Here’s Where to Eat in Toronto When Drinking Is Your Priority
Sometimes you don't want the whole multi-course affair. And sometimes you don't really even want dinner, but you know you'll regret such a decision after two cocktails.
Luckily, a new crop of spaces is popping up all over Toronto to deliver the nosh you need on a more casual level. At these bars and restaurants, it's really all about the drinking scene—and shareable food to match the creative quaffs.
Here are four of our favorites spots, be it for post-work bonding time, a relaxing Sunday evening with friends, or staying out way too late the night before.
After Work: Drake One Fifty
This Financial District outpost of the uber-trendy, arts-focused Drake Hotel is more centrally located than its bohemian brother, but it still comes with a live DJ spinning Hot Chip remixes and 1960s funk B-sides. Get a dozen bright West Coast oysters and focus your attention on the "booze forward" section of the cocktail menu—intense, spirit-heavy drinks such as smokey Scotch and spicy American rye bridged by apricot liqueur (the Peat + Apricot). Skip the restaurant and stick to the buzzy scrum of tie-loosened traders happily picking at upscale Canadian, Italian-ish apps around the circular marble bar.
Drink: Ransom Note (reposado tequila, rye, black walnut bitters; C$16 ($13.25); Mostly Harmless (Angostura, Fernet Branca, tonka syrup; C$14); The Magritte (gin, rosemary-and-clove syrup, cava; C$15)
Eat: Crispy artichokes (C$9); Salsiccia pizza (C$21); Nonna's meatballs (C$14)
Warm Summer Evening: Bar Raval
With its swooping wood façades, the interior looks likes something out of a Dalí painting. There's nary a seat in the place, just a handful of stools punctuated by tall tables and wooden barrels, so post up wherever there's free space. The best real estate is at the bar running the full length of the windowed outer wall, open to the air when the weather permits. It's going to feel as if everyone around you is a regular and best friends with the server; after a short time, you probably will be, too. Keep your orders simple: tinned fish and pintxos (basically Basque tapas, often served on bread and in pairs), washed down with no-frills Spanish wine. From such classics as boquerones (anchovies) to the more intimidating pig head and romesco, you can't go wrong, especially if ordering what follows here.
Drink: Telmo Rodriguez Mencia (C$14); Codorníu Clásico Cava (C$7); rotating vermouth by the glass (price varies)
Eat: Galician octopus pintxos (C$8); Glass shrimp and lard pintxos (C$10); Kitchen bread (C$6)
With a Date: Mr. Flamingo
Don't let the hipster trappings dissuade you: The staff is so friendly at Mr. Flamingo that even the dilapidated record player behind the bar feels more charming than clichéd. Plus the cocktails are killer. Sure, you could sit at a two-top table and do the whole dinner rigamarole with the diverse, rustic menu, but sharing is the better strategy. A complex salad of fiddlehead ferns, morels, and bitter greens is the perfect match to oil-coated burrata. The steak tartare delicately smacks you with a beefy bite. And that donut? It took all my will power not to order a second. Station yourself at the corner of the bar adjacent to the partially-open kitchen for the best mix of intimacy and action.
Drink: Ms. Sitherwood (whiskey, tea, peach bitters; C$14); Daiquiri #3 (rum, maraschino, grapefruit cordial; C$13); Silk Road (gin, jasmine, orange blossom; C$13)
Eat: Lobster baked oysters (C$14); Burrata with fiddlehead ferns (C$16); Apple caramel donut (C$6)
Last Call: Bar Fancy
Sure, the weekday happy hour (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.) makes Bar Fancy's insanely good fried chicken cheap (C$2/piece), and there are half-priced oysters, too, but the later it gets the more fun you'll have—plus the kitchen doesn't close till last call at 2 a.m. The crowd gets louder, the cooks behind the bar get snarkier, and the dim lights make the tight space feel more clandestine than it actually is. There are no fussy cocktails at Bar Fancy (it's basically a dive bar for people who typically think they're too cool for dive bars); the only hard liquor is found in the bar rail, and I think I spotted some plastic bottles. Instead, go for the sparking wine and saison-style beers, both perfect foils to the addictive house-made hot sauce you'll be splashing all over the surreally moist, yet crackly crispy fried chicken.
Drink: Stillwater Cellar Door Saison (C$9.50); Dieu du Ciel Disco Soleil IPA (C$9.50); Grande Cuvée Brut sparking wine (C$11)
Eat: Fried chicken (C$18/four pieces); Oysters with spicy mignonette (C$16/half dozen)