Getting Boozy in Toronto
Real booze lovers have been grateful for the rise of cocktail culture over the past few years. We’re the ones who were appalled by the misuse of the “ini” suffix that ran rampant in the preceding decade of the “martini bar,” a misnomer if ever there was one. If it’s not made with gin and vermouth, it’s not a martini. If it’s made with vodka, it’s a “vodka martini.” Crantinis, chocotinis, appletinis…these things are not martinis, regardless of what you call them. They’re barely even cocktails.
But a Boulevardier (rye, bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari, aperol). That’s a cocktail. The Boulevardier is just one of the many concoctions on the menu at the Hoof Cocktail Bar, a sister establishment to the Black Hoof charcuterie restaurant listed in our Toronto restaurant guide. Located just off the crazy trendy Ossington strip, the tiny Cocktail Bar is unassuming from the outside and packed with hipsters on the inside.
One alcohol you won’t find on the menu is vodka, which owner Jen Agg dismisses as “stupid.”
The “goal of vodka,” she points out in a blog post is “to taste like nothing. And that is why it is dumb.” Instead, the white cocktails use other white spirits, like the Fall Cup (spiced rum, gin, apple cider, white balsamic) or the Corpse Reviver #2 (gin, Cointreau, Lillet blanc, absinthe).
Things get more eclectic at the beloved Bar Chef on Queen West, where award-winning mixologist Frankie Solarik devises his signature and sometimes strange concoctions that come in punch bowls, sweet & sour, sipping and molecular forms. Truffle in a glass? Mais oui. That would be the Black Truffle (black truffle snow, smoked salt, coconut foam, fresh lime rind, gin, coconut liqueur, elderflower liqueur). Or how about the Cedar? (London dry gin, pear eau de vie, cedar dilution, raw cacao “earth,” chamomile). Those are from the “molecular” selection, while sweet & sour options include Apricot Fizz (in-house apricot infused brandy, sparkling wine, sugar cube, sage, apricot bitter) and the intriguingly named Van Gogh’s Downfall (in case you were wondering what did him in: absinthe, lemon rind, star anise and clove syrup, almond orgeat, fresh lemon). Eats include lobster poutine and burger sliders.
If you’re on the hunt for a full restaurant menu with excellent cocktails of both the classic and original variety, the Harbord Room offers exactly that. Located in a victorian house, the Harbord Room’s eatables menu features bistro fare like burgers, steaks, fish and oysters. Try the signature Ronald Clayton cocktail, (vanilla infused Crown Royal with organic maple bitters) or the Lady Sniper (Tromba Blanco tequila, yellow Chartreuse, cynar).
Another place with a full menu or just small plates is Parts and Labour, a busy establishment in an up and coming section of Parkdale, a formerly very sketchy, currently less sketchy but still sketchy area. The patrons are largely young hipsters and are seated at long, communal tables. The app menu features such fare as “beef tartare, dulse, soy marinated yolk, jalapeno, radish, daikon” and “bone Marrow, shallot and strawberry jam, challah” while the delicious drink offerings include the Alfonso (Dubonnet rouge, sugar cube, bitters, sparkling wine) and the Not So Japanese (calvados, brandy, house orgeat, lemon, bokers bitters).
Finally, this isn’t a cocktail bar but I felt Reposado, also on Ossington Ave, deserved a mention for all the tequila fans out there, of which I’m sure there are many. Yes, there are cocktails on the menu, like the blood orange margarita, but what’s really fun about this place is the selection of tequila, which you can order in flights of three. Of the dozens on the menu, the most popular is the Los Arango Reposado Tequila, “Caramel, roasted, agave, jasmine soap and peppery spice aromas.” Other yummy sounding tequilas include Karma Tequila Silver, “Peppery aromas with sweet agave and citrus palate. A lengthy mint aftertaste” and Herradura Seleccion Suprema, “Notes of roasted agave, caramel, vanilla, cream soda, wood, coffee and tobacco.”
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