The best bars in Toronto

Toronto is home to a bounty of bars: neighbourhood nooks for cozy quiet nights and destinations for booze-fuelled adult recreation. And increasingly, places are striving to curate unique experiences that will help shape the future of a thriving bar scene with lots of room to grow. There are just too many great bars to jam onto one little list, but whether you’re looking to sip or slosh, we think these spots highlight the diversity of Toronto after dark.

The Cloak Bar (under Marben)

Descend the stairs at the back of Marben, take a hairpin left, pull back a velvet curtain and you’ve successfully located the Cloak, a hidden bar that feels exclusive without edging toward pretension. They do a lot of things right here, like not succumbing to labelling the bar a speakeasy. (Booze is legal, people, so, seriously, can we kill that word?) It’s like a plush British man-cave with the warm, beckoning scents and ambient lighting of a bar you can trust. The cocktail list, which includes punch bowls for two or more people, flexes the Cloak’s excellent collection of spirits and liqueurs while integrating an assortment of house-made ingredients. 

Hours Monday to Saturday 6 pm to late

Access Stairs to basement bar, washrooms on same level

Cocktail Bar

Hit the Hoof’s trim, intimate cocktail spot for imaginative signature drinks and expertly mixed classics. The list switches up seasonally, but the relaxed-elegant vibe and drink quality are always on point. After a couple of cocktails, you could migrate across the road to sister establishment Rhum Corner (926 Dundas West, 647-346-9356, rhumcorner.com) for rib-sticking Haitian fare, spiked slushies and a few fingers of rum to shut down the night. Considering there are almost 100 bottles of rum on the wall, it’s not hard to justify one more. 

Hours Cocktail Bar: daily 6:30 pm to 2 am; Rhum Corner: Thursday to Saturday 6 pm to 2 am, Sunday to Wednesday 6 pm to 1 am 

Access Cocktail Bar: a few steps at entrance, washrooms in basement; Rhum Corner: One step at the entrance, washrooms up a few stairs

Drake Hotel

The alma mater of some of the city’s shiniest industry talent, the Drake has been influencing the Toronto bar scene for over a decade. The empire has expanded in the past couple of years, with haute spots Drake One Fifty in the financial district and Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, a rural retreat that’s quickly becoming Toronto’s more humble Hamptons. Come to the downtown Drake for weekday après-work specials, Ivy Knight’s 86’d Industry Mondays, shows and cocktails that, thanks to the team of kick-ass bartenders, are fantastic. 

Hours Monday to Friday 11 am to 2 am, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 2 am

Access A few stairs at main entrance, washrooms on ground floor

Bar Volo

Over the course of 30 years, Volo has evolved from a family-run red-sauce Italian eatery to the city’s most celebrated spot for craft beer. The extensive, locally focused tap list is always in flux and includes a selection of small-batch house ales brewed on site. For committed beer geeks (who spend a generous quarter of their income on drinking well and bragging about it), there’s a cellar loaded with lots of weird, rare and accordingly priced bottles. If you’re looking for nerdy deliciousness like Cantillon, Trou du Diable or Evil Twin, this is where to find it. 

Hours Monday to Wednesday 4 pm to 2 am, Thursday to Sunday 2 pm to 2 am

Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

The Caledonian

I love that one of the city’s best Scotch selections is housed in the least pretentious place imaginable – a snug and bustling Scots-run pub. For those just starting to explore single malts, the whisky wall, which pushes 200 labels, is far easier to navigate once you enlist the help of the friendly staff. Self--proclaimed whisky geeks should pull up at the Caledonian’s well-loved wooden bar at regular intervals to take advantage of rare whiskies stocked at random.

Hours Monday to Thursday 5 pm to close, Friday to Sunday 4 pm to close 

Access One step at entrance, washrooms inbasement

Candyland

Smack dab in the heart of clubland, recently opened Candyland is shimmering with potential. It’s a new cocktail bar slash supper club that takes the concept of mystery dinner theatre to the next level – for Toronto, at least. Contortionists, trapeze artists and burlesque dancers randomly emerge throughout the evening to entertain an awestruck, vodka-pounding audience. Even if it doesn’t sound like your scene, embrace the atmosphere and you’ll have fun. Expect to pay $20 entrance for the show. 

Hours Wednesday to Saturday 7 pm to 2 am 

Access Steps at the door, washrooms on main floor

Get Well

A trip to Get Well is like a night-long licence to be a kid again – except the pocket shrapnel you’re spending on pinball and video games aren’t pilfered from your parents’ wallets and your treat options have matured to craft beer and a fresh Margherita slice from in-house North of Brooklyn Pizza. Given Get Well’s influence on Toronto’s games-bar scene, we’re not so patiently waiting for a second similar venture from owner Alan Kelley to open in the old Kitch space just north of Dupont on Geary.

Hours Daily 5 pm to 2 am

Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

Fat City Blues

Channelling the big and easy spirit of the world’s greatest party city, Fat City Blues nails every aspect of a good time. It’s a loud, greasy, sexy slice of New Orleans. Chow down on a po’ boy to prime yourself for a slew of Sazeracs and French 75s. In true NOLA fashion, there’s live music every night of the week except Monday, because everyone needs at least one day of rest. 

Hours Tuesday to Sunday 6 pm to late 

Access One step at door, washrooms in basement

Track & Field Bar

860 College, Toronto, Ontario

This huge subterranean playground has successfully convinced Torontonians that shuffleboard and bocce are cool, probably by embracing the philosophy that stupid games with good pals equal unadulterated fun. And really, doesn’t that epitomize a perfect night out? Whether or not you’re the “athletic type” is irrelevant when it comes to geriatric sports, but just in case crokinole tables provide an even more leisurely pace. Cold beer and refreshing cocktails (including some on tap) keep your energy levels high enough to ride the competitive edge. Half the lanes can be reserved for large parties at $40 a pop, while the others are up for grabs on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Hours Daily 5 pm to 2 am

Access Steps down at entrance, washrooms on same level as bar

Burdock

In a quiet but significant way, Burdock has contributed to Bloordale’s radness since opening last summer, not least of all by offering a variety of services to the quickly developing neighbourhood. Thirsty residents can swing by on the way home for a pack of Pilsner (the bottle shop is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm) or perch at the crescent-shaped bar to sip a crisp Vermont Blond Ale while gazing into the tidy microbrewery where it’s made. Live local talent is featured almost nightly in the adjacent but fully soundproofed venue, so pints and plates are available in the airy dining room without a single imposing peep from next door. 

Hours Daily 5 pm to late

Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

Bar Begonia

The crown-jewel bar in Anthony Rose’s ballooning empire, this sexy Frenchish joint is where it’s at for cocktails and small, indulgent plates north of Bloor. Come for a sturdy drink like the Pomme Sunday (Calvados, Cocchi Americano, yellow Chartreuse, absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters, $16) and stay for a local cider or two and definitely some tartare. Should you feel the urge to order a bottle of wine and more food, don’t fight it: you can easily spend hours nestled in Begonia. 

Hours Sunday to Tuesday 11 am to late, Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 2 am

Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms on main floor

Bar Raval

Foodie buzz reached a fever pitch for Bar Raval’s opening on Valentine’s Day 2015. It sets the bar high (lazy pun intended) in a city distressingly prone to playing it safe. This is where you come for a morning-glory cortado, sherry in the afternoon and cocktails after dark – and snacks, always snacks. Can’t score a seat in the beautifully designed, consistently packed bar? Hit up the heated patio.

Hours Daily 8 am to 2 am

Access One step at door, washrooms in basement

Shameful Tiki Bar

Suddenly last winter, Toronto received the liquid gift it had been waiting for: a true tiki bar. The eastern sister project to a three-year-old Vancouver bar, Shameful has everything a tiki nut or habitual escapist could want: a thatched bar; traditional, hand-built decor; smiley, heavy-handed bartenders in Hawaiian shirts and tropical tunes. The cocktail list is 40-deep and features all classic recipes from mai tais to Jungle Birds, Navy Grogs and Painkillers – and flaming Mystery Bowls, of course. 

Hours Sunday to Tuesday 5 pm to 1 am, Wednesday to Saturday 5 pm to 2 am 

Access Entrance barrier-free, one step up to washrooms

The Ossington landscape continues to get an underwhelming makeover every four to six months – it’s now so packed on weekends or after dark, it’s almost intolerable – yet Reposado remains one of the neighbourhood’s few stalwarts. Though it’s been operating for almost a decade, it hasn’t swayed from its original mission to be an eclectic, laid-back showcase for sweet, sweet agave spirits. It’s by far the best place in the city to explore tequila, and increasingly, mezcal, poured by bartenders who know how to talk about it. Sip to a live soundtrack Wednesdays to Fridays (and some Saturdays). 

Hours Sunday to Thursday 6 pm to 2 am, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to 2 am.

Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

Civil Liberties

Colloquially known as the pineapple bar, or simply “Civil” to those who love it most, Civil Liberties is a comfortable or outrageously raucous neighbourhood cocktail bar, depending on what the night holds. Though there are only few cocktail specials scrawled on the a blackboard, the bartenders will make you whatever mouth-party-in-a-pretty-cup you desire, whether it’s a sherried Negroni, a three-rum daiquiri or a strawberry gin fizz. 

Hours Daily 6 pm to 2 am

Access Entrance barrier-free, washrooms in basement

Alo

The adjoining bar at Toronto’s most buzzed-about restaurant serves beautifully executed classic cocktails and elegant wines from small, trendy producers – and not in some tiny dark den on Dundas but hidden in plain sight at a major downtown intersection. It’s like drinking in a London hotel bar that happens to boast a classy view of a busy 24-hour McDonald’s. Unlike its sister restaurant, the bar at Alo requires no reservations and offers an à la carte menu of shareable plates. Full disclosure: I used to tend bar there. But omitting Alo based on a former conflict of interest would have made for one big oversight.

Hours Tuesday to Saturday 5 pm to 1 am

Access Elevator access to third floor, washrooms on same level

Apartment 200

If there’s one thing I occasionally yearn for in a city packed with endless drinking options, it’s more quality house parties. Apartment 200 scratches that itch – especially if you’re a sceney 20-something who knows how to work the steely-eyed bouncers and doesn’t blink at the ludicrously long washroom lines. Come for cocktails before sundown to appreciate the beautiful decor (staged to look like a baller’s apartment) and views of Queen West in the dying golden light. After dark it’s probably best to stick to shots and simple drinks – they pair better with trap.

Hours Daily 5 pm to 2 am

Access Flight of stairs up to entrance, washrooms on main floor

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