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Sep 21, 2010 01:12 AM

Best old school speakeasy type bars in Toronto?

I'm visiting for a week from Los Angeles. I'm looking for a place to get a good drink - a speakeasy type of bar such as varnish and 7 grand in LA or PDT/milk&honey in NY (I don't have much reference so these are all I know).

Anyone know of a place like this? A classic looking place where I can get an old fashioned with just burbon/bitters/sugar/soda/orangepeel but also a bartender who can make drinks on the fly based on my preferences?

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  1. Three of the best places to get a properly made cocktail are Sidecar and The Black Hoof or Hoof Cafe. None of these have what I would call a speakeasy vibe. Sidecar has an extensive cocktail list, encompassing most of the classics. Black Hoof and Hoof Cafe are more specialised, they've got a short rotating list of original, very well made cocktails. At the Hoof cafe you'll see large jars of various infusions along the back bar. Very good food is to be had at all of these places.

    The Black Hoof
    928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

    9 Replies
    1. re: haggisdragon

      Upstairs from Sidecar is the Toronto Temperance Society, which I think has the vibe you're looking for. It's a members-only cocktail bar, but if you talk to the folks at Sidecar, they may let you upstairs for a "test run". No guarantees, but Sidecar itself is a good second choice for the quality of the drinks, though it won't have the atmosphere you want.

      Toronto Temperance Society
      577 College St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA

      1. re: haggisdragon

        sidecar is your best bet though it is more restaurant than bar. they have a connection with the toronto temperance society which requires a membership to visit. i found the tts leaned towards updated versions of classic cocktails whereas at sidecar they hit the classics more spot on. while the tts tries to achieve an old school vibe, the space misses the style mark a bit considering how much detail i've seen go into the "speakeasies" in the US.

        black hoof/hoof cafe are fun, but not what you're looking for. unless you get jen serving you drinks, i'm not so sure about the others making a great cocktail on the fly. i'm pretty sure every infusion and blend is out of her own creativity and i don't think they have enough non-infused liquors to satiate any classic cravings.

        a couple places i haven't been to yet:

        barchef - claim to fame is the most expensive cocktail in the city at $40, but from friends who consider themselves boozehounds, this is where they'd take a new yorker that has cocktail bars in abundance at home. the scene is more modern lounge from whenever i've peeked. this will likely be your best bet.

        the new kid on the block:
        goodnight - they got written up in a few places like nymag and got listed on TorontoLife's places to be for TIFF. apparently they're lifting all their recipes from a classic cocktail recipe book and the servers are persistent in offering jack daniels.... which may say something about them being able to go out of the box. reservations can only be made day of and you won't get in w/o one. can't tell you what the vibe is like there... i suspect not old school styling.

        1. re: pinstripeprincess

          thanks everyone. will look to hit up sidecar and black hoof, probably the other ones listed here too. going to have a week to explore

          1. re: arsoisaen

            TTS is probably the closest to the atmosphere you seem to be seeking, but be sure to direct the bartender on your classics - he's likely to try to gussy up things that don't need gussying. Good spot if you want dialogue over your drinks, though - he is eager to discuss methods and swap recipes.

            Barchef is quite fun, in a much more crowded and energetic room, at least on a Saturday night. Leans more toward the "creative" side of cocktailing, and thus can be hit or miss, but everything I've tried was at the very least entertaining. The "Mad Man" was a serious hit for me. I'm not sure how willing the bartenders are to veer off of the menu, however - perhaps on a slower night they would concoct something for you from their wide variety of syrups, bitters, and infused spirits - but if it's busy, I'm not sure I would try to lure them off-book.

            Not at all speakeasy-ish, but for your true classics, I'm partial to the Roof, which also happens to have a lovely view of the city if it's your first time here. But I happen to be the sort that enjoys acquainting myself with a new city from a high perch, over the rim of a well-mixed Manhattan.

          2. re: pinstripeprincess

            People behind Goodnight are the folks behind Nomad/Ransom and the deceased Goodfoot (clothing/footwear), hence the name of the bar.

            Basically you need to be ultra hip and know what CDG, APC, Surface to Air has that "we're cool but not trying to put it on blast" vibe to it.

            I haven't been but would like to check it out.

            Camp4 does old fashioned but it is a hipster bar.

            1. re: aser

              i thought goodfoot was still there... i guess i never bothered to look at the name change on the clothing store. don't know about the ultra hip requirement thinking of the people i know who've been there. just haven't found the time when they only make and take day-of reservations.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                gdft is done, all their locations have closed, flashy sneakers are no longer in vogue. They've transitioned to higher end clothing with Nomad/Ransom next door.

                The bar is using the space that was formerly gdft.

              2. re: aser

                i'll check out goodnight as well...wasn't planning to pack my apcs but now just in case...

          3. The Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt

            Roof Lounge
            4 Avenue Rd, Toronto, ON M5R, CA

            Park Hyatt
            Toronto, ON, Toronto, ON , CA

            1 Reply
            1. Anyone been to the Library Bar in the Royal York? Looks like they've kept up the original old-fashioned look, but I don't know how the drinks are. I'd imagine the bartender would need to be pretty well versed if s/he's getting a wide array of visitors.

              6 Replies
              1. re: GoodGravy

                Drinks at the Library are pretty great. And the room has that old-school pajama-wallpaper feel. However, it also feels like a hotel bar, which I personally love but this may not be the atmosphere the OP is seeking.

                I think the Paddock would have been great, but they are closed now, ja? While Sidecar, Nyood, Hoof, and the Roof all have reasonably good cocktails I can't think of anyplace with the right vibe. Maybe (maybe the Drake)... although I don't think that's quite it either.

                1096 Queen West, Toronto, ON M6J 1H9, CA

                1. re: Rabbit

                  Would have also recommended the Paddock but they are a sports bar now, I believe. Real shame.

                  1. re: jamesm

                    The Paddock was the first thing that came to mind for me as well. Such a shame!!

                    I love Souz Daal on College. They have amazing cocktails and a great dark atmosphere...but not exactly classic.

                    Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt - not cheap - but if you want a drink made properly, that's the place to go.

                    1. re: MeMeMe

                      Several first-rate cocktail bars have been mentioned here - I'm particularly partial to the Roof Lounge - but, as has also been stressed, none are what I understand to be of the speakeasy-type you'll find a-plenty in U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles (the Frolic Room, if it still exists), San Francisco and many smaller outposts, where some bars seem to last forever, gradually acquiring an entertainingly scruffy patina that earns it the status of speakeasy-type. No one does speakeasy like the Americans. Chicago is especially good at it. I'm not aware of any Canadian spot that comes close to at least a dozen joints in that wonderful town.

                2. re: GoodGravy

                  I'm also a huge fan of the Library Bar, honestly I don't think I've ever had a cocktail there that wasn't mixed properly.

                  No you are not going to get the "creativity" of a Barchef (I wasn't so impressed from my only visit there, because of them not being able to mix a basic Old Fashioned well) but you will get a consistently great classic cocktail mixed well.

                  Sidecar is great if you stay on menu, once you veer off that road its kind of choppy. I have never tried the Roof, but have heard really great things about it though.

                  LA is a really great cocktail town though, The Varnish is one of my favorite places to drink on earth.

                  1. re: Matt H

                    The Roof Lounge is superb. Great view, cozy, great cocktails, nice snacks. Great to sit by the fireplace on a cold night. It is small, so cozy can easily be cramped depending on the night. The Roof definitely isn't a speak easy though.

                    I'm really not a fan of Bar Chef - absurdly ambitious prices for its location and the interior just seems to have a bad layout.

                    Roof Lounge
                    4 Avenue Rd, Toronto, ON M5R, CA

                    Bar Chef
                    472 Queen St W, Mount Forest, ON , CA

                3. I've been to Goodnight a bunch of times, it's in my neighbourhood. This is definitely the type of place you're looking for. It's very similar to PDT, including the reservations system, which opens up at 3pm daily. Depending on when you go, I think that reservations aren't totally necessary - I've been in before without them. Similar to PDT, the space is really small so without a reservation you'd probably just be let in depending on space availability.

                  I haven't been to TTC, so can't compare menus. Goodnight has a moderate-sized list of drinks, they just changed over from a summer drinks menu to a fall menu. Drinks menu fills up a chalkboard, small selection of food (olives, cheese, that type of thing). Very cozy inside, always been a friendly vibe when I've been there. If you're looking to go off menu, it might be a little hit-or-miss, I'm not sure how much experience the bartenders have. Tyler (the only male bartender I've seen there) is super nice and might be the best one to ask, if he's working that night.

                  1. The Roosevelt room has a 1920's feel.. "Inspired by the classic glamour of old Hollywood and the roaring twenties."
                    be forewarned; their drinks are very pricy and they're pretentious.
                    they get some pretty bad reviews.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: brittanystone

                      This is slightly off topic, but trying to remember the name of a vodka bar we went to. It was all Russian decor, and may have been near Starfish (ate there earlier). This kind of fuzzy by then but I remember Russian music with some Madonna-type dance stuff mixed in.....hmm

                      1. re: NorfolkGuy

                        You were at Pravda on Wellington St