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Time was – and it wasn’t that long ago – it wasn’t so easy to get a decent drink in Toronto. It was, after all, “Toronto the Good,” where the lingering hangover of Prohibition lasted until the ’70s.
You’d never know it now, though.
This city has become a party town everywhere from its chic-again hotel lounges to its sleek wine bars, hipster hangouts and the countless gala events surrounding festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival, which ends this week.
If you’re planning to travel to Toronto (which you probably are, since, as any Torontonian can tell you, it is The Centre of the Universe), here are just a few places to check out.
Toronto’s social life has long centred on its hotels, which are still some of the best places to go for a drink.
The Roof Lounge on the 18th floor of the Park Hyatt in Yorkville, with its clubby leather chairs and caricatures of Canadian literary icons, used to be the sort of hushed place you’d go to enjoy a glass of port and a good book. Now it’s one of the most sophisticated hotspots in town, filled with a dynamic mix of people drinking in the spectacular city views along with classic cocktails and vintage wines.
Rocking the same luxe retro mood is the Library Bar downtown at the Fairmont Royal York, where the bartenders create cocktails using herbs and honey from the hotel’s rooftop garden.
Toronto’s standalone cocktail lounges have a long way to go before they catch up to New York, London or even Vancouver. In fact, most of the city’s co-called cocktail lounges are really just restaurants with martini lists or nightclubs with bottle service.
One place that really is all about the art of the cocktail is The Toronto Temperance Society, a modern-day speakeasy with a wonderfully vintage vibe. It’s upstairs from Sidecar, its sister restaurant on College Street, which also serves excellent cocktails along with a deliciously eclectic menu. Soon the TTS will only be open to private members, but for now anyone can go in and sample the terrific Sazeracs and other drinks on a classics-inspired list created by cocktail historian Christine Sismondo.
At long last, Torontonians have embraced their own Ontario wines, which are finally sharing space on city wine lists with all the international hits. And the best place to explore this world of wine is in one of the city’s many wine bars.
One place to check out is Reds Bistro in the financial district, which has more than 80 wines by the glass and 450 by the bottle, including many of the most interesting wines from Niagara and Prince Edward County. It also offers a spectacular charcuterie platter that is a must for anyone visiting a city nicknamed “Hogtown.”
The best party is town is any party that’s being held for TIFF (Sept. 9 to 19). But if you can’t get yourself on a list to rub shoulders with the glitterati, get out of town and head to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (ongoing until Nov. 6).
Even better than watching Christopher Plummer tear up the stage in The Tempest is checking out the passionately local culinary scene, which includes cocktails like the Farmer’s Martini at local fave Pazzo Pizzeria.
And if you can’t get to Stratford, you can always make it yourself. Here’s how.
Meghan Miller, the manager of Pazzo Pizzeria in Stratford, Ont., created this fresh, flavourful cocktail to take advantage of the bounty of the garden.
2 oz. gin (preferably Tanqueray)
4 good-sized fresh sage leaves
1 oz. cucumber puree (peeled, seeded and processed in a blender)
2 oz. fresh lime juice1 oz. elderflower water (such as Bottlegreen, available at gourmet stores)
Muddle sage with gin in a cocktail shaker. Add cucumber puree and lime juice. Shake vigorously. Double strain into a large cocktail glass, and top with elderflower water. Garnish with a skewer of cucumber slice and sage. Serves one.