Food & Drink

The Best Bars in Toronto Right Now

Published On 11/03/2017 Published On 11/03/2017
toronto beverage director
DEKKERD MIYAHAYA
Courtesy of Otto's Bierhalle

Otto's Bierhalle

West Queen West

Hallo! The newly-opened Otto’s Bierhalle brings pretzels and an extensive selection of German and Canadian beer to West Queen West. The reasonably-priced menu features an array of German-inspired dishes, from a classic pork knuckle to a spin-off schnitzel made with a choice of chicken, pork, portobello, or halloumi. Stumped by the extensive beer selection? The staff are extremely knowledgeable, and will gladly help you pick the perfect pint. If nothing else, at least stop in and use the washroom: the highly-grammable facilities feature a button that turns your toilet break into a disco on demand.

Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties

Christie Pits

Civil Liberties’ motto is “Let The People Decide," and its expert bar staff believe that no two guests are alike. This original cocktail bar has no menu, but rather a team of bartenders that will tailor your drink to your whims. Whether you pick your poison or let the bartenders do their thing, Civil Liberties consistently serves up flawless, inventive cocktails. Bundle up and head out to Bloor Street for this inconspicuous bar marked only by a pineapple sign -- your efforts will be rewarded, and Civil Liberties will quickly become that place you always take out-of-towners so they know exactly how awesome it is to drink in Toronto.

Haley Polinski and Ryan Fung  

El Rey Mezcal Bar

Kensington Market

Pull up a seat at the bar this winter and watch El Rey’s bartenders prepare your beverage in dazzling fashion. This cozy, sleek bar in Kensington Market is the Mexican sister restaurant of Toronto staples Bar Raval and Bar Isabel focusing primarily on mezcal -- tequila’s older, more rustic brother. Not quite sure what mezcal's all about? Try El Rey’s expertly curated tasting of the stuff. Alternatively, peruse the list of seasonal Mexican- and tropical-inspired house cocktails, which will be boozy, fruity, fresh, and exactly what you need to combat the knee-deep snow.

Tim Oakley

The Greater Good Bar

Wallace Emerson

The Greater Good, purveyors of fine arcade games and beer, is 2016’s new bar arcade on Geary Ave. The sister bar of the beloved Get Well on Dundas West, this beer mecca offers 20 rotating brews on tap, focusing on local (and by local, we mean literally down the block) breweries like Blood Brothers and Indie Ale House. If the extensive beers on tap don’t tickle your fancy, the fridges are stocked with cans and bottles; there's also a decent wine and cocktail list. Grab a slice of North of Brooklyn pizza, and gaze wistfully out at the Greater Good’s impressive patio dreaming of the warmer months and patio-going ahead.

Courtesy of Clocktower Bar

Clocktower Bar

Summer Hill

Clocktower Bar’s menu features only one wine in each colour and a single beer, forcing you to focus on the main event: the excellently crafted specialty cocktails. We recommend the fluffy, alcoholic version of a London Fog with earl grey-infused gin and vanilla bitters, or the seasonal Old Fascist that features bourbon, black pepper tincture, and cardamon bitters. The ambience is minimalist and nordic with white walls and light wood finishings -- a perfect date spot away from the frequently crowded watering holes downtown. Needless to say, this place will definitely score you a second date.

Flickr/ctj71081

The RED Light

Little Portugal

The Red Light is an intimate, enigmatically marked dive bar on Dundas West at Ossington. What sets The Red Light apart from the 15,000 other bars on this block, you might ask? Varieties of bourbon alone make up a third of the bar, so if you like whiskey, you will love The Red Light. Even if you’re not a seasoned whiskey drinker, the bartenders know their stuff and are happy to make suggestions, or you can just pick up a can of craft beer at a very reasonable price. Despite its hot location, The Red Light maintains a casual vibe and local crowd. You’ll find seasoned regulars glued to the bar all week long, and on the weekend the ambiance maintains its chill but gets a little dancey, playing anything from The Boss to Biggie.

Courtesy of Archive

Archive 909

Trinity Bellwoods

In a city lacking wine-centric options for drinking, Archive sports an impressive wine list that will spoil you for choice. You’ll never wait for a table here, and can easily enjoy conversation with your wine-drinking companions over small plates for a refined night out. Archive focuses on serving local Ontario wines, and offers a surprising number of wines by the glass. Intimidated by the extensive wine list? Archive has a solution for indecisive or novice wine drinkers: the highly recommended blind flight. Allow the well-informed servers to curate your wine-drinking experience while you nibble on steak tartare, manchego bacon-wrapped dates, and charcuterie.

Dekkerd Miyahaya

Bar Raval

Little Italy

Whether you go at 8am or 2am, Bar Raval’s service, food, and (above all) drinks are impeccable. The interior of this bar features a tin ceiling covered by a sprawling, ornate wood structure that evokes Barcelonian architect Antonì Gaudi. The bar is inspired by the team’s adventures in the eclectic Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona, and the pinxtos (small plates) and rotating cocktail menu accurately reflects this inspiration. The food menu is cryptic and lacking description but essentially you can’t go wrong. We recommend the octopus for a life-changing experience, or the stracciatella & boquerones for a flavour explosion of cream and salty fish topped with parsley oil. The cocktails change seasonally and, unlike the food menu, feature eloquent, whimsical descriptions so you can tailor your drink to your every mood. Not feeling the set cocktail list? Pull a Civil Liberties and ask the bartenders to sort you out. After all, “you’ve stumbled into Wonderland”... why not stay a while?

Miss Thing's

Miss Thing's

Parkdale

Miss Thing’s island vibe extends to its exterior, adorned with tropical decor above the restaurant, gold chrome handles, and pineapple decals on the door. This Pan-Asian and Hawaiian-inspired restaurant and bar plays on tourist culture and our common conception of the “tropical drink” with a sophisticated twist. Miss Thing’s cocktails are complex, fresh, and original -- you’ll feel transported to the sandy beaches of French Polynesia for just $13. Try its version of sangria, served in a seahorse cup, the Caribbean Queen, the more structured Mr Guava Guava, or get your entire group in on a large secret sharing cocktail with multiple fluorescent straws and festive umbrellas.

Flickr/Toms Baugis

Done Right Inn

Queen West

You have cash only and want nothing fancy at all. Done Right Inn is here for you. Go here with friends and spend all night chatting, lounging, meeting new characters, and people watching the eclectic multi-generational crowd. This long-standing establishment on Queen West has no sign to speak of, but a well-stocked beer fridge, a casual vibe, and an assortment of your grandmother’s furniture. When the summer months finally roll around, grab a beer and head out to the beautiful back patio where you can spend the sticky, warm nights on plastic patio furniture under an intimate vine and tree canopy.

Let Us Go Photo

Pinkerton Snack Bar

Leslieville

Pinkerton’s is an outpost of the Ossington strip in family-friendly Leslieville. At this bar named after a Weezer album, you’ll find delicious snacks, well-crafted classic cocktails, and no shortage of beautiful tattooed people. The small plates are seasonal with an emphasis on Asian techniques and inspired by whatever ingredients can be found at Kensington Market the day-of. Try anything and everything on the menu as you may not see it again. In a city bursting with inventive, original drinks, Pinkerton’s does the classics justice -- we suggest the perfectly frothy Whiskey Sour or a classic Corpse Reviver. There’s also a rotating list of local tall boys and a robust wine list to round out the menu. Parents of the east side, delight -- you can get food and drink until 1am after you've put the kids to bed at this sophisticated alt-rock snack bar!

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1. Otto's Bierhalle 1087 Queen St W, Toronto,

From the team behind Otto's Berlin Doner, Otto's Bierhalle satisfies all of West Queen West's beer and brat needs. The contemporary space is covered in hanging plants and littered with communal tables, providing guests with an open floor plan to swig an extensive list of imported suds and eat like a true German. A monstrous Bavarian platter surveys regional flavors with heaping servings of schweinshaxe, weisswurst, potato-beet salad, sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts, and a selection of mustards.

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2. Civil Liberties 878 Bloor St W, Toronto, M6G 1M5

This speakeasy-like bar in Christie Pits has two names -- officially, it's called Civil Liberties, but it's also referred to as The Pineapple Bar, thanks to the pineapple on its outdoor facade. No matter what you call it, the antique-laden bar is a unfussy and welcoming. It doesn't have drinks or menus, instead, you leave your order up to the bartender.

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3. El Rey Mezcal Bar 2A Kensington Ave, Toronto, M5T 2J7

Tradition is a focal point at this cozy Kensington Market outpost. The light bites pack heavy flavor, and there’s no forsaking authenticity (no joke: if you want the cacachuate mix without the grasshopper garnish, that’s on you). As the name implies, these libations are mezcal-obsessed, and illustrative of the spirit’s surprising adroitness when it comes to flavor profiles. Fortunately, the drink list is broken down by different types of agave, alcohol content, and even the material in which each one is aged; whether you’re a seasoned vet or imbibing for the first time, consider camping on one of the bohemian picnic benches to pick your poison.

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4. The Greater Good Bar 229 Geary St, Toronto, M6H 2C1

With a rotating selection of craft beers and food from beloved pizzeria North of Brooklyn, The Greater Good is serving Toronto’s greater good -- or at least those looking for above average bar food. Suds from neighborhood breweries like India Ale House and Blood Brothers wash down gourmet, thin-crusted pies like the Killer Bee, topped with spicy calabrese, serrano peppers, and pickled red onions. Things get competitive in the upstairs arcade, where a collection of classic and rare games are free to play.

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5. Clocktower Bar 1210 Yonge Street, Toronto, M4T 1W1

The modern, naturalistic vibe of Clocktower Bar is pervasive whether you decide to sit indoors or outdoors: from the crisp pine tables, the white birch wallpaper, and the deer horns mounted next to liquor shelves, this Summerhill spot has a bright, airy feel befitting for the freshness of its cocktail offerings. Expect nuanced updates to old classics -- a Negroni made with pink salt tincture, for example -- and signature concoctions like the Persephone, made with Prosecco, cucumber-infused gin, St. Germain, and lime juice. For those looking to snack while sipping, consider stopping by on the weekends for a shared barbecue with Boxcar Social, the older sibling just next door.

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6. The RED Light 1185 Dundas St W, Toronto, M6J 1X3

The RED Light walks the line between dirty dive and hip hangout on the outskirts of West Queen West and Ossington. You'll have to know where it is, as there's no obvious sign marking the entrance, but it's hard to mistake the red light that bathes the narrow bar once you step in. It's loud and small, but that's why you came, so grab a beer and support this holdout against a gentrifying bar culture.

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7. Archive 909 909 Dundas St West, Toronto,

Joel and Josh Corea, the team behind Ortolan and Pizzeria Libretto, took a Dundas West vintage store and turning it into Archive 909 wine bar, a home for vintages of a different kind. Wine geeks make up the staff, which is good because they happily guide you through the Ontrario bottles on offer, hailing from Beamsville, Jordan and Prince Edward County. In the stark space, all exposed brick and lightly stained wood, the wine stands out all the more. A simple menu of cicchetti (Italian tapas, essentially) further keep the focus on the wine, serving more as a means of filling up to help you drink more than a reason to stop in for a meal.

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8. Bar Raval 505 College St, Toronto, M6J 2J3

There are wine bars you expect, and then there are wine bars that look ripped from one of Antoni Gadui's sketchbooks, and Basque-inflected Bar Raval in Little Italy is of the latter category. The actual bar itself qualifies as a work of art: its curving, sculptural wood undulates and climbs up the walls to form an alien canopy above drinkers' heads. A pinxto menu provides all the toothpicked snacks you could hope for, from salt-cured tuna loin to petit mushroom towers. A thoughtful selection of Spanish wines go down smoothly, but do take care to order one of the specialty sherry pours, complete with background on the bottle history from knowledgable bartenders.

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9. Miss Thing's 1279 Queen Street West, Toronto, M6K 1L6

There are two kinds of tiki bars outside of Hawaii: the divey ones with plastic palm trees and the upscale ones with drinks classier than the standard Mai Tai. Miss Thing's, a bar and restaurant in Parkdale, falls into the latter group. Designed to look like a 1950s hotel lobby in Hawaii, the restaurant serves pan-Asian food like dumplings and pineapple fried rice, plus plenty of rum cocktails infused with hibiscus, coconut, and other tropical flavors.

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10. Done Right Inn 861 Queen St W, Toronto, M6J 1G4

Done Right Inn is certainly a dive bar, but it's the kind that everyone -- not just the town lowlives -- actually goes to. Cheap beer, a small working TV, and friendly bar maids with years of unpretentious service experience draw crowds on the weekends. A back patio offers a nice escape and you'll find that cozy seats and tables under verdant foliage await you for an inexpensive all-night catch-up. This is a dive done right.

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11. Pinkerton's Snack Bar 1026 Gerrard St E, Toronto, M4M 1Z5

Pinkerton's Snack Bar brings a rugged look, a fun air, and classic cocktails to Gerrard. Whiskey sours and Manhattans are whipped up by a veteran of 2Cats and Czehoski, but the traditional sips get a non-traditional companion in the food: A rotating menu of Asian-inflected fusion plates raise the bar high above beer nuts, which could include flavors like bulgogi bao topped with daikon-carrot slaw or soy-glazed beef short ribs with mango slaw on offer.