ink. Fortunately at Bar Begonia, Rose’s latest Dupont Village venture, mixologist Oliver Stern (Toronto Temperance Society) is the apple of our eye. Stern oversees the drinks program at this worthy watering hole along with bar manager Veronica Saye. Beverages like the Inner Circle (Glenlivet with grapefruit, pineapple and IPA) are poured alongside on-tap manhattans. 252 Dupont St.
Crowd: Rose and Stern groupies plucked from near and afar
Food: Le menu boasts bites like gougères, tartines and a selection of foie gras
Fun fact: Chef Trista Sheen, of Top Chef Canada fame, heads the kitchen
North York’s newest watering hole
Jamie’s Italian has hired Mario Diotte to tend bar at their new Yorkdale location.
Folks got pretty amped up when they heard that Jamie Oliver was opening a chapter of his Italian spot here in little ole T.O. Nosh on rustic Italiano while sipping on bevvies mixed by their rather dapper bartender, Mario Diotte. Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 3401 Dufferin St.
Crowd: A mix between mall rats and uptowners looking for a bite of Jamie
Food: Planks loaded up with meat or veg, prawn linguine and more
Top tipple: Try the refreshing Jamie’s Mojito to conjure up warmer days
Best Richmond Hill sips
Amelia Rose-Bell mixes a list of classic cocktails at Sarpa.
Established in 2010, this local spot conjures up the boot with its tasty Italian fare. Their wine list looks to the motherland for picks to pair well with the cuisine (think Puglia, Veneto and Tuscany). Meanwhile, head bartenders Dayna Zangolli and Amelia DeRose-Bell (pictured) can be found behind the bar, whipping up drinks — like their ever-popular negroni — for all those 905ers looking to embrace the weekend. 13311 Yonge St., Richmond Hill
Food: Classics like veal saltimbocca and zuppa di pesce permeate the menu
Top tipple: Ask for the Grand Oaks with tequila, Grand Marnier, bar lime and a splash of cranberry juice
Best old-timey bartender
Joe Gomes is on a 54-year run at the Park Hyatt’s Roof Lounge.
The Roof Lounge
No other bar in Toronto can boast that their bartender has been with them for over half a century. Joe Gomes has been at his rooftop perch since ’62, when the view to Lake Ontario was barely marred by buildings and martinis were made with gin. Park Hyatt Toronto, 4 Avenue Rd.
Crowd: A hodgepodge of tourists and Torontonians alike
Food: Bistro classics like oysters and charcuterie (think paté, salami, chorizo)
Top tipple: Martinis, as well as a fine selection of single malt scotch
Best Local Libations: Select #NoBlo hangouts
With its dark wood, dim lighting and 11 brews on tap, this is just the ticket for post-work sips. In keeping with the upscale pub atmosphere, the menu boasts a selection of classic English eats that are surprisingly decent. It’s our publisher’s local, where he always opts for the Ploughman’s lunch and, when the mood strikes, a Grey Goose martini. 3367 Yonge St.
Day to visit: At the week’s end it’s the liveliest
Food: Proper British fare like shepherd’s pie and chicken tikka
Top tipple: Muskoka Cream Ale is a big one
Toronto’s original brewpub got its start back on John Street in ’86. Fast-forward a few years, and Amsterdam is all grown up with two different locations, though uptown is our pick for a pint. Brewmaster Iain McOustra has been with the company since 1999, turning out both staples and seasonal beers for fans of the suds. 45 Esandar Dr.
Crowd: Relaxed locals
Top tipple: Starke Pilsner, a refreshing take on a trad pilsner, is back for spring
When to go: Hit up the brewery Saturdays at 1 p.m. for a free tour and tasting
At Centrale, bartender Nabilah Rawji mixes up bittersweet balance with amaro-driven ’tails. Stellar wine selection. 1095 Yonge St.
Crowd: Relaxed and inviting
Food: Rustic southern Italian bar snacks
Top tipple: A Negroni is a must
The Summerhill joint sees imbibers through morning coffee to wine and a rotating selection of whiskies come sundown. 1208 Yonge St.
Drink: John Baker runs an amazing alcohol program
Food: Try Billy’s Boxcar Billy sammie
Local Public Eatery
With sports on the big screens, classic singalong anthems and exposed HVAC, this casual spot is popular with Leasiders looking to go out without denting the wallet. Upstairs has a lounge vibe and a view of the open kitchen. Downstairs is more lively, but still relaxed. Expect a Cheers-style greeting upon entry. 180 Laird Dr.
Known for: Selection of 20 beers on tap and eight wines
Food: Pub fare with Mexican flourishes
Fun fact: Order the mystery vino — the bartender’s half-price pick
The Harbord Room
Everyone knows about this cosy pink-walled room’s top-tier burger, but their libations deserve just as much love. With international award-winning cocktails in its midst, the drinks list makes it hard to settle on just one. Feeling a wee bit spunky? Josh Lindley will craft you a tropical Monkey Punch with dark rum, falernum, sherry and pineapple tea. 89 Harbord St.
Crowd: Burger fiends who love a good bevvie
Food: Beef aside, they do great veggie picks like a raw and roasted veg salad
Top tipple: Club Classic
The Miller Tavern
This veritable house of history used to be the York Mills Hotel, providing travellers a spot to rest before resuming their journeys. Fast-forward some years, and the Miller is a classy joint with a strong wine list filled with Old and New World picks. Don’t forget to slurp back some freshly shucked oysters in the lounge. 3885 Yonge St.
Food: Stellar seafood
Fun fact: The Miller has seen its fair share of ups and downs, including gambling raids
When to go: Pay $1 for corkage on Monday
David Duncan House
Located in a beautiful 150-year-old mansion, this steak house delivers a taste of golden age Hollywood glamour with brass rails, ornate mahogany wood and stained glass light fixtures. The menu is old school (chateau-briand bouquetière is prepared tableside!), and the cocktails are of the same mind, but most diners sip on Cabernets from the lengthy list. 125 Moatfield Dr.
Food: Classic steak house
Fun fact: The resto sits on a cool 4.25 acres of land and can accom 300 guests
When to go: Monday for half-price martinis
The Bayview outpost of chef Claudio Aprile’s globally inspired cuisine is fit with minimalist modern decor, including comfy black leather banquettes and sleek wood bar. The result is a great romantic date spot for those who don’t want to leave the ’hood. The cocktail menu is tight with riffs on classics such as the Dark and Stormier. 2901 Bayview Ave.
Crowd: Young professionals from the condos meet older, longtime locals
Food: Aprile’s artful small plates
When to go: Friday after work for $10 signature cocktails
Marked by the authentic cherry red telephone booth outside, this pub certainly stays true to its name. It feels like every nook and corner is fit with quirky pieces of memorabilia, from black and white London imagery to a Peek Freans poster. Beer is the way to go. They have 20 on tap including British cider Strongbow. 9724 Yonge St., Richmond Hill.
Food: Dine on their noteworthy fish and chips
Fun fact: Sports fans will enjoy the 15 flat screens beckoning from all over
When to go: Fridays, for free salsa lessons
This sprawling Richmond Hill restaurant is an ode to all things meat-related. In true Brazilian style, gauchos pass by your table for the rodizio service, heaping meat on your plate as long as the table card provided flashes “green.” All that protein demands a stellar wine list, and Touro delivers, with picks from Argentina and beyond. Use the iPad to peruse the vinos. 125 York Blvd., Richmond Hill.
Food: Meat and more meat
Insider tip: On March 5, catch a flame dancer and aerialist performing live
With the idea to reinvent the game of darts as we know it, Andrew Chiu, Steven Fan and Lawrence Huang banded together to open this nifty establishment. Passion for electronic soft tip darts is felt elsewhere (like Singapore!), so the trio opted to show the 905 what’s up. Be sure to order beer in the adorable mini tabletop towers. There’s bottle service, too. 7850 Woodbine Ave., Unit 228, Markham.
Crowd: GTA kids and provincewide enthusiasts
Fun fact: This spot spans a cool 7,000 square feet
When to go: Tuesdays for pop-up tournaments
Best big night out
Russell Morrison on Auberge’s patio bar.
Auberge du Pommier
This swishy restaurant has been seducing uptowners with its haute French focus since it flung open its doors in ’89. Sommelier Antonia Bachinski has curated a diverse wine list, placing much of the focus on the regional wines of France to enhance chef Malcolm Campbell’s authentic French cuisine. Did we mention there are around 500 bottles? Meanwhile, cocktail lovers will appreciate drinks from bartender Russell Morrison. Order the Baie Fraîche for your bae. 4150 Yonge St.
Crowd: Uptown’s moneyed folk
Food: Think tartare, poulet de Cornouailles and more
Fun fact: Who knew that Auberge was built around the remains of two woodcutters’ cottages hailing from 1860?
Best 905 big night out
Lucas De Matos is a fixture behind the bar at Grazie.
This family-run business got its start at Yonge and Eg back in 1990 and now has a solid number of years under its belt and two locations to boot. Spot the dapper Lucas De Matos (pictured) behind the bar as he whips up ’tails for a crowd of regs. 9100 Jane St., Vaughan.
Crowd: Longtime locals
Fun fact: When the musical Ragtime came to Toronto, Grazie was the hangout spot for the cast and crew
Best for games: Put your game foot forward at these bars where boredom isn’t an option
Track & Field
Duck down into this cavernous space and test out your shuffleboard and bocce ball skills so, come summer, you’re ready to play in the park with the old-timers. If a lane isn’t immediately available, hit up a crokinole board. The drinks go down easy (can you resist not trying a Hotline Bling?) and the crowd’s vivacious. 860 College St.
Food: Cans of food from Charlotte Langley’s Scout Canning (or just get some ’za delivered, if you need lotsa grease)
Top tipple: Negronis, manhattans and more on tap
When to go: Show up on the weekend, and you may find yourself in the midst of a dance party
The subterranean social club spans two rooms, with picnic tables sharing space with ping-pong tables, and dynamic modern artwork dotting the walls. Denizens include basement-dwelling ping-pong players in addition to others who are just there for kicks. The food and tipples are surprisingly tasty (punch bowls for sharing!), plus you may just run into Susan Sarandon (she has ties to the N.Y.C. location). 461 King St. W.
Crowd: Serious pongers play alongside amateurs
Food: The chicken dinner with ‘tater salad and brussels sprouts
When to go: Ping-pong leaguers show up on Sundays
Spirit-first Bars: One particular liquor tickle your fancy? These locales are here to school you.
With a stellar selection of bourbons and American whiskies and scotch, this house of spirits lives up to its name. Sip on picks like Basil Hayden’s and Four Roses Small Batch. Or try some Eagle Rare 17-Year bourbon, an award-winning bottle that emerges once a year. Although it sure ain’t cheap, it’s for true bourbon lovers. 487 Adelaide St. W.
Mexican wrestlers adorn the walls at downtown’s ode to tequila and mezcal. Aficionados of Mexico’s signature spirits will appreciate the robust menu, which ranges from blanco styles (Tromba) to reposado (Don Julio) to anejo (Ambhar). And yes, there are margaritas. 220 King St. W.
The upbeat Caribbean soundtrack, open kitchen and city’s best rum selection bring a diverse crowd to this DuWest spot. Owner Jen Agg oversees the cocktail program and 100-bottle-long rum list with an assist from co-owner husband and Haitian-born artist Roland Jean. The Dark ‘n’ Stormy boasts house-spiced rum. 926 Dundas St. W.
Snack Bars: Where to go for the best bites to pair with your booze
Plucking its moniker from a Barcelona ’hood, Grant van Gameren’s gorgeous restaurant is to Toronto pintxos bars as Dalí is to Surrealism. Libations include the low proof (so you can stay classy all night) to custom blends. Foodwise, bite into a jamon croissant in the morn or items like the morcilla and egg all day long. Heartier tapas, such as lamb sausage with white beans, will satiate the famished. 505 College St.
Crowd: The who’s who of T.O. eatterati and design snobs aplenty
Food: Spiffy bites like scallops in Galician sauce and hand-cut sobrassad
Top tipple: Barbiana Manzanilla sherry
This Chinatown joint has been brought to us by the crew (plus some extra faces) behind T.O.’s original snacking spot: 416 Snack Bar. Sampling from international cuisines like no other, the menu includes hwe dup bap (Korean sashimi salad), Moroccan eggplant and trout-topped latkes. Sip on local brews from Burdock and its ilk. 307 Spadina Ave.
Crowd: Anyone and everyone, including Adrienne Clarkson and her squad
Food: Tasty bites for the worldly palate
Tunes: The likes of Erykah Badu, Queen and Blonde Redhead play overhead
Hotel Bars: Out-of-towners can’t have all the fun, time to play ritzy tourist
The Library Bar at the Royal York
Boasting thick drapes, a suited waitstaff and a menu that looks like a newspaper, this blast from the past lounge makes you feel like you may just run into William Randolph Hearst. A martini is obligatory. Fairmont Royal York, 100 Front St. W.
Fun fact: Martinis are poured into chilled cocktail glasses tableside, to keep cool
Food: Complimentary bar snacks offered
Forget dbar and head upstairs to this swishy space at the Four Seasons to sip on cocktails from the dapper Shannon Marshall. The 6Dad Sipper gives a nod to the one and only councillor Norm Kelly.
Four Seasons Hotel, 60 Yorkville Ave.
Crowd: The city’s carriage trade gathers here to see and be seen
Food: Top-tier eats from superchef Daniel Boulud range from cod croquettes to rotisserie bird, done on the famed Rotisol
Jazz Joint: The Reservoir Lounge
Located across from the historic Flatiron, this jazz club is all about the music. Allow yourself to be swept away by acts that play jazz, blues, funk, soul … all the good stuff. 52 Wellington St. E.
Top tipple: John Jameson’s Ginger Beer has whisky and homemade, organic GB
When to go: Fridays, when ’60s-style R&B group Dee Dee & The Dirty Martinis play
Fun fact: A pre-fame Michael Bublé played here, as has Tom Jones
Best for Tiki ’tails
With hand-carved, wooden tikis acting as beer tap handles and murals adorning the walls, the Shore Leave is keen to give patrons a true taste of the tropics. Cocktails are given proper attention, with house-made bitters, cordials and liqueurs and spiced rum blends acting as the backbone for many a tipple. 1775 Danforth Ave.
When to go: Thursdays are date night, but those baby boomers come to play on Saturday
Top tipple: Try the gin-based Maiden Slayer with Tahitian-style bitters, honey water and West Avenue cider
Frankie Solarik is a primal force behind mixology in Toronto — and beyond. Known for his creations that jettison any preconceived cocktail notions, Solarik has been gushed over by the likes of Alinea’s Grant Achatz, a known leader in molecular gastronomy. Seven years after opening BarChef, Solarik continues to innovate and inspire worldwide, with the current menu focusing on transformative cocktails and ices. 472 Queen St. W.
Top tipple: Spring’s Modernist cocktail aims to capture the essence of the ocean, NBD
Food: Big emphasis on charcuterie and cheese
Fun fact: Solarik has been a guest judge on Top Chef Canada
The Hole in the Wall
Head over to the Junction to get a piece of this gorgeously named liquor house. Fittingly, the entrance is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but inside it’s local brew perfection. 2867A Dundas St. W.
Crowd: Wise, wise folk
When to go: Buck-a-shuck Tuesdays or open mic Mondays
Spending like Kanye: Looking to rid yourself of all those dollar bills? Done and done.
Jacobs & Co.
This place for the moneyed keeps plenty of pricey wines on hand for the splurge-ready. Have a spare $13,000? Plunk it down for a 2010 bouteille of the Domaine de la Romanée- Conti. Don’t spill a drop. 12 Brant St.
With sprawling artwork, eye-catching tubular lights and neon seats, this place feels very Miami. Bottle service includes the Royal Flush, five Ace of Spades for a cool $3,600. Thompson Toronto, 550 Wellington St. W.
Boozy Milkshake: Your fave froth concoction, grown up
Seeking out a whiff of nostalgia with your hooch? Look no further than this classic diner where milkshakes come fortified for adults. Try the Ferriera Freeze. It pairs vanilla ice cream with cherry brandy and Frangelico, for good measure. 1132 Dundas St. W.
Best craft beer and beyond
Part bar, part resto, part music hall and part microbrewery, this Bloordale spot aims to please all — and so far, it’s managing to do just that. In the brew space, the team is turning out IPAs, brown ales, blonde session ales and more. Nurse a pint at the bar and then grab bottles for home sipping. The kitchen turns out fare like buckwheat tagliatelle, and in the adjoining space, music fans take in intimate shows under a canopy of Edison bulbs. 1184 Bloor St. W.
Crowd: Street-smart west enders
Food: Seasonal fare with international influences
Top tipple: Their “dangerously crushable” Bloor Lager, brewed with barley, rice, corn and wheat
Honky-tonk Times: These country joints provide a Southern snapshot
The Dakota Tavern
After entering this basement bar, your grasp on time quickly slips away. It’s known for its bone-shakin’ live tunes and artist residencies — and those rather low ceilings — plus, oh yes, the AYCE Bluegrass Brunch. The Dakota is a west end mainstay for very good reason. 249 Ossington Ave.
Crowd: Anyone who likes to shake a tail to a tune
Drink: Beers like the MacKinnon Brothers’ Crosscut Ale
When to visit: The weekend, for Bluegrass Brunch
Boots & Bourbon
This countrified Riverdale sports bar has enough flat screens to catch the game no matter where you’re sitting. Bourbon is featured in half the signature cocktails and the soundtrack (think Parton, Wagoner and Twitty) is authentically country. Ride the mechanical bull and shoot your whiskies from boot-shaped shot glasses for the full experience. 725 Queen St. E.
When to visit: Thursday for line dancing lessons before live music
Food: Pub grub gone south
House Parties: Where to go to feel like you’re at home, only better
The Addisons Residence
Fancy yourself a young, glam Anjelica Huston sometimes? The Addisons is where she would have hung out during her Jack Nicholson era. This three-room club is laid out like a late ’70s suburban home, complete with communal kitchen tables, foosball, couches and greenery. With no strict dress code and cheap drinks before 10 p.m., it’s a nostalgic high school house party with a glam twist.
456 Wellington St. W.
Vibe: A John Hughes house party
Food: Come the weekend, free ’za from Maker Pizza arrives at Cinderella’s bedtime
Fun fact: Leafs fans can get their air hockey game on in the back room
This second-storey Queen West bar is based on its sister space in Montreal, mimicking the type of slightly rumpled artist’s loft one would find in those parts. Think mismatched couches, a tiny TV, a pool table and arcade games. Cocktails are variations on the classics — signatures include the Cosmo T.O. and El Apartamento — but you’re just as likely to see beers in hand. 1034 Queen St. W.
Crowd: Young condo dwellers seeking the rec room basements of their youth
Top tipple: There is branded lager on draft. Name? Apt. 200
Fun fact: A nook flaunts a pillow-topped bed and a dresser to complete the authentic loft look
Where the Wine Snobs Go: Those who eschew cocktails should look to these spots
Sip Wine Bar
With warm lighting, exposed brick and soft black leather seats, this rustic uptown spot is an ideal catch-up space. With 26 wines by the glass, the focus is top Italian regions (Tuscany and Piedmont), but even oenophiles will find something interesting (Verdicchio). Authentic Italian bites include comforting faves (penne alla vodka) and old country classics (pizza Margherita). 2 Broadway Ave.
Known for: Wood-fired pizzas and an opening kitchen crew straight from Naples
Fun fact: Downstairs there are two stunning East African tables
Now that Carens has settled down nicely into Rosedale, locals are taking note of the classic bistro bites and wine selection. Chomp down on les escargots à la Bordelaise or scallops Saint-Jacques à la Bretonne. With around 300 wines available, top bottles include the well-priced Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne or the 2002 Dom Pérignon. 1118 Yonge St.
Crowd: Classy uptown types who know their vintages
When to go: Head here on Sunday for a proper fondue …
Fun fact: … but every day of the week has a different special