An insider’s guide to going out for drinks with friends in Toronto featuring the coolest cocktail, honky-tonks and wine bars.
Best new sips
Situated in a prime location on the Ossington strip, you’ll find Bar Banane serving up expertly crafted cocktails and sophisticated small plates in an intimate low-key setting.The bar which is tended by Sasha Siegel and J.W. Martin features a unique array of artful drinks and a wide selection of wine and beer. 227 Ossignton Ave.
Food: Nova Scotia lobster croustade; lime and black pepper soufflé
Top tipple: Moon Water made with tequila, lime leaf, sake, aloe, fino sherry, aromatized wine and clarified citrus
Get ready to go starry-eyed for Offworld, a new Queen West cocktail bar with an outer space theme. Run by the same people behind self-appointed “nerd bar” Storm Crow Manor, Offworld leverages the team’s flair for creating theatrical dining and drinking experiences. Offworld blends a lounge-like vibe with glowing lighting, an illuminated stone bar and hologram-like light fixtures to create an ambiance that feels part-nightclub and part-geek den. 739 Queen St. W.
Food: The menu boasts light bites like nanoburgers, burrata and a selection of desserts
Fun fact: Owner Jason Kapalka, who’s also the founder of video game company PopCap Games, tapped his network of animators to develop the bar’s ‘digital window’ screens
Striking a fine balance between elevated-yet-casual, the bar is perfect for all your ‘night-out needs’ including post-work happy hours with colleagues to late-night dancing with friends — and everything in between. Black Pearl’s interior oozes street-cool-meets-designer-comfort via its living room feel and an all-over rock ‘n’ roll vibe. 184 Pearl St.
Food: Comfort food classics, like late-night Twinkies, burgers, an array of salads and New York-style pizza slices.
Fun fact: Accompanying the live spinning, be on the lookout for tons of surprise entertainers like a prima ballerina dancing through the various rooms
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. . 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: Space Invader, an IPA that’s out of this world
When to go: Hit up the brewery Saturdays at 1 p.m. for a free tour and tasting
Stop by Centrale for an apertivo which you can enjoy on its quaint street-level patio, or stop by on jazz night and indulge in the eatery’s 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: New Toronto whisky flights
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 20 wines
Food: Pub fare with Mexican flourishes
Fun fact: Late night happy hour, 7 days a week
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: Join them for Sunday roast starting at 3 p.m.
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
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 25, catch the Tropicana Queens live
Best big night out
Auberge du Pommier
This swishy restaurant has been seducing uptowners with its haute French focus since it flung open its doors in ’89. The eatery is equipped with a diverse wine list, with much of the focus placed on the regional wines of France to enhance executive chef Doug Penfold’s authentic French cuisine. 4150 Yonge St.
Crowd: Uptown’s moneyed folk
Food: Think tartare, escargot 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
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.
Crowd: Longtime locals
Fun fact: When the musical Ragtime came to Toronto, Grazie was the hangout spot for the cast and crew
Best Richmond Hill sips
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, experienced mixologists 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 for games: Put your game foot forward at these bars where boredom isn’t an option
Track & Field
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 the photo booth.The drinks go down easy (can you resist not trying a ‘Spromance) and the crowd’s vivacious. 582 College St.
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 mac + cheese with hot ‘n flaming Cheetos
Spirit-first Bars: One particular liquor tickle your fancy? These locales are here to school you.
El Catrin’s year-round patio is heated, which means you can comfortably celebrate Taco Tuesday outside at any time of year. Inside, colourful cushions make for comfortable seating to enjoy the authentic Mexican menu, though you’ll want to make a reservation, as this tequila bar favourite is known to fill up fast. 18 Tank House Lane.
El Catrin Distileria
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 an egg, serrano & piquilloin the morn or items like the jamon croquetas all day long. Heartier tapas, such as Iberico pork will satiate the famished. 505 College St.
Crowd: The who’s who of T.O. eatterati and design snobs aplenty
Food: Spiffy bites like razor clams and hand-cut sobrassada
Top tipple: Barbiana Manzanilla sherry
Since sashaying onto the food scene in hipsterville, Paris Paris has been welcomed with open arms. The room — light filled and unpretentious — acts as a fitting backdrop for a culinary team that is pulling weight in all corners. Plus, it’s a wine bar with many bottles by the glass. 146 Ossignton Ave.
Crowd: Anyone and everyone
Food: Tasty bites for the worldly palate
Top Tipple: Make sure to try the recently introduced wines from Nicholas Carmarans
Hotel Bars: Out-of-towners can’t have all the fun, time to play ritzy tourist
Forget dbar and head upstairs to this swishy space at the Four Seasons to sip the night away on cocktails Try the Blood and Bones made with Casamigos, Luxardo Maraschino, blood orange, and angostura bitters.
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: A host of martini’s including the Asian pear made with sake and apricot brandy
When to go: Thursdays, for 2 for 1 oysters
Fun fact: A pre-fame Michael Bublé played here, as has Tom Jones
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. Almost 15 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: The coconut & absinthe sour is described as a dangerous duo, where the Piña colada meets the green fairy
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: Buckish-a-shuck Tuesdays
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 $25,555? Plunk it down for a 2009 bouteille of the Domaine de la Romanée- Conti. Don’t spill a drop. 12 Brant St.
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 beef tartare, 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 “ridiculously drinkable ” Moon Grapes Key Lime Seltzer, packed full of bright tropical citrus notes
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. 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
Fun Fact: Past performers include members of Barenaked Ladies, Broken Social Scene and Blue Rodeo,
Rock ‘N’ Horse Saloon
At this countrified downtown sports bar and restaurant, expect Southern hospitality, line dancing lessons, mechanical bull riding and wild parties. In 2019, the saloon won “Canada’s Country Bar of the Year” from the Canadian Country Music Association Awards, so expect an authentically country soundtrack. 250 Adelaide St. W.
When to visit: Saddle up Saturdays for bull riding and dancing all night long
Food: Pub grub gone south
House Parties: Where to go to feel like you’re at home, only better
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 Queen West Sunrise and Grand Parade Punch — 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
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
The Daughter is a new natural wine and bottle shop with a menu of delicious snacks and artful small plates in an elegant and romantic setting. At this hip wine bar you’ll find a dynamic collection of coveted natural wines from all over the world. 1560a Bayview Ave
Crowd: Classy types who know their vintages
Top Tipple: The Susucaru from “the godfather” of the natural wine movement Frank Cornelissen
Fun fact: A natural wine club will be launching soon