A dry gin martini straight up. Sumptuous surroundings. Subtle, dim lighting. The smooth sounds of mood music floating in and out of your eardrums. These are the essential ingredients of a proper night out on the town. Nevertheless, going out for an after-dark affair can be as complicated as negotiating a mortgage. In a city like Toronto, it’s difficult to keep up with the revolving door of lounges, bars and nightclubs. After several nights of diligent research—cocktails every night isn’t as glamorous as it sounds—we have uncovered some of the tried-and-true nocturnal hotspots that Toronto has to offer.
(3 CHARLES ST. E., 416-935-0240)
THE SPOT: Wish’s owner Renda Abdo has brought a slice of South Beach to the heart of Yonge Street. White couches with big white pillows are strewn haphazardly and featured inside and outside on the patio. Clear plastic chairs and metallic tables make for flamboyant patio furniture, while inside is a modern mix of metal and wood. And for those actually looking to make a wish, a wish fountain is the patio’s centrepiece.
THE ‘HOOD: Yonge and Charles is a high-traffic area packed with shops and restaurants galore, from Burger King to Starbucks to Sunrise Records to Aldo—you name it and it’s got a storefront on Yonge Street.
THE CROWD: As Yonge Street draws in the masses, it’s clear that Wish’s crowd is made up of a bit of everything. From professionals to students, anyone and everyone comes to Wish. Nevertheless, the crowd shares at least one commonality: everyone oozes urban style and generally looks fashionable without being over the top.
THE NIGHTS: It’s bustling pretty much every night of the week here. Wednesday nights are ideal, as it’s busy but not crowded. Weekends tend to get hectic, but are fun nonetheless. Music is chosen by the staff after they’ve surveyed the general aura of the night’s crowd.
THE DRINKS: While the drink offerings are exhaustive in scope, their martinis are among the best in the city. One of the first places to offer a stellar coffee-based martini– Wish’s Black Martini is a crowd favourite. A standard martini list is always available with featured additions based on the season. New is the Wish Kir Royale, made with sparkling wine and a cassis wine rather than the traditional liqueur.
THE VIBE: For a place steeped in so much urban style, Wish is relaxed and inclusive. No one will feel uncomfortable here, as there is always a little something for everyone.
THE CHELSEA ROOM
(923 DUNDAS ST. W., 416-364-0553)
THE SPOT: Deep, dark and sexy is how owner Brock Shepherd describes the design concept of the Chelsea Room. Shepherd and his partners, Fabi Hakim and Michael MacInroy, wanted to create a “clean seedy” atmosphere. The low leather chairs, corner booths, leather benches, dark walls and dim lighting work to create the “seedy.” Modern and sleek furnishings, all white paintings on the walls and the sparse and simple bar add the “clean” component. Chalkboards by the washrooms add a whimsical touch.
THE ‘HOOD: Dundas West has become a haven for those who are tired of the trendy crowds of Queen West and College Street. On the border of Little Portugal, the area is packed with neighbourhood familiarities like dry cleaners, corner stores, mom and pop restaurants and of course, the ubiquitous 7-11. Emerging from this residential area is a trinity of progressive boîtes–the Chelsea Room, Cocktail Molotov and the Communist’s Daughter.
THE CROWD: On any given night you’ll be able to find media types, graphic designers, fashionistas and film industry regulars all with one thing in common—a desire to be different. The Chelsea Room is the place to go for creative hipsters trying to stay ahead of the game.
THE NIGHT: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are great for low-key drinks and mellow music. Weekends at the Chelsea Room begin on Thursdays when DJ Caroline entertains the crowd with roots, soul and funk music. Friday nights DJ Girlstar serves up a night of sexy house. And Saturday nights it’s the A-Train with Jason Ulrich spinning soul and disco.
THE DRINKS: A chef himself, Shepherd insists that his bar staff prepares for the night the way that cooks do. It’s not surprising that the drink list is a complex and creative assault on the taste buds. Using only the freshest ingredients, the drinks are determined by what’s in season. A summertime standout is the watermelon mojito, while one of the spiciest Caesars ever concocted, complete with grated horseradish, is a mainstay no matter the time of year. Standards like the negroni and Manhattan are also well represented.
THE VIBE: This is where the cool kids hang out. From the décor to the music to the drinks, the Chelsea Room practically screams downtown hipness, while remaining
casual and unpretentious.
THE LIBRARY BAR
(100 FRONT ST. W., 416-368-2511)
THE SPOT: Modelled after a former reading room in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel—which celebrates a 75th anniversary on June 11—the Library Bar is a throwback to grand living. Ornate carpeting, wood bookcases filled with cloth-covered books, thick wood tables and grandiose chairs all create a feeling of luxury.
THE ‘HOOD: Across the street from Union Station and mere footsteps away from the likes of the Air Canada
Centre, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Royal Bank Tower, Front and York is a cross between tourist heaven and a downtown business core.
THE CROWD: As the opulent surroundings would suggest, the Library Bar is frequented by the likes of Bay Street’s finest, urban professionals and, of course, guests of the Royal York. Since the Dalai Lama and the Queen of England have stayed at the hotel, you might see a famous face or two while you imbibe.
THE NIGHTS: Being a hotel bar, any night is a good night for a drink. From post-work, to pre- and post-theatre, stopping by for a drink is always a good idea.
THE DRINKS: Old school cocktails rule the drink menu. Where else can you still order a Rusty Nail or an Old Fashioned? The classic gin or vodka martini is what the Library Bar is known for—some consider it the best in town. But more contemporary martinis are also on the menu, including the Banana Split Martini and After the Frost.
THE VIBE: Whether or not you actually are one, the Library Bar makes you feel like a proper grown up. Come here when you are feeling like a gentleman or a lady.
(178 BATHURST ST., 416-504-9997)
THE SPOT: Originally opened in 1947, the Paddock feels like an upscale tavern—think Sex and the City meets Cheers. Taking over the space six years ago, owners Tom Paterson and Ken Horne wanted to retain most of the original decor, and went about restoring rather than rebuilding, keeping the original fixtures behind the bar and the wood panelling.
THE ‘HOOD: Just south of Queen, along Bathurst, the neighbourhood is decidedly mixed, with neighbours ranging from seedy—the charmingly grungy nightclub Reverb is across the street—to the posh—trendy eateries Canteena and Lalot are kitty-corner. This is the section of Queen West that was hip before it was overtaken by West Queen West.
THE CROWD: Initially, Paterson and Horne were looking to establish a local hangout for the Queen West crowd. What they have is a loyal following of music, film and literary industry types. Weekends bring suburbanites looking for a chic night out.
THE NIGHTS: Weeknights are dominated by Queen Street regulars, so expect to overhear conversations about the latest in documentary filmmaking, the re-birth of ’70s rock and only the juiciest magazine industry gossip.
THE DRINKS: The cocktail list at the Paddock is every bit as diverse as the clientele and the neighbourhood, from the classics—Manhattans and negronis—to the revolutionary—pumpkin martinis. There is a featured drink list and a rotating monthly cocktail list that is created by the bar team and determined by seasonal ingredients. Being knowledgeable in the art of drinking as well as being able to endure gruelling cocktail brainstorming and testing sessions are prerequisites for each member of the bar staff. The majority of the wines here are from private suppliers and are not available at Ontario’s liquor stores.
THE VIBE: Paterson sums up the Paddock best as “an elegant Queen Street experience.” It’s stylish and sophisticated while remaining humble and nonchalant.
(612 COLLEGE ST., 416-537-8755)
THE SPOT: Just recently redecorated, owner Sid Dichter capitalized on the resounding success of his tiki patio concept last summer and turned Sutra into a tiki bar. With straw roofs and an abundance of bamboo chachkas and tiki statues, Sutra is re-born. Still standing are the comfy leather benches, roomy booths and soft lighting. The patio itself takes the tiki concept one step further
featuring actual sand.
THE ‘HOOD: The College Street strip is the epicentre of Toronto’s restaurant, lounge and nightclub culture. Essentially the heart of Little Italy, it features some of the city’s most popular options for dining, drinking and dancing.
THE CROWD: Sutra’s clientele is trendy and put together. From twentysomethings to thirtysomethings, these are people looking to have a breezy yet fashionable good time.
THE NIGHTS: Like most of College Street, Sutra is at its busiest Thursdays to Saturdays. Resident DJ Nightcook sets the tone Saturday nights with a bit of funk, soul and vintage reggae.
THE DRINKS: To go with the decor, the drink menu is focused on fun tiki-inspired cocktails. Dreamy pina coladas are served up in tiki or coconut-shaped cups. Martinis or “martikis” as they’re called here, include the always popular lychee lei, and summer standards like the mojito are also a crowd favourite.
THE VIBE: Sutra is a fun, laid-back place to go with a group of people. While the rest of College Street can be a bit over the top, Sutra is a standout for its lack of pretence and playfulness.THE DRAKE HOTEL LOUNGE
(1150 QUEEN ST. W., 416-531-5042)
THE SPOT: The Drake Hotel’s Lounge, like the hip
boutique hotel itself, is an homage to bohemia. The room is filled with an eclectic mix of vintage and refurbished couches, chaises, chairs and benches that feature typical boho fabrics like leather. Interesting pieces include clear plastic ottomans with visible springs. Instead of just boring paint, the walls themselves are works of art, adding to the art salon atmosphere.
THE ‘HOOD: West Queen West is the avant-garde centre of Toronto. Peppered with art galleries, boutiques and small restaurants, the area is filled with artists and creative types. Cohabitating with the art crowd is a rather large mental health hospital and some shady-looking warehouses. West Queen West is a neighbourhood on the cusp of gentrification.
THE CROWD: At the moment, the Drake Hotel Lounge is white hot and is patronized by Toronto’s elite. Being Queen Street, however, the elites run the gamut. Genuine scenesters, hangers-on and wannabes that span all industries—from finance to media to film and music—book it to the Drake Hotel Lounge when they want good drinks and plenty of attention.
THE NIGHTS: To avoid line-ups and crowds, try the Drake Hotel Lounge Mondays through Wednesdays. If you want to feel like a real part of the scene, hit the Drake Lounge from Thursdays to Sundays and be prepared for a line up. Rotating DJs play a mix of rock, blues and jazz.
THE DRINKS: Referencing the classics, the drink menu offers vintage cocktails with a twist. Recipe sources include drink menus from the Algonquin Hotel in New York, circa 1920s. Keeping with the art salon feel, drink names are inspired by literary and artistic stars of yesteryear. Dorothy Parker is honoured with her own cocktail, a mix of vodka, pineapple juice and Chambord. For anyone who’s ever had a deadline, a drink we can all relate to is the Writer’s Block.
THE VIBE: The notion of “so hip it hurts” goes without saying here. But don’t let this discourage you from going. Once you get past the doorman, the Drake Hotel Lounge is a great place to spend a night. It’s informal, all-embracing and visually appealing. Being hip never hurt so good.—Lulu Phongmany