Torontonians are justifiably proud of their bar scene, from its classic dives, like Wheat Sheaf Tavern, to its crafty cocktail lounges, like the Hoof Cocktail Bar, and everything in between — sometimes it's all under one roof, in the case of the Drake Hotel. For those looking for more than just a well-poured pint or an exquisitely mixed aperitif, Toronto offers a host of night spots that serve up immersive experiences and ambience along with your drink order.
"Going out isn't just about having drinks anymore," said Nickie Minshall, co-owner of Track & Field, a half-bar, half-indoor-lawn-game space. "Having something to do while drinking stimulates both friendly competition as well as social interaction."
Phil Dumet agrees. "At the end of the day, a vodka soda is a vodka soda," said Dumet, owner of basement hideaway The Libertine. "You're going out for an experience."
Here are six Toronto night spots that offer whole worlds for you to explore.
Imagine sipping on a cocktail topped with a pistachio-flavoured smoke that you can both taste and smell, or biting into a carbonated cherry that erupts in a fizz. With liquid nitrogen ice cream, edible balloons and flavoured clouds, BevLab combines science and sustenance in awe-inspiring and delicious experiments that redefine traditional dishes and beverages. Science!
The Addisons Residence
Going to the Addisons Residence is like attending a house party at the swanky home of wealthy socialites, complete with a stocked bar, foosball table and DJ booth. With its banana leaf print wallpaper and gold finishes that evoke old Hollywood glamour, the Addisons Residence lets patrons imagine themselves living the high life, if only for a night.
Lockhart Cocktail Bar
Inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter (and named for the pompous, fraudulent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart), the Lockhart Cocktail Bar might strike your everyday muggle as just another hip, dimly lit spot. But Potterheads will instantly catch the references: the Patronus-like stag heads on the coasters, the neon "all was well" sign quoting the final words of series, the "potions and elixirs" with names like The Dementor's Kiss and Befuddlement Draft. One allusion, however, is so obscure that fans who correctly guess the reference are rewarded with a free drink.
Located below a nameless fortune teller storefront marked only by a neon sign advertising Tarot and palm readings, the two-year-old Libertine is literally an underground lounge that offers a members-only experience without actually turning people away. "The days of big clubs seem to be on their way out," Dumet said. "People like more intimate settings." The Libertine nails that intimacy with a sophisticated aesthetic, dimly lit stairwell and plush red booths, and deliciously inventive cocktails — just think bacon.
Nostalgia is the name of the game at Get Well Bar — quite literally, thanks to its retro (and free) arcade games like the classics, Tetris and pinball. Apart from sampling its wide selection of craft beers, patrons should stop by Get Well Bar for its anachronistic and quirky decor of Victorian-esque pictures and 1950s red bar stools.
Shameful Tiki Room
Promising to help you escape into another world, Shameful Tiki Room is a little piece of kitschy paradise complete with Mai Tais served in pineapples, pufferfish light fixtures and bamboo-styled furniture. Those really trying to mimic a tropical vacation can order the Mystery Bowl — a gigantic rum cocktail served in a shell-like bowl and a bang on a gong.
Track & Field Bar
Opened in 2015, Track & Field combines leisurely games with leisurely drinking. The bar was inspired by Brooklyn's Union Hall and, according to Minshall, is all about encouraging everyone to put their cell phones away and actually interact with each other. The space looks uncannily like that one friend's tricked out basement — perhaps because it actually is in a refurbished basement — decked out in wood finishing and comfy couches. It features group activities like bocce and shuffleboard. But for those who want to play without physically getting up from their chair, there's the Canadian board game Crokinole. Conveniently, all of the games require only one hand — so you can keep your drinking hand free.