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Toronto Nightlife

Cities are at their best at night. First, there are the lights—millions of them—yellow lights, red lights, neon lights—that distinguish urban excess from pastoral economy. Then there’s the contagious hum—car horns that bleat in the harsh light of day, chirp excitedly as they pick up friends or taxi carloads of giggling women from nightclub to nightclub; voices rise to compete with emphatic sound systems. Whether you are looking for a drink, a bite to eat or a night of salsa dancing, WHERE provides insider info on Toronto’s hottest night spots, the latest cocktail fashions, and must-visit late-night nosh pits.

Spending another evening cocooned in terry cloth and watching bad TV is not an option tonight. So get out there and take a spin through this great city’s thriving nightlife scene.AMBER
(119 Yorkville Ave., 416-926-9037)
This subterranean lounge settled in the midst of Yorkville’s material mecca is a relief for those seeking to chill out. The minimalist space is incredibly cozy. Combine this with eclectic food that defines the word fusion and a wild collection of cocktails poured by those who know their stuff makes Amber a fave of loungers and clubbers alike.

(456 Wellington St., 416-260-9393)
An experiment in luxury cross-pollination: C-Lounge blends a glowing spa aesthetic with the demands of a high-end cocktail bar. That means plush divan-style seating, back-lit water features and Aveda-manned powder rooms offering hair and makeup touch ups and mini-massages (gratis, of course).

(567 Queen St. W., 416-504-1626)
Ornate décor—cascading crystal chandeliers, an elaborate bar and dark wood panelling— sets the tone for a sophisticated late-twentysomething crowd. Beds (yes, beds) on elevated platforms scattered around the space are loaded with soft throw pillows and layer upon layer of gauzy curtains ensure privacy for intimate heart to hearts. Guest DJs spin everything from soulful house to funky lounge.

(1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042)
The Drake’s beguiling bohemian swagger has acted as potent antidote to the city’s cultural anemia. Striving to take the democratic approach, Toronto’s reigning glamour puss has seen A-list celebs Heather Graham and Woody Harrelson making nice with Queen Street’s plentiful style makers and style fakers since its triumphant opening more than a year ago.

(225 Richmond St. W., 416-979-3000)
Young professional crowd favouring Top 40 and R&B hits chill out at this lofty, whitewashed space. Smart casual dress code makes for a sophisticated crowd to drink, dance, mix and mingle with. Intimate dining at The Fifth is upstairs.

LOT 332
(332 Richmond St. W., 416- 599-5332)
Named Best Overall Club of the Year on www.clubcrawlers.com, even though it’s only been open for six months. With a much-appreciated glassed-in smoking lounge and a music selection that includes House, Hip-Hop and R&B.

(126 John St., 416-345-8243)
Bigger is better is the philosophy here. This four-storey playground is one of the city’s biggest clubs and was modelled after the Lucid in Manchester, London. The first floor is where all the action takes place, including a very crowded dance floor and a stage for bands and hip hop acts. The Screen Room is on the third floor with its own DJ; the fourth floor is a VIP lounge.

(1585 Dundas St. W., 416-588-0307)
Bohemian atmosphere mixes a variety of décor elements from around the world, from Persian rugs and red Chinese lanterns to sari-covered tables and antique chandeliers. Exotically warm feel is reminiscent of a laidback Cuban or New Orleans nightspot, and is the perfect backdrop for the eclectic roster of entertainment hosted here, from comedy acts to jazz, country, salsa and cabaret music.

(296 Richmond St. W., 416-977-8747)
One of the newest editions to Toronto’s club scene is Metro, a warehouse-sized two-level, 1,500 person capacity dance den in the heart of clubland. With a 40,000-watt sound system and roomy booths set alongside a raised runway platform, this is a place for the uninhibited.

(753 College St. W., 416-535-7888)
Located in the heart of Little Italy, in a previous life this popular live music venue was a Baptist church and a Polish legion hall. Energetic and friendly crowd take in local music ranging from jazz to soul and funk to blues. Hit the place up on Saturday nights for the best action.

(364 Richmond St. W., 416-351-1100)
The club’s second floor balcony is the place to check out the boogie action below. While many in clubland bill themselves as all ages, This Is London has the rep of being a club for grownups that has a distinctly London vibe. Models and millionaires mingle together and the no-jeans policy keeps everyone fashionably happy.

(314 Queen St. W., 416-263-0330)
High-end meet market (pun, intended) strives for off-the-shoulder, thigh-high sex appeal. The rooftop lounge is the club’s undisputed gem, offering a dazzling, torch-lit view of both street and sky.JOE GOMES, BARTENDER
The Park Hyatt Rooftop Lounge’s veteran barman on famous people he’s served and the proper way to pour a drink.

How did you get started?
I started behind the bar here in 1959. There was no school in those days, so I learned by observing the people I worked with.

What was the drink of choice then?
Martinis—this has been a martini bar for years and years.

What’s changed?
The people have—I’ve worked with three generations and now I am serving the sons and daughters of people I used to serve.

Who have you served? Any favourite customers?
The bar has been patronized by people all over the world—politicians, celebrities. When I first started in 1959 I [saw] Jane Russell and Faye Emerson. In 1962 I served John Wayne who was here filming a movie.

Most memorable customers?
I do enjoy people. If customers are nice and at the bar for a good time that’s enough.

What are the components of a perfectly mixed drink?
I’m from the old school: I don’t do measurements. Being behind the bar for so long, I know exactly what a customer wants just by looking at them. Customers say to me, ‘Joe, I make it exactly the same way you do at home and it just doesn’t taste the same.’ And I say, that’s ‘coz I didn’t make it.

Do people come to you, regulars, for a specific drink?
Yes, martinis. Sometimes people will call and ask, ‘Is Joe working tonight?’ They like them that much.COCKTAIL FASHION
The Spring/Summer 2005 cocktail collections

Cocktails—along with expensive handbags and the latest, greatest camera/e-mail/video cell phone hybrid—have become au courant cultural signifiers subject to the whims of a constantly evolving and endlessly frustrating idea of what’s cool. You can’t order a drink in the city without unintentionally revealing your cultural IQ. Self-proclaimed Martiniboy Don Ellis guides you through the treacherous waters of clubland by sharing his thoughts on this year’s it drinks.

Splashy signature offerings in Day-Glo colours and sporting so-hip-it-hurts monikers like The Drake Hotel’s The Dorothy Parker (Vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and blue curacao) and Van Gogh’s Ear (Hill’s absinthe poured over a flamed sugar cube and shaken with tart lime juice) are wooing drinkers away from old standbys like the staid Martini. Fresh juices like kumquat and lichee have usurped the barman’s staples of orange and cranberry and premium vodkas and sake are cropping up as alternative bases for creative blends.

“Mojitos and Caprihinas will be hot this summer,” says Zark Fatah, the owner of King West’s chill Century Room (580 King St. W.) and the soon-to-be-opened Aura Restaurant + Sake Bar (8 Colborne St.). “And muddled [barspeak for stirring or mixing gently] cocktails, but with creative ingredients, like mango, raspberries and blueberries.”

“Mojitos will, in fact, be big this summer,” echoes Brock Shepherd, owner of hipster havens The Chelsea Room (923 Dundas St., W.) and Canteena (181 Bathurst St.). “The Chelsea Room serves a Comojito, a combination of The Cosmopolitan and the Mojito—the most popular cocktail here. People come specifically for it. They walk in and order it before they sit down!”

The Mojito and Caipirinha craze has everybody muddling this and muddling that and some old favourites are being re-imagined in creative ways—think of a bloody Caesar that incorporates lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Or muddled ginger and grapefruit juice with Cointreau and Prosecco.

Banzai Sushi! (134 Peter St.) is home to one of the city’s best saketinis. “In martini terms,’ says owner, Nikolai ‘Mel’ Miljevic, “our Green Tea Saketini—with sake and green tea powder is a big seller. Also hot is the Nigori ‘White Sake’, which is unfiltered and has a milky white appearance, with a stronger bouquet.” According to Miljevic, the next big thing should be Shochu, a barley beverage, which is the drink of choice for Japanese youth. It has low alcohol content, a pleasant aftertaste and usually comes mixed with fruit juice.

Ultra Supper Club‘s (314 Queen Street W.) bartenders sample the cocktails they mix to ensure perfection. Yet, even the experienced mixologists of this swank lounge are surprised by the demand for the popular Tic Tac, a blend of Mandarin Vodka and Red Bull. Ignoring the popular energy drink’s warning not to mix it with alcohol, daredevil drinkers also favour ChamBULL, a blend of Red Bull and champagne.

Mixmasters at Luce (30 Mercer St.) and Rain (19 Mercer St.) keep their ears to the ground, sussing out what’s hot. This year they’re betting on Champagne cocktails to continue in popularity. Also, drinks with fresh pomegranate juice are hot items at the bar (think of all those healthy antioxidants!).

“We treat our cocktail list like a seasonal food menu”, says owner Michael Rubino, “using the freshest and tastiest ingredients when they are in season, like blood oranges, pomegranates and cherries. Edible flowers as garnishes always go over well and add an exotic touch to most cocktails.” For Rubino, the drinks philosophy at Luce is clear: “Keep it simple, clean and tasty.”

There are plenty of places to sample primo drinks—but if it’s the most current tier of cocktail pretension that you’re aspiring to, look no further than Czehoski’s (678 Queen St. W.), a century-old building that’s been given new life as a three-level resto-lounge. Owner Dave Mitton looks across the pond to London, England for his cocktail inspiration. And it shows, with innovative mixes like the Sakeriniha (sake, shaken with cut sliced kiwi and grapes) and an updated version of the julep (blackberry replaces the mint). It’s no wonder that would-be masters of the metaphorical universe flock to the cushioned seats at the mahogany bar. If the market’s up, there’s designer cuisine to be had in the adjacent dining room, otherwise, keep diving into those bathtub-sized martinis. —Don Ellis

Don Ellis is the founder of martiniboys.com,
a scene-savvy cityguide to Toronto.
You gotta eat if you want to drink and be merry

There’s nothing more satisfying than sinking your teeth into something salty, hot and greasy after a night of drinking, dancing and other nocturnal merriments.

With the bevvy of late-night dining options available to clubbers and bar hoppers around the city, why settle for something cooked in a metal cart?

Day or night, 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., grab a seat at Seven West Café (7 Charles St. W., 416-928-9041), which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Meaning that you can get a good meal after a Tuesday night of bar hopping or a Saturday night of clubbing.) Nearly 50 items on the menu, from appetizers to desserts, ranging from pastas to hot sandwiches, will fill up a belly otherwise full of booze. Filling options to consider include the Montreal smoked meat sandwich, the penne chicken, the pesto pizza or the Dolce de Leche caramel cheesecake.

Little Italy is a virtual hotbed for evening activity, and things don’t get more jumping than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637), which holds centre court along the College Street strip. (In good weather its sidewalk patio is packed until the wee hours of the morning.) Open until 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday, and until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, this inexpensive and unpretentious local hang out serves a mix of hearty Italian fare (antipasto, gnocchi or bruschetta) and classic favourites (chicken wings, pizza or meatball sandwiches). An extensive list of specialty coffees and teas are also on the menu in case you need to perk up, including some mixed with alcohol (amaretto, grand marnier and brandy).

Fran’s Restaurant (20 College St., 416-923-9867 and 200 Victoria St., 416-304-0085), a family-style dining experience since 1940, is also open 24/7. Friendly staff serve up an exhaustive menu that includes plenty of comfort foods that hit the spot, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Try the macaroni and cheese, fish and chips or Fran’s famous chicken club sandwich. Another definite hit with late-night diners is the Big Breakfast, which includes eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes, homefries and toast.

Other establishments open late and just waiting for you to pull up a seat: Room Service (471 Richmond St. W., 416-703-6239), Burrito Boyz (120 Peter St., 416-593-9191) and the Rock ‘n Roll Diner (3 Gerrard St. E., 416-260-0500).

Chinese food may not be the first thing that comes to mind after drinking and dancing the night away, but many restaurants in Chinatown are open late and are definitely worth a try. House of Gourmet (484 Dundas St. W., 416-217-0167) features menu selections that number in the several hundred—talk about selection—ranging from chow mein to moo shu pork. Gold Stone Noodle (266 Spadina Ave., 416-596-9053) is a lively noodle hang out serving barbecued meats with noodles in a hot chicken broth.

Whether you’re looking to refuel after a night out or to recharge so you can get back out there for more revelry, the choices are as endless as the drink options at the bar. —Linda Luong

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