A family business since the 1950s, The Rex has been Toronto's go-to for great blues and jazz music. The venue books around 80 shows a month, with two or three different acts performing each weekday evening, and several weekend shows that start around noon and go through the night. The roster is mostly comprised of local artists, but does include international acts and a smattering of other genres. The vibe here is super casual, with the focus truly on the music. The food is fresh, but standard pub food, with numerous vegetarian options. Perhaps most importantly, there's a good selection of draught beer to enjoy with the smooth, smooth jazz.
Situated in the King Edward Hotel, the Consort Bar is reminiscent of a gentlemen's club. Luckily, ladies are now invited into the old world charm, with cocktails (like the Queen Cosmopolitan) fancy enough to warrant playing dress-up. Sit perched on a bar stool and intersperse your local IPA or glass of wine with sharing plates, including a Falafel platter substantial enough to call it a dinner. The King Eddy has a formidable history. A 1961 menu priced the martinis at a mere 90 cents! Although the prices have inflated, the clientele has remained classy. Try a John and Yoko martini, so named because the former couple stayed at this hotel at the height of Beatlemania.
If your hotel bar is located smack dab in the centre of a vibrant city, you are expected to bring your A-game. The Chelsea Hotel does just that when it comes to their attached TBar. The simple decor includes austere marble touches and soft lighting. There are a wide variety of drinks on offer, but the Chelsea staff are particularly proud of its Caesars, which are loaded with toppings and come with inventive rims, such as a pillow of crushed cashews. With housemade clamato juice, you might be able to count this as part of your 5-a-day fruit and vegetable program. If you need a little more fuel, come downstairs between 11:30am and 2pm to feast on housemade Indian curry dishes, or better yet wake up in the morning for a Toronto brunch treat.
When you go to the standard hotel bar, usually it is a pit stop before you get to the real action. The Bisha Hotel's Mister C. is so ideally located, and so beautifully ambient, that it may be where you park your caboose for the foreseeable future. Expertly crafted cocktails include a Manhattan with tobacco infused makers mark and a Polish Peach with Belvedere, Briottet Peche de Vigne, Lemon, Egg White and Prosecco. Clients dress to impress, even on unexpected weekday evenings. Appetizers include dry aged beef sliders and avocado tempura. There are DJs several nights a week if you are in the mood to stay out late.
Housed in the Gladstone Hotel, which has operated in Toronto's west end for more than 100 years, the Melody Bar has a style all its own. When the owners removed the carpeting, it revealed vintage terazzo floors, and the mid-century feel continues with accents like leather banquette seating and wood-panelled walls. Even the bathrooms are a treat, designed as if they were from the 1930s. Cocktails are local and creative, such as the Salon with whisky, maple syrup, grapefruit and egg white. The beer list offers a solid selection of local bottles and taps. Enjoy your beverage by the vintage wood-topped bar. There's live music most nights, including indie rock and country. But the big draw is its weekend karaoke nights, which are great fun even if you think you hate karaoke. It also has CD launches, burlesque shows and a Sunday bluegrass brunch.
Once upon a time, there was a golden age of railway travel, fine crafted cocktails and well-worn library books. With the revival of Union Station, perhaps we can return to 1929 glory, the year that The Fairmont Royal York Hotel opened across from Toronto's main train station. With high-backed plush armchairs, wood-panelled walls and patterned drapery reminiscent of Edwardian England, a visit to the hotel's Library Bar - located just off the opulent lobby - feels like stepping back in time. Guests can treat themselves to cocktails such as the Rooftop Lavender and Honey Bees Knees, with gin, a dash of ginger and ginseng bitters, lemon and honey that was harvested right on the rooftop. Sip on a glass of wine from the extensive list, or sample from an impressive selection of whiskies from around the world. Seasonal, local options are available for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night.
We couldn't neglect The Drake, one of the best places to see and be seen in Toronto. The Drake is not located in Toronto's city centre, but it sure feels like it is when you arrive. A hub for the fabulous, this revamped space manages to be edgy yet elegant. It offers everything from brunch to late night entertainment with world class musicians, guest DJs and even poetry slams. The sky yard rooftop is always packed to the brim, regardless of the time of year. There is an Apres Work menu from 3 to 6, offering pours of wine or beer for $5 or sleek cocktails such as the Old Fashioned for just $10. It is a great place to go if you can sneak away from work early and remember what summer is truly about.
The Delta hotel's bar, Char No. 5, is tucked away to be free from the florescent lights of stereotypical hotel lobby. Dark and musky, the bar seems to wrap itself in the qualities of its attributed drink: whisky. If your experience with whisky has been ho-hum, this is the place to shake things up (or at least place them on the rocks). The diversity of flavour in this grain mash is amazing and you can sip on a grassy or austere blend while nibbling on whisky maple jerky as a fine, albeit chewy, pairing. Charcuterie and cheese and smokey corn dogs allow you to be as high or lowbrow as you like. Whisky cocktails range from the classics (Manhattan) to inventive new offerings (Toronto, with bitters, rye, char no. 5, brown sugar, Fernet branca and orange zest). They are convinced that you will walk out loving whisky. Challenge accepted.
Wear something fancy and indulge in an equally fancy cocktail at the Ritz Carlton's elegant DEQ Terrace and Lounge. During the winter, cozy fireplaces and furnishings inspire patrons to hunker down. During the summer, the fireplace will follow you outside to the expansive patio which overlooks the CN Tower and downtown Toronto. Enjoy complementary kettle chips while you imbibe, or indulge in a lovely light menu that includes gems like truffle frites with black garlic aioli and tuna tartar served with taro chips. Cocktails are one-of-a-kind, with luxurious choices such as a mango margarita or the 61X with Louis XIII cognac. The latter at a 2.75 ounce pour will set you back $600, but there are certainly more affordable choices.
Leave it to the St. Regis to BRING IT. Louix Louis is situated on the 31st floor and it is impressively elegant, stunning cocktail-swiggers with its French and American influences. It is a place so tasteful that you will be checking if you have any spinach in your teeth before you sit down. The bar is 30-feet long and the ceiling is a mural by artist Madison van Rijn that conjures the bottom of a glass of whisky. A 30-foot bar obviously has the capacity to be well stocked and memorable cocktails include the New York Sour and Bloody Mary. Mocktails are also creatively poured. You can enjoy your libations alongside the alluring atmosphere or have some caviar, charred baby leeks or a whole truffle chicken to stay just a little longer.