Best Bars in Toronto

Why go to any bar when you can drink at Toronto's best?

It's hard work for a writer, getting a "best bar" assignment. Even though it has been a struggle, I did manage to scope out everything from watering holes to high-end establishments that require the right shoes (and no, Toms don't make the cut). Drink by drink, I established what makes a bar unforgettable in Toronto. Then I promptly forgot what I was writing about.

Bar-goers can have it all in cosmopolitan Toronto. Whether it is the drink that puts hair on your chest or the people who make you forget about your 9 to 5, the right bar can be a hub of community and transformation. Plus, most bars have booze, which many Canadians tend to enjoy. (And if not, many of these places make one hell of a mocktail.)

If you like your bars to look like works of art, look no further than Bar Raval. you like to go to somewhere with live music and lots of (good) tequila, try out the Reposado Tequila Bar Toronto

There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all people, so why shouldn't our bars be as unique as we are? Whether you love a laid-back lounge or a dive bar, we don't judge.

Take a swig of what the city has to offer.


Paris Paris
Photo courtesy of Paris Paris

Paris Paris is an all-day wine bar in Toronto because Toronto is fast becoming one of those cities that never sleeps...and in sleepless cities, wine is a must. Whenever people go to Paris they almost always gush about the bread and the wine and the cheese. Paris Paris (best understood when said twice so as not to confuse with the real deal) has what you might expect from the city of love: cheese and charcuterie boards, oyster shots and a whole ton of wine-by-the-glass and bottle. It's not the most French menu as a whole, but the piri piri chicken is a must must. Start with a glass of "a little sparkling while you think."

Recommended for Bars because: Oui oui to wine, cheese and bread. Paris Paris gets it.

Courtney's expert tip: Slather the amazing butter on everything. We won't judge you.

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High Park/Roncesvalles
The Ace
Photo courtesy of Meghan McKnight

Like a fine wine, the area of Roncesvalles just keeps getting better with age. Enter The Ace, which used to be a Chinese restaurant and has become a chic and cozy bar which is just the ticket on a cold-weather day. Dinner and lunch items take from varying world cuisines, coming together for an exquisitely comforting dish every time. Brunch is so busy, you may have to be there as early as 9:30 to get a seat (pajamas welcome). But let's get to those cocktails, shall we? Cocktails are strong ("like bull") and confident. The Canadian sour has forty creek Canadian rye, lemon juice and triple sec to start. Drinks make you wonder why you don't have a more stocked bar at home, so we will answer for you: you can't recreate magic like this.

Recommended for Bars because: Comfort food, late-night snacks and amazing drinks in a cozy bar free of downtown pretension.

Courtney's expert tip: You can even order delivery from The Ace, should you be so lazy (or inclined).

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Bar Hop
Photo courtesy of Bar Hop

You may be able to have too many shoes, but you can never have too many brewpubs (too much beer is another thing, but I don't want to be a downer). Toronto's Barhop doesn't require that you engage in a tour of the city. There is more than enough brewing goodness in one place. You can get a large-format table bottle if you and your friends are the sharing types, or you can sample from their seasonal beer list. There is even a nice array of gluten-free beers and ciders. The gastropub atmosphere means that you are not stuck with some greasy reheated fare, but rather hearty food that matches the fancy brews. Start with the garlic doughnuts and don't shy away from the breaded pickles. Breath mints might be a nice thing to pack alongside your wallet.

Recommended for Bars because: As Homer Simpson once said, "Ah, good ol' trustworthy beer. My love for you will never die."

Courtney's expert tip: Don't give up your drinking on a Sunday. $5 draught pours on Sundays are a reason to keep the weekend going a little longer.

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Little Italy

An opinionated cocktail bar that can be hard to find from the street, Cocktail bar is the drinking extension of the extinct, yet popular, restaurant The Black Hoof. You will find classic and clever drinks with bourbon, rye, cognac and more for the base. You may want to try a Guajillo Margarita, even if you don't know what guajillo infused tequila is. What you won't find as the base is vodka, which owner Jen Agg declared as "dumb" in a blog post years ago. If you can do without your vodka, you will gain low lighting, smooth jazz and candles in mason jars as the backdrop to your drinking experience. The food menu is limited but does include olives and pimento cheese if you are downing cocktails with wild abandon.

Recommended for Bars because: Brown or white cocktails with lovely finishing flavors such as lavender or balsamic and just enough moody ambiance to feel like a black-and-white movie.

Courtney's expert tip: "They" believe that vodka is tasteless and for the masses. In fact, this message is written on the wall. When you taste Cocktail Bar's brilliant cocktails, you will feel glad that you broke away from the masses. Who needs those people anyway?

Read more about Cocktail Bar →

When reviewers describe a bar as "lovely" you realize that you are far from dive bar territory. Mulberry Bar has amazing drinks, which for a bar, is probably the first and foremost important thing. Coco Chanel has rum, coconut liqueur, almond and Fernet. Que Sera Sera has Shiraz, blackberry liqueur, cracked pepper and muddled blackberries and blueberries. The lush green French ambiance extends to the charming patio in the summer months where you can sit downing drinks without a sniff of judgment. Enjoy snacks like veggie pate, caviar and Egyptian spiced nuts. Oh, and cheese. Did we mention there is cheese?

Recommended for Bars because: The cocktails are almost too pretty to drink. We said almost.

Courtney's expert tip: You can even get adult milkshakes to cool you down on a hot day.

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Reposado Tequila Bar Toronto
Photo courtesy of Joe Fuda

There are two types of people in this world: those who have a good relationship with tequila and those that do not. If you and tequila have the relationship status of "It's Complicated," Reposado may be the place to deepen your bond. (FYI, A reposado is a type of tequila that has been aged in an oak barrel.) There are over 128 tequilas behind the bar, so you certainly have your choices. There is even an affiliated house band (named the Reposadists, of course) to bring the party to another level on the weekends. Indoor and outdoor seating provide lots of atmosphere, while the tapas menu can help to soak up some of the excess liquor so that things don't get too crazy.

Recommended for Bars because: But there was plenty of Tequila and Sex On The Beach, Y'all. Tequila. Te-te-te, Tequila.

Courtney's expert tip: Try a freshly squeezed margarita, which is like nothing you have tasted. Unless you have been to Mexico.

Read more about Reposado Tequila Bar Toronto →

The Cloak Bar
Photo courtesy of The Cloak Room

The King West restaurant Marben has a secret. It's The Cloak, which is found down the stairwell between its bar and kitchen, then through a heavy curtain (like a magician's cloak). If anything is more exciting than going into a secret room as an adult, I don't know what it is. This hidden gem is very old school and even nods to the fact on its social media with black and white photos. Dimly lit, there are tons of British colonial drinks, along with giant punchbowls for people who like to share. Relaxing, cool and cozy. Visit on Sunday night if you like your scotch - only $10 a round for some fine offerings.

Recommended for Bars because: This New York-style speakeasy will make your friends think you are cool just for knowing about it.

Courtney's expert tip: Try the Churchill: Bourbon, coconut washed rum, demerara, chocolate bitters, Himalayan salt.

Read more about The Cloak Bar →

Birreria Volo
Photo courtesy of Connie Tsang

Some people only want to leave their houses or apartments for the promise of a good beer. This is understandable. Birreria Volo is the bar to go to if you like the feel of an Italian beer hall, complete with an impressive amount of beer and cider. Long and narrow (meaning you will be sitting next to people), there is ample space to drink good craft beer â€" with sour beer being a noticeable specialty. If you are waffling between choices, you can have half pours of many of their offerings. Sample your beer in wine glasses, eat some dried Italian salami and feel smug about the fact that you saved on European airfare.

Recommended for Bars because: A tiny dimly lit spot for great beer - run by people who know beer.

Courtney's expert tip: If you are still a wine person, Wednesdays are 1/2 price wine night.

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BarChef Toronto
Photo courtesy of Leanne Neufeld Photography.

Bars each have their thing going for them, and BarChef seems to bring the best of all bar worlds into one, dimly lit establishment. This bar challenges the notion of the conventional cocktail experience. It is like molecular gastronomy in a cocktail (which also means it is worth going out for, as this is not something you could create at home). It is not an inexpensive night out, but it is an experience. BarChef asks you not to guzzle but rather watch (and sip) in amazement. Drinks are paired with an edible that enhances the same flavor. Bartenders look like magicians as much as cocktail masters, bringing out artistic liquids that you can then consume.

Recommended for Bars because: Double double toil and that my drink? Make it a double.

Courtney's expert tip: Try the modernist series, which has so many layered flavor pairings your taste buds will be shocked.

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Little Italy
Bar Raval
Photo courtesy of Alexa Fernanado

Bar Raval has an aesthetic appeal so universal, most people start out their evening by taking a photo or two. The Gaudi-inspired panels seem like Swiss cheese that has turned into wood. Wine bottles balance precariously on the swirly wooden ceiling. It looks like a slice of Spain in Toronto's Little Italy, with cocktails that are all about their twists and takes on the classics. There are lots of choices of alcohols and you can even get a cheap pint if you are pinching your pennies. Bar Raval is not trying to be like anyone else, and like the cool kid at school who doesn't try too hard, it works. Food ranges from tuna belly to charred octopus to doughnuts. A combination that would arguably only work in Canada.

Recommended for Bars because: Going out for drinks is back and after months of Netflix, Bar Raval is the perfect place to break your hibernation.

Courtney's expert tip: Try an Old Fashioned, stirred with frankincense and cream sherry.

Read more about Bar Raval →


Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney