Though it took me several times to get in (and meant going at 2 PM on a weekday), it was well worth it. Not at all a typical bar, the place really does have the Spanish sherry-sipping feel they sought when they invested so much in the elaborate South African mahogany woodwork. Unlike so many bars in Toronto, they make balanced, beautiful drinks with novel and interesting ingredients. It’s really not a complicated formula but it’s pretty shocking how many places get it all wrong. Bar Raval is actually probably the one spot in our cocktail-starved city that has gained true international recognition. I’ve had more than one bartender at venerable establishments on my travels mention it as the place in the city.
After finally getting in on a sunny spring day, I get it. The place is stunning and warm and not pretentious. The bartender, though twelve-looking and covered in the requisite tattoo sleeves du jour, was pleasant, polite and spoke intelligently about what he was doing. The cocktail menu, though brief, is chock full of drinks I would try, which is saying a ton as I’m pretty hard to impress. In fact, my low octane concoction, the Jacques Fresco, contained tincture of frankincense, the tree resin of biblical fame. It was a first for me as an ingredient, and it certainly added a mild but inspiring coniferous air to the drink.
But, I’ve been just outside the door when there were six thousand people standing in the fifteen by fifteen room, which is not my idea of how to enjoy either a beautiful drink or a glass of outstanding, non-list palo cortado sherry. It is a very popular place, and rightly so, but if you’re old and grumpy like me, it’s best frequented at a time when sunshine rather than bearded twentysomethings in flannel shirts, fills the place.