Bars

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[LAST UPDATED: September 17th, 2018]

With children and a busy life, I’m no bar hound.  That said, I appreciate a great bar, both from cocktail and ambiance perspectives.  The greatest bars, of course, are those that combine both.  I’ve totally fallen for bars based on only on the ambiance and have also discovered great cocktails at holes in the wall.

I’ve amassed a list of bars I’ve visited, and those I hope to.  This is obviously by no means exhaustive.  I live in Toronto, the third largest city in North America (not including Mexico City).  With a population of near six million, you’d think we’d have a plethora of great cocktail bars.  Not so, though it’s getting better and better.  Any in bold are bars I’ve actually visited.  Here are my favourites:

WGB: All bars denoted with WGB are presently or have been recently named as one of the world’s best 50 bars (http://www.worlds50bestbars.com/).  Alas and despite Australia having six on the list (wtf?!), there is none in Canada.  Something tells me the judges haven’t made it north of the border.  Canada, sadly, is just never on anyone’s radar.

*All bars noted with an asterix are ones I particularly want to visit.

Toronto

Before I begin, this is a list (in order) of where I go regularly to drink in Toronto, regardless of anything else. The reviews follow.

  1. The Hoof Cocktail Bar (best all around cocktail bar in the city)
  2. The Bar at Alo (best fancy bar in the city)
  3. Toronto Temperance Society (Paris anyone?)
  4. Bar Raval (hard to get in but amazing drinks)
  5. Barbarian’s Steakhouse (I have no idea why I like drinking martinis so much at this place)

True Bars

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The Hoof Cocktail Bar (Dundas West & Bellwoods):  Owned by Jen Agg of The Black Hoof fame, this 1920’s inspired bar is perfect in every way.  Jen mixes a fantastic drink and you will never be disappointed. (Dundas West at Trinity Bellwoods)

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The Bar at Alo (Queen & Spadina): This French bar made me feel like Toronto has finally made it in the cocktail scene. Refined, elegant but somehow not pretentious. The kind of place one might more typically find in London or New York. I can’t tell you how excited I am.

Shane, our bartender, was extremely knowledgeable but welcoming and friendly. The cocktail book is seasonal and includes measurements, meaning patrons can attempt the recipes at home. Once again, this kind of menu simply has never existed in the city. Common in London, truly the greatest cocktail city on earth, the recipes are divided into semi-seasonal house creations and French classics. I started with light Alfonso, a classic Dubonnet version of the incredible Champagne Cocktail. I followed that up with the more potent Armagnac Old Fashioned, which, quite simply, beautifully combined two of my favourite things.

The bar stock is impressive but not over-the-top. Situated on the third floor of an old Victorian in Chinatown, the place is a tranquil respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets below. The restaurant next door is probably the city’s most difficult reservation at present, but it means the bar food on offer is over-the-top incredible.

Anyway, at long last is all I can say. We finally have a true bar of unpretentious sophistication in the city!

 

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Barchef (Queen West & Augusta):  Frankie Solarik is a molecular master and his drinks aim to please.  Splurge on the hickory-smoked vanilla Manhattan!  Great for a romantic date.  Try to go a little early because by ten on weekend nights it’s teeming with twenty somethings ordering vodka and sodas. (Queen & Augusta)

 

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Toronto Temperance Society (College West & Clinton):  This is a members only Parisian-inspired bar above Sidecar restaurant.  Robyn and Oliver are outstanding bartenders and the cocktail list is as good as it gets in Toronto.  It is well worth either purchasing a membership or befriending a member. (Little Italy)

 

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Civil Liberties (Bloor West at Christie Pits)is a welcome and highly positive addition to the Toronto bar scene (finally).  Run by Salt expats, my drinks made by Nick were exemplary and inspiring.  All my wife and I said was rum and Nick returned with a golden Mai Tai and a highly refreshing Queen’s Park Swizzle that blew us away.  The place has a great feel as well, and the penny bar counter is worth the trip alone.  We will definitely be back!

 

Montauk

Montauk (Bathurst & Dundas):  I’d had a bad run of trying new cocktail bars in Toronto when I visited Montauk so it was nice to finally find one I felt positive about.  This is an industrial but cozy small spot on the east end of the Dundas strip that’s been part of a huge revival in restaurants, bars and boutique coffee shops.  The cocktail I had was balanced and interesting, which is all I really expect.  Bartender was a nice, normal guy.  Cocktail list was decent.  Well worth a visit.

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The Living Room at The Windsor Arms Hotel (Bloor & Yonge): I don’t know why it took me so long to visit this great hotel bar in Toronto. With such a shortage of similar bars in the city, I’m kicking myself for not enjoying this spot earlier. Dress nicely as this is not a spot for cut-offs and tank tops. The staff were very friendly and the saffron-infused French 75 was perfect for the hot weather.  A great place for an after work drink with a friend. Really nice.

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The Roof Bar at The Toronto Park Hyatt (Bloor & Avenue Road):  I’m normally disappointed with the cocktails at this bar, despite great stock and snazzy dressed bartenders.  That said, I go for the ambiance and the summer views of the city.  Toronto has an incredible shortage of good hotel bars so this one makes the list by default.

 

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The Library Bar at The Royal York Hotel (Front & York): I really don’t know why I waited so long to check out this great hotel bar.  In a city so short of them, it was a revelation.  They purport to have the best martini in the city so I was naturally expecting it to be terrible but was truly impressed.  I chose Beefeater 24 from a decent gin list and it arrived perfectly dry and very cold.  Their cocktail list is, sadly, vodka dominated fruity but the room is really beautiful and right off the stunning lobby of the city’s Grande Dame hotel.  My waiter was highly polished and the overall experience was a great one.

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Spirithouse (Richmond & Portland):  I think of this mostly as a teaching and event destination but it is also a great bar and somewhat the epicenter of whatever is going on in the world of cocktails in Toronto.

IMG_8604Bar Raval (College West & Palmerston).  Though it took me several times to get in (and meant me 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.

imageBar Begonia (Dupont & Spadina): I followed Oliver Stern from Toronto Temperance to his new spot across from the Dupont subway stop and am glad I did (he has since departed again to Blue Bloods Steakhouse – see below). Though I’m not much of a patio person, that of Bar Begonia is well worth blowing a summer night on. The cocktails my partner and I enjoyed were among the best I’ve sampled in Toronto in a long time. Original, perfectly balanced, innovative but not experimental for the sake of being so; you won’t go wrong. The highlights were without question Yonge Money and the Salted Pineapple Caipirinha. I don’t normally order vodka-based cocktails but was absolutely floored by the grapefruit, rosemary and violette flavours of Yonge Money.

Also, the tapas on offer are of the high quality you would expect from the Fat Pasha group. Far better than typical cocktail bar fare.  Look for the giant Litebrite happy face along Dupont. It’s pretty hard to miss.

Restaurant Bars

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There was a time in the not-so-distant past that only a collection of restaurants in the city had a cocktail menu.  Presently, however, nearly every new or hip place seems to offer cocktails.  It’s a good thing, generally, but most of the time the cocktails are disappointing.  The restaurants listed here take their cocktails seriously.

The Harbord Room (pictured above) (Harbord & Spadina):  Very, very sadly, The Harbord Room closed in late October, 2016. It meant so much to me, however, that I’ve kept its spot here. Dave Mitton was probably Toronto’s leading bartender, maybe Canada’s, though I’m biased as he introduced me to the world of mixed drinks and has become a cocktail friend.   When I first saw his shelf of infused syrups I was hooked.  His drink list was thoughtful and inspiring.  I can’t say enough about it.

Blue Bloods Steakhouse at Casa Loma: Oliver Stern of TTS and Bar Begonia fame heads up the bar program at this over-the-top steak house in the Casa Loma castle. The bar room is utterly spectacular and sets the tone for the bar program at dining. This is probably not a spot people will regularly frequent but when in the mood for a splurge, you can’t do much better that Blue Bloods for a silky martini before dinner.

Bar Isabel (Dundas West & Shaw):  Michael Webster is the bar manager and co-owner at this fantastic restaurant and bar.  He employs some of the city’s best bar tenders so don’t miss it.

Byblos (King West & Duncan, Entertainment District): I went for the phenomenal Middle Eastern/Persian/Israeli food but was blown away by the great bar and cocktail list.  The place is crazy busy and you will have to wait for your table so why not do it at the upstairs bar!

Barberian’s Steak House (Dundas & Yonge): The small bar at the entrance of this classic steak spot is worth a drink.  The cocktails are nothing special but the authentic kitsch of the place and the good feel makes it worthwhile.  Order something simple like a Manhattan or a Martini.  Also, if you like steaks and glasses of giant reds, you won’t do much better.

Buca (The Four Seasons Hotel, Yorkville) and Bar Buca (Portland & King): As one of the best and busiest restaurants in the city, people mostly go for the outstanding Italian cuisine at any of its three locations. And though Italy is not really known as a cocktail mecca, the bartenders at these two locations do an incredible job at infusing the cocktail menu with Italian ingredients. The result is a cocktail menu that is far superior to most in Toronto. Make sure to try the vegetal Il Gardino

ThoroughbredThoroughbred Food & Drink (Richmond & John): Located right across the street from the Scotiabank movie theatre, I fully expected to see lines of 905ers trying to get into crappy dance clubs. Unbeknownst to me, that scene departed many years ago. Its replacement is a solid attempt at a high rise, somewhat stoic neighbourhood. Thoroughbred Food & Drink, however, is a great addition. It is fully a restaurant first but the bar dominates and if you sit at it, you will quickly forget the tables to either end. Thoroughbred takes both its food and cocktail menu very seriously, as will be explained to you if you ask. With an almost obsessive attention to detail, the end result is among the best in the city. I was very pleasantly surprised and would strongly recommend a visit.

Other

The following are all true bars or restaurant bars that are either established or up and coming.  Either way, I don’t know them well, and may have only been once or not at all (those in bold are bars I’ve been to personally).  I’ll therefore leave it up to you to make up your own mind.

True Bars

  • imageNorthern Belle (Dundas West & Bellwoods) (pictured left): Located in the former Ezra’s Pound coffee shop, Northern Belle has the feel of a true neighbourhood bar. With large glass windows on two sides, a homey feel, friendly staff and a solid cocktail menu, this is the kind of place that is replacing pubs as the neighbourhood watering hole. Order the Arbor Mist if available.
  • Churchill (Dundas West, Little Portugal)
  • Reposado: If you like agave spirits, Reposado on Ossington is the place in Toronto.  
  • Northwood2Northwood (pictured): This is a nice spot on Bloor West near theNorthwood1 west end of Christie Pits.  The drink I had was not cold enough, which is not surprising considering the bartender shook haphazardly with one hand while doing two other things at the same time.  That said, the service was good and the place has a good feel. (Bloor West at Christie Pits)
  • Mulberry Bar. This riff on a Parisian aperitif experience is across the street from its sister bar, Northwood. It’s a cool spot, and a nice entry into the cocktail scene in Toronto. I only went once, and our drinks were ordinary. I’ll have to go back.
  • DEQ Bar at The Ritz Hotel (Entertainment District): As I’ve mentioned many times, there is a serious shortage of quality hotel bars in this city so when The Ritz opened, I was pretty keen to try out what they had to offer. Of the two bars at the hotel, DEQ is the better but, alas, it was a disappointment. The biggest mistake, to begin with, is situating the bar in the middle of the room, more or less on route to everything, meaning the place feels too much like a hallway to somewhere else. The big screen TV at the bar playing sports and the fairly lame cocktail menu didn’t help. I won’t be back.
  • The Drake (Queen West near Dufferin)
  • Sky Yard at The Drake Hotel (Queen West near Dufferin
  • Cold TeaCold Tea (Kensington Market) (pictured right): This bar made me realize there is a fourth class of cocktail bars after hotel bars, restaurant bars and true cocktail bars, called scene bars.  Located in Kensington, it is basically the ultimate hipster bar.  Rough and tumble smashed bathroom fixtures are seemingly intentionally juxtaposed against bright pink walls and bartenders in heavy beards and skin-tight tank tops.  The ‘patio’ is nothing more than a lot of plywood on a lot of concrete.  The drinks are basic, the patrons too young to realize Molson 50 is actually shit and the only reason I’m assuming people come is for the hipster scene…
  • 16021602 Dundas (pictured left) (Dundas West, Little Portugal): Located a few doors down from The Black Dice, Hilary, the bartender the night I went, made the trip worthwhile.  She whipped up her own variation of a Manhattan and despite being made from the standard ingredients, seemed better than any I’d had before.  A sleepy speakeasy place, it’s worth a visit.
  • The Black Dice Cafe (pictured below) (Dundas West, Little Portugal): Okay, this is an odd place. Without question among the worst cocktails I’ve ever experienced at a bar with a cocktail menu and a crabby and standoffish bartender in a completely empty establishment make it hard to understand why by 10 PM it was packed.  That said, it’s a classic neighbourhood joint, and has a goodBlack Dice feel about it.  With a Japanese rockabilly theme, you’re probably better off ordering a Sapporo and forgetting about the cocktails.
  • Hole in The Wall (The Junction, Dundas & Keele)
  • Unlovable (Dufferin & Dundas, Little Portugal)
  • Loveless (Dufferin & Dundas, Little Portugal)
  • The Spoke Club (when Joe is mixing, private club) (Portland & King)
  • The Rooftop Bar at The Thompson Hotel (Bathurst & Front) (good luck getting in unless you’re a Beautiful Person)
  • Boots & Bourbon Saloon (Queen East at Broadview)
  • King EdwardThe Consort Bar at The King Edward Hotel (King East & Victoria): Though the lobby renovation of this venerable hotel was done well, The Consort Bar is left wanting on many levels.  Despite vastly high ceilings and the potential for an amazing hotel bar, it falls totally flat.  From the bartender one-handing a limp shake on my martini to the sparse and odd furniture to the wall of annoying big screen televisions, they really missed the boat.  A total shame, really.  Also, for the love of God, if you’re going to serve martinis in a fancy hotel like the King Edward, spend a few extra bucks and stock some decent martini olives.  The little jarred specimens that came in my drink were depressing.
  • The Calvin BarThe Calvin Bar at The Trump Hotel (Bay & Adelaide) (pictured left):  I normally would dislike a bar like this but Toronto is so short on quality hotel bars, I had to give it extra consideration.  The bartender, Diana, was a young, pretty, twenty-something in a short and tight black dress.  Normally I would be ignored by someone like her but she went out of her way to talk cocktails with me and make me feel very welcome.  She even served me a sampling of the bar’s amazing Briottet cremes brought over from France.  The cocktail list was impressive, surprisingly, and I ordered a light drink probably intended for women but oh well, I wasn’t in the mood to get hammered.  Prosecco with aperol, Briottet’s wild raspberry and Dubonnet.  It was by far the best cocktail of my barhopping evening.  A small and cozy place, the decor is actually quite stunning, despite the neon purple wall behind the bar.  Overall I was impressed and if in the area, will undoubtedly return.  If only they would consider proper hotel bar music rather than thumping hip hop crap.
  • imageBar Nikai at Momofuku (University & Adelaide) (pictured at right): Located above Momofuku, I was really hoping to be blown away by this bar but, alas, I wasn’t.  The cocktail list was somewhat uninspiring and the setting, though sleek and woodsy, wasn’t much better.
  • 2 Cats (Portland & King)
  • imageFurlough (Queen West & Shaw):  Barchef’s second entry in the Toronto cocktail scene is a sweet spot with a much more homey feel than their original.  The cocktail list is extensive and a good mix of classics and Frankie Solarik’s interesting (if not a little too sweet) cocktails.  Well worth a visit.  Great food and great staff as well.
  • The Gaslight (Junction Triangle)
  • DW Alexander (St. Lawrence Market area): This basement cavern-like spot is one of the most beautiful bars I’ve seen in Toronto. I went on a very rainy day just after they opened and had the bartender’s attention. Unfortunately, despite the surroundings the “best cocktail from their menu” was dilute and flavourless. None of the other drinks from the list seemed overly appealing. If I lived in the neighbourhood, I might go back but I won’t be making the trek from the west end again.
  • El Rey (Kensington): Lots of new bars try to create an aged feel about their establishment from the outset. Every bar wants to be that neighbourhood place on the corner that’s been there forever. It’s really hard to pull off, however, and more often than not one can easily sense the attempt at history rather than the history itself. Anyway, Grant Van Gameren (of Bar Raval and Pretty Ugly fame) has lodged a master stroke with his mezcal  bar El Rey in Kensington. The eclectic mix of south-of-the-border trinkets, string lights and modern design somehow make one feel like they’re stumbling into the bar of a long lost great uncle from a small town in Mexico (though that probably never happens). The drinks are obviously agave-focused but there’s something for everyone. I love mezcal’s earthy, smokey influence in a cocktail, but it is an undisputed flavour bully, and rubs more than a few people the wrong way. A Mexican friend introduced me to drinking mezcal with slices of orange and the spicy, worm-based sal de gusano. My favourite drink at El Rey, therefore, was straight mezcal from their impressive list, served with cucumber and mild chilli powder (as pictured here).Go for the agave spirits, the genuine feel of a crotchety old bar and the really good feel of the place. You won’t be disappointed.
  • imageThe Walton (College West & Clinton) (pictured right): If you’ve ever been to Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, you will appreciate the beautiful decor of The Walton. Designed in the style of a French bistro, the fact that its cocktail menu is a bit lightweight is accommodated by the calming surroundings and friendly staff.  Well worth a visit.
  • imageThe Shameful Tiki Room (pictured left) (Queen West & Brock, Parkdale): I’ll admit I’m not a massive fan of Tiki cocktail culture. It stems mostly from not overly enjoying crushed ice drinks, which represent nearly 100% of Tiki cocktails. I find crushed ice drinks dilute much faster, and that almost all Tiki beverages quickly turn to a diluted mess of lime, rum, spice and sugar. That said, I enjoy the idea of a themed bar, and no one does theme better than Tiki. So, on one of the hottest days of the summer, the best of which to enjoy Tiki drinks, I finally made the trip to the Shameful Tiki Room, originally of Vancouver. It’s dark and appropriately anointed with requisite thatch and Polynesian decor. I ordered a Mai-Tai to stay in theme and was generally happy with my drink, until of course it turned into a diluted mess of lime, rum, spice and sugar. Worth a visit, though, just for the fun of it.
  • DaiLo-BestofToronto-2014-005Lopan (above the incredible Dailo, College West & Palmerston): As an Asian-themed coctkail bar and space, safe to say, it stands alone in the Toronto cocktail scene. Turi, our bartender, and Clint our server (and former brand ambassador/fellow cocktail gadabout), made us feel very at home. The cocktail menu, with its five spice infusions and homemade orgeats, was pretty inspiring on an extremely hot July night in the city.  The space, like its sister restuarant Dailo downstairs is contemporary, fun but warm. Well worth a visit. (Photo Credit: bestoftoronto.net)
  • Home of the Brave (Portland & King): Yikes. Apparently this used to be a real cocktail bar but things have changed a lot. I don’t really know what it is but it’s definitely not a place that serves actual cocktails.
  • 416 Snack Bar (Queen & Bathurst): I once walked into this spot and ordered a Martinez. The bartender didn’t miss a beat and served me one of the best versions of the drink I’ve ever had. The bar itself has a great feel but, be warned, the space fills up very quickly.
  • Pretty Ugly (Parkdale): As far as bars in Toronto, the latest Grant Van Gameren addition is about as good as it gets with respect to vibe and feel. Toronto so desperately needs more dark places to get really good drinks. With a focus on Mezcal, the bar program at Pretty Ugly is among the finest in the city, and instantly becomes a favourite. You will not be disappointed.
  • Mahjong Bar (Dundas West): I was pretty surprised by this spot on Dundas. The tiny, plain Bodega storefront gave no hint of what lay beyond. Chinese-themed and quite large for a Toronto cocktail spot, the place was humming and nearly full. That didn’t stop our incredibly sweet server from greeting, seating and serving us immediately. The cocktail I had was impressive (anything with Sichuan pepper is bound to be impressive) and the vibe of the place and seriousness of the drinks means I’ll be back.
  • Pinkerton’s (Gerrard East)
  • Clocktower Bar (Yonge Street)
  • The Cloak Bar (Wellington West)
  • Farside (Gerrard East)
  • Famous Last Words (Junction)
  • Good Fortune (Eglinton & Yonge)
  • Gift Shop (Queen & Ossington)
  • Pray Tell (Little Italy)
  • Swan Dive (Dundas West)
  • Oak Island (Beaconsfield)
  • Mahjong Bar (Dundas West)
  • Poor Romeo (Gerrard East)
  • Goldie (King West)
  • Broadview Hotel Rooftop Bar

Restaurant Bars

  • The County General (Queen & Shaw)
  • Drake 150 (York near Adelaide)
  • The Garbadine (Bay & Richmond)
  • Parts & Labour (pictured) (Queen West, Little Portugal)Parts and Labour
  • Smith (Church & Wellesley): I think this might be as good as you can get in the gay village. That said, it’s not amazing, both from a cocktail and food perspective. The cocktail list was pretty uninspiring, as was the drink, as was the food. Nice spot though.
  • Brassai (King at Spadina)
  • Yours Truly (Ossington Strip)
  • Café Belong at The Brickworks
  • The Miller Tavern (Bay & Lakeshore): The bar program at this steak place is run by Rob Montgomery, a well-known and respected bartender in Toronto.  I ordered a five spice-infused daiquiri and, sadly, wasn’t impressed.  It arrived too warm and the flavours were limp and uninspiring.  The place serves expensive steaks and is filled with macho Bay street guys trying to impress one another.  Not my scene.
  • imageBar Reyna (Yorkville) (pictured left): A recent addition to an otherwise pretty bleak cocktail scene, Bar Reyna is more of a restaurant than bar. That said, their cocktail list is interesting, if a bit on the sweet side. The food is outstanding. Overall, despite the thumping club music, it’s worth a visit if you’re looking for a decent drink in the Yorkville area.
  • Insomnia (Bathurst & Bloor): I started going to this restaurant for its well known burger but I started to notice the Briottets and Cocchis behind the bar and, well, it didn’t really fit with how I perceived the place.  Anyway, on my last visit, Matthew and Richard really impressed and I left knowing I had to add it to this list.
    Salt
  • Blowfish (when Nishan is behind the bar) (King & Bathurst)
  • Campagnolo (Little Italy, Dundas at Euclid)
  • Salt (Ossington Strip) (pictured right)
  • Grey Gardens (Kensington)
  • Pinky’s Ca Phe (Little Italy)

 

New York

With San Francisco and New Orleans, New York represents one third of the original cocktail Holy Triad and the city in which I’ve spent the most time barhopping.

  • 365x270.orig.02WGB-PDT:  My big thrill was this past November when I finally got to enjoy drinks at the venerable PDT.  It was, of course, everything I’d expected.  Getting on the list is tricky and easier of you know someone.  Otherwise you have to call precisely at a certain time the day you plan to go and hope for the best.  I’ve also heard showing up and playing dumb can work as well.
  • 618_348_timothy-speed-levitchs-favorite-quirky-bars-king-cole-barThe King Cole Bar & Salon at the St. Regis Hotel:  It doesn’t get much better for a hotel bar than the St.Regis.  The massive Parrish mural above the bar doesn’t hurt and as the inventor of the Bloody Mary, this bar has established pedigree.
  • 6a00d8345157d269e20105358679e3970b-800wiBemelmans at The Carlisle:  Much less ‘cool’ than The St. Regis, this low ceiling bar is painted totally with a mural by the bar’s namesake artist of Madeline children’s book fame.  Apparently he painted in order to pay off his bar tab.  Great cocktails, ambience and history.
  • IMG_5881Bar Goto (right): Opened recently by a bartender from Pegu Club, Bar Goto (pronounced go-tow) is Japanese-styled.  Darkly lit and tiny, the place evokes warmth and calm, which makes sense given its theme.  My Topaz Glow cocktail was outstanding and one that I will be recreating at home.
  • Death & Company: I finally had the opportunity to have a drink at this well known spot. Though considered by many as one of the world’s most important bars, if you’ve ever leafed through their cocktail book, they seem to heavily believe it themselves.  There is an obvious self-reverence in the pages, which despite being a great book, kind of rubs me the wrong way.  Lines like it always amazes us where in the world D&C cocktails will show up don’t help. Also, I tried about ten of the recipes and actually hated every one of them. Not a good sign. Anyway, my lone cocktail experience ended in the same vein as those with their book recipes: cloying and uninspiring.
  • image_955Little Branch: This basement wedge of a space is surprisingly spacious once you get deep inside.  My wife and I had some great drinks and loved the live piano jazz and crowd.  Well worth it.
  • Randolph at Broome
  • Amor y Amargo: This tiny, tiny, tiny space is full of spunk and awesome drinks.  Well worth the visit and just down the street from Death & Company.  The scene reminded me a bit of the old black and white images of people continuously piling into a VW beetle.  Patrons kept arriving and somehow we all squeezed into the tiny space.  Unlike most bars (especially in NYC), amor-y-amargo-443-e-6th-st-new-york-ny-10009the bartender, despite being crazy busy, took a moment to greet us as we entered and hand us bar menus.  We had our cocktails quickly and were asked twice how we liked them, this with them being totally overwhelmed.  There is no pretension at Amor y Amargo, and the cocktails are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the city.  Do not miss this spot.
  • The Daily
  • Peacock Alley at The Waldorf: Of the three famous hotel bars I’ve visited in New York, this was my least favourite.  That said, the lobby of the hotel is a bustling throwback to yesteryear, and the clock in the centre is worth the visit alone.  The drinks were pretty mediocre, though we were finally happy to be the youngest in a New York bar for once.
  • IMG_5898The Tippler (right): Though they serve cocktails, this isn’t really a cocktail bar. Big, spacious and piping Jon Bon Jovi through big speakers everywhere was not really my idea of a cocktail bar.
  • IMG_5896Bar & Books: The sister bar to one located in Prague, this is actually a very beautiful, small bar in the style that I prefer.  What I didn’t know and don’t prefer, however, is that it is also a cigar bar and they charge $5 if you don’t order a tobacco product from them.  Not surprisingly, the smoke in this place was dense, and I left in a hurry.
  • IMG_5877WGB-Clover Club in Brooklyn (left): One the 2015 World’s Greatest Bars and well worth the trip out to Brooklyn.  The Gin Blossom I had was one of the greatest drinks I’ve ever samples and my wife’s Clover Club was outstanding.  A classic.
  • Mixologist Scott Teague of Pegu Club - New York, NYPegu Club (right): world famous and creator of the Pegu Cocktail.  I expected more of an old world scene at this Asian-influenced spot near SoHo but it was full of twenty-somethings being drunk and noisy and ordering beer and vodka and tonics.  That said, the cocktails were among the best we tried in the city and I left being pretty impressed overall.
  • IMG_5905Booker & Dax (left): We somehow got seated immediately at this busy place near Union Square.  Really beautiful spot.  Neither of our drinks blew us away but the Japanese (I think) 9 to 5 movie poster in the bathroom was a total highlight.
  • IMG_5899WGB-Employees Only (right): Also one the 2015 World’s Greatest Bars, this place filled completely within 5 minutes of opening its doors at 6:00 PM.  Crazy.  My bartender’s girlfriend runs the bar at The Harbord Room in Toronto, my original haunt, and we hit it off right away.  My drink, sadly, was less than inspiring but the ultra Art Deco experience made it worthwhile.
  • IMG_5814WGB-Elephant Bar at The Nomad Hotel (left): The cocktails were out of this world but the eight deep cluster of clientele made it a little hard to enjoy our drinks.  Going there at 8:00 PM before dinner on a Thursday night probably didn’t help but the well-dressed thirty and forty something crowd made us feel at home. I’d love to go back at 5:00 PM.
  • WGB-The NoMad & Library Bars at The Nomad Hotel: While the Elephant Bar at the Nomad was really hard to enjoy due to the sheer numbers when I was there, I arrived at the Nomad bar right as they opened and enjoyed a great drink in a calm environment. The bar supplies the drinks to the beautiful library space next door, which is primarily reserved for hotel guests. All in all, the whole place feels like a library, which is a really great way to enjoy a good drink.
  • IMG_5901Slowly Shirley (right): Skip the happy hour frenzy at the upstairs location and head straight to the basement for this sweet, non-scene bar with outstanding cocktails, awesome staff and beautiful decor.  My Cedrat and Cava aperitif cocktail was among the best I’d sampled in the city and I’m really happy I made the trip.  Well, well worth it.
  • ZZ’s Clam Bar: I’m really not sure how to put into words just how out-of-this-world my experience was at ZZ Clam Bar. I’d long heard it was one of the best and least known in the city but, as a tiny reservations-only spot, I had never been organized enough to make it happen. No bigger than a large closet, the place felt like one of those dark, themed Disney rides where you’re immediately transported into another world. Turn of the last century New Orleans was what I thought of straight away. The dark bistro feel brought out the best in what can only be described as a spectacular cocktail list made by a single bartender at a tiny bar at the end of the room. The food is absolutely over-the-top. Uni toast is going to make me a fan every single time. Bordering on molecular, the drinks are named by their predominant flavour, regardless of whether it is actually in the drink. The Rhubarb cocktail was without question among my greatest. The bartender described it as “pie in a glass”. He was correct, and in a very, very good way.
  • WGB – Mace (East Village): I was fortunate enough to visit Mace on a beautiful, breezy summer day on a quiet long weekend. With only two other patrons, the encroaching willows across the street seemed to be almost oozing their way on the wind into the large open windows at the front of the bar. My bartender (and patron I suspect) spoke with a heavy Parisian accent, and described the spectacular cocktail menu impeccably. Somewhat like ZZ Clam Bar, the drinks at Mace are so named by their predominant flavour. Unlike ZZ Clam Bar, the ingredient takes center stage. The Shiso, Damiana and special of the day, Rose were over-the-top incredible. Much like Bar Termini in London, Mace utilizes the sous-vide method of flavour infusion to spectacular effect. There is a definite reason this place has inched its way onto the WGB list. It instantly became one of my favourite bars of all time.
  • imagePouring Ribbons (pictured left): It seems if you ask a bartender in NYC, they all say this is their favourite bar, which must mean a lot.  The space itself is fairly ordinary but the cocktail menu, entitled, Silk Road, was anything but. Rather than being seasonal, like most cocktail bar menus, Pouring Ribbons presents a changing regional menu. My drink was a tikiesque East Indian concoction that included turmeric and ginger. Really lovely. Another huge bonus of Pouring Ribbons is that it apparently never gets packed, meaning you can show up at a peak time and still get in.

  • IMG_5886IMG_5887WGB-Maison Premiere
    (pictured above and left):  Every once in a while one comes across a life-changing spot, and Maison Premiere was such a place for me.  My wife and I actually went for lunch and I could not have been more floored.  The attention to detail in this place is beyond imaginable.  It was as if we’d been plunked into an ancient cobblestone street in some tiny French town.  The staff and service was exemplary and the bar blew me away.  My cocktail, The American Pharaoh was one of my all-time favourites and made me head straight to Astor Wines to attempt its recreation. This part of Brooklyn, by the way, is stunning.  Whatever you do in NYC, do not miss a trip to Maison Premiere.
  • WGB-Attaboy (in the original Milk & Honey location): I never got to go to Milk & Honey, the bar that started it all, so I felt getting in to Attaboy was of paramount importance.  We were second in line when it opened on a Friday night and got a great seat at the bar.  Our drinks did not disappoint.  Well worth the trip to Soho.
  • WGB – Dante: I’m a tiny bit surprised Dante is on the WGB list. The cocktails and menu were of that calibre but it is really much more of a restaurant than bar. It was one of the last places I visited on my most recent NYC trip so I was maybe a bit cocktailed out but it didn’t blow me away. I probably need to go back.
  • Nitecap: Opened by several cast off bartenders from some of the city’s more well known establishments, Nitecap is a low-ceiling basement spot that has a great feel about it. It felt a bit tikiesque, whether or not that was the intent. My drinks were worth coming back for. 
  • Raines Law Room: This speakeasy located in a basement near 17th and 5th is well worth a visit, especially if you’re staying in the area. The cocktails were exemplary and I found the bartender and staff friendly and inviting.
  • Raines Law Room at The William: Sadly this midtown establishment was closed when I went but the doorman was nice enough to let me have a peek. The two rooms have an old world library feel to them and would undoubtedly be a great spot to enjoy a drink.
  • imageThe Campbell Apartment (pictured right): There are bars that simply can’t be missed based solely on the space. The Campbell Apartment is one of them. An old office located in Grand Central, this is one of the two or three most beautiful bar spots in the world, hand down. The drinks are a bit pricey for NYC and somewhat routine. Go for the space. Stunning.
  • imageDear Irving (pictured left): Part of the Raines Law Room & Bennett group, Dear Irving is a truly great addition to the New York Bar scene. Though the semi-private rooms are here too as in their other bars, the bar itself is a great spot to sit for a drink. The cocktails are inspired and the bar staff friendly and welcoming.
  • imageThe Bar at The Baccarat Hotel (pictured right): I didn’t know when I visited the bar just how special the relatively new Baccarat Hotel is among the great hotels of the world. I happen to sit down to two architects from Chicago who were speechless. The stark street-level lobby with its fireplace and spectacular light show is worth ten minutes on its own. But, The Bar, a throwback to the long bar style of old world New York is hands down one of the most inspiring spaces to drink anywhere. The cocktails are pricey, obviously, but worth the money just to soak the opulence in for a few minutes. So, so incredible. God, I wish they had one in Toronto.
  • imageThe Russian Tea Room (pictured left): There is a bar here, loaded with Russian vodkas, but really it’s all about the space. There probably isn’t a more over-the-top spot in NYC to drink vodka and eat Russian caviar.
  • Rooftop Bar at The Peninsula: Nice views. That’s about it. 

 

 

  • Experimental Cocktail Club
  • ***Angel’s Share
  • ***The Aviary NYC
  • The Lounge at Atera
  • Mother of Pearl (Tiki)
  • Mayahuel
  • Grand Banks (summer only)
  • Madam Geneva
  • Boom Boom Room
  • Lantern’s Keep
  • The Bennett
  • Suffolk Arms
  • ***Long Island Bar, Brooklyn
  • ***Leyenda, Brooklyn
  • The Dutch, Brooklyn
  • Grand Army, Brooklyn
  • *Dutch Kills in Queens
  • **Fort Defiance, Brooklyn
  • Middle Branch

San Francisco

I finally visited San Francisco with bar hopping as a focus. For any of you who haven’t been, I probably don’t need to tell you that the city is among the greatest on the continent. A hive of bars, outstanding cuisine, culture, history and sights; you can’t really go wrong in San Francisco. Napa and Sonoma are only an hour away, great skiing is just west and south takes you into Big Sur, Monterey and some of the greatest scenery on earth. That said, the city is struggling with fairly significant homelessness and poverty. Small tent cities are evident all throughout neighbourhoods such as the Mission and Tenderloin. Apparently the poor from nearby states congregate in Californian cities like San Francisco because of the sizeable monthly stipends offered to the indigent. It makes for a bit of a strange and unsettling experience when nearly every street in these areas is populated with those that call sidewalks and back alleys home. And yet these gatherings have evolved into communities unto themselves, and, according to one of my Uber drivers, take care of themselves in much the same way. 

Also, as an incredible bonus, the city is one of the greatest drinking destinations on earth, and has a serious claim to the birthplace of the cocktail. I packed in a ton of bars, too many, but I panic when I think I might return home and miss out. There are just way, way too many bars in this city. It borders on ridiculous. Toronto, a larger city, has about a tenth of the worthwhile bars of San Francisco. Lastly, don’t get dressed up to go out in San Francisco. This is the northwest, and it seems no one really goes to much trouble when it comes to fashion. Jeans, sweats, sweaters, collared shirts, etc. abound.

All images precede descriptions.

True Bars

   

Bourbon & Branch (above): with PDT in New York, Bourbon & Branch is basically where everything started for me, at least in my fantasies, as up until March, 2018, I’d never actually been. I think the original concept was a true speakeasy but those days have passed and this venerable establishment has evolved into an exclusive, elegant and private bar in which to enjoy a great drink. Reservations are obligatory, and the place is so reserved you might think you’re the only patron. This is not the bar if you’re in need of lively and raucous ambience. Come for a serious drink at one of the bars that can lay claim to being the beginning of it all.

  

WGB-Smuggler’s Cove: this incredibly famous tiki establishment has been around forever. I felt honoured to finally have a fruity, rum-based drink here, even if tiki isn’t my thing. The Polynesian decor and fish pool is worth the visit on its own.

  

WGB-Trick Dog: as currently one of the world’s best bars, the cocktail I had at Trick Dog was among the best of my life. With a travel-themed menu, I ordered the KIX (named after a Japanese airport), which was an utterly magical and alchemical mix of gin, Lillet rose, sake, lychee, seaweed and lime. See above. The bar itself is airy and warm but otherwise not overly remarkable. True Laurel is around the corner and Beretta, Bar Agricole, Wildhawk and Tartine, the greatest bakery on earth, are all nearby. True Laurel, described below, is literally in the same building more or less so definitely do both together as I’m pretty sure we’ll see True Laurel on the WGB list soon enough. Also, Trick Dog is about to open a new bar, Bon Voyage. No doubt it will be as great as the original.

WGB-ABV: another perennial WGB, ABV is part of the San Francisco cocktail establishment with the likes of Trick Dog, Bourbon & Branch, Absinthe, etc. Their thing appears to be agave-based spirits, with Mezcal at the fore. I enjoyed my drink but was not as blown away as I was at other spots in the city. Still worth the visit.

Whitechapel: a new entry to the cocktail scene, all the steam punk interior design is original. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a bar that has spent so much on decor. Not even close. Iron-clad walls, an arched ceiling, subway tile everywhere, one can’t help but feel they’re drinking in an abandoned subway station in Victorian England (if they had subways at that time, maybe they did…). As purveyors of the world’s second largest gin collection, the entire bar wall is dedicated to the spirit, which meant I was totally transfixed as I compared my collection to theirs. I don’t remember the drink I had being anything special but it’s worth a visit for the decor alone.

Clock Bar: this stunning and classic hotel bar is tucked away in the Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square. It wasn’t open when I peeked in but it looks like a beautiful spot in which to have a drink.

Benjamin Cooper: located in the next block from my hotel, this concrete and antique spot seemed like a really beautiful and quaint place to have a cocktail. Alas, I was in a bit of a rush and couldn’t stop. It’s well-respected, however, and I’ll make a point to have a drink the next time I’m in San Francisco.

Devil’s Acre: owned by the Bourbon & Branch group, I stopped by this bar near Chinatown but was a bit put off by the hectic and packed crowd. I have no doubt, however, one could get a nice drink here given the bar’s pedigree.

Novela: this book-themed bar is a beautiful space. That said, I got the feeling it’s more of a scene bar than a serious place to drink. None of the bartenders in the city with whom I spoke had anything to say about it.

Limited Edition: Toronto could really use a bar like Limited Edition. A throwback to the roaring bars of the twenties, patrons are entertained in this large basement space with bandleader-styled live music from the bygone era of the likes of Duke Ellington. Though no one was dancing the night I was there, I have to imagine there must be nights with decked out dancers in fancy era clothing. Loved it!

True Laurel: I have no doubt this progressive craft cocktail bar will soon be found on the WGB list. A new bar, I’m very grateful to all the bartenders who listed it as their current favourite in the city, which of course says so much. True Laurel is up to great things, with detailed and conscientious efforts being made in all aspects of ingredient preparation. House-evaporated distillates and the clarification of juices and infusions makes for rich and ethereal drinks. A quick glance at their cocktail menu (available online) is inspiring to put it mildly. The ‘Shaker Lemon Stirred’ I ordered, founded on Meyer lemon-infused fino sherry, was nothing short of exceptional. If I had time and the liver for it, I’d drink at True Laurel every night.

  

Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH): along with True Laurel, nearly every bartender in the city recommended PCH as one of their favourites. And, just as with True Laurel, I’m fairly certain PCH will end up on the WGB list sooner or later. Their approach subtly and perfectly blends forward-thinking technique with drinks that are simple and approachable. The moment my bartender intentionally over-poured my sake-based Salary Man into the small wooden box that enclosed the glass, I knew the place was up to special things (though my first reaction was to shout “stop!”). PCH is a very special bar, and should be on any serious cocktail gadabout’s city list.

Comstock Saloon: the small bar counter in this beautiful establishment is reminiscent of the same in many of London’s small hotel bars. If I owned a bar I would do it much like Comstock. The room felt like someone’s parlour in the turn of the last century. Oak antiques, vintage wallpaper, high ceilings, period lighting… so beautiful. Too bad it was too busy for me to actually have a drink. I will definitely be back.

Black Cat: the basement at Black Cat is a smaller, more jazz-focused version of Limited Edition. Musicians and bartenders decked out in fedoras and oversized double-breasted suits make the place hum like the speakeasies of prohibition. The good news at Black Cat, however, is that there are booze and great drinks. Get there early enough for a place at the back of the bar and a view of the stage.

Rickhouse: Daniel, our bartender, took a special interest in us on a quiet Monday night and, basically, got us drunk with all kinds of amazing drinks and spirits we didn’t order. I think he got a bit inebriated as well, and we had a great time at the last of our many cocktail experiences in San Francisco. Rickhouse is a serious bar and well worth a visit.

Restaurant Bars

Absinthe Bar & Brasserie: I almost didn’t go to this unbelievable French brasserie. Now that I’ve been, I’m so incredibly glad I made the trip. It’s been around long enough that it’s patina is authentic. One truly feels like you’re in an ancient small town in France. Many of the city’s bartenders cut their chops behind its well known and respected bar. Not to be missed. Incredible food as well.

WGB-Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant: I also almost didn’t make it to Tommy’s. It seems inconceivable now that I’ve been. It’s mostly an unremarkable restaurant I guess but I’d recommend making a quick beeline to the bar at the rear where the business happens. Our bartender, Greedy Balam, is legendary, and the main reason the bar is on the current WGB list. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever when I say Tommy’s is the only WGB that basically serves one cocktail. But, when made with any one of their massive selection of top tequilas and mezcals, the margarita transforms into the best thing you’ve ever tasted. The recipe is unbelievably simple: 2 oz tequila, 1 oz agave syrup (1:1 with water) and 1 oz fresh lime. Greedy, somewhat oddly, mixes in a blender glass, though I never really saw him blend anything. He can hand press what seems like a million limes a minute, and made me feel less of a man for how long it takes me to do the same. Though I probably should have known, Greedy demonstrated to me just how critical the quality of the tequila is in the margarita. The drink will never be the same.

The Alembic: a long entrant on my restaurant bars to visit list in San Francisco, I found this out-of-the-way neighbourhood spot somewhat underwhelming. Packed with locals, the place personifies the hippy feel for which its Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood is known. Low key, a little rough around the edges, the Alembic is probably the spot in the neighbourhood, but maybe not really for outsiders.

NOPA: no one should go to San Francisco and not eat at NOPA. I’m not a foodie but even I know how important it is to cuisine in California. And it did not disappoint. Truly outstanding in every way. Low key in Northern California style, but very serious from both beverage and food perspectives. The cocktails were inspired and the bar stunning. Such a great spot.

Trou Normand: located in a former bank, the twenty foot ceilings make the space seem royal and grand. Though the cocktails were somewhat mediocre, the food from what I would term as an odd menu, was some of the best sampled in the city (and that is saying a lot). The sister restaurant to Bar Agricole, Trou Normand is a great place for dinner but I probably wouldn’t go for the drinks. Try to get one of the plush booths in the front room.

Bar Agricole: this well known modern restaurant in the Mission is home to the pioneering bartending of Thad Vogler. Bar Agricole is known as one of the world’s best restaurant bars and is a dining experience that should not be missed. Make sure to ask for a table in the main room as those at the end of the room are dark and overly quiet. I actually ordered a martini here, as I was dying for one, and now somewhat regret not sampling the cocktail menu. Volger has actually published a book on his global pursuit of the purest and truest spirits on the planet. My kind of guy.

Beretta: also located in the Mission, or nearby, Beretta was a last minute decision after Hard Water disappointed. It was a good decision. Though absolutely packed with crazy locals, the place had an amazing feel and the service, cocktails and family-style Italian cuisine was outstanding. I would definitely go back. It’s also a serious cocktail destination, with many of the best bartenders in the city listing it as a favourite. It also was one of the first bars I had on my San Francisco list going back over a decade. I’m very happy I finally got the chance to go.

Tosca Cafe: Tosca Cafe in some ways reminds me of a New York fancy diner with its long stainless counter and old artwork near the ceiling. Though it’s known for its drinks, my bartender (pictured) had no idea how to make one of the drinks from their own bar menu. Kind of odd.

Hard Water: I was expecting more from this spot but arrived to what seemed like teens and stragglers drinking bottled beer at the bar. Both the cocktail and food menu seemed very inspiring so I bailed to Beretta and am so glad I did.

Still to Visit

  • Heaven’s Dog
  • Bar 355 in Oakland
  • Bottega in Napa
  • Cyrus in Napa
  • Saison
  • Interval at Long Now
  • Maven
  • Top of the Mark
  • Blackbird
  • Hancock Room
  • Prizefighter
  • Dirty Water
  • Alchemist Bar & Lounge
  • Dogpatch Saloon
  • Third Rail
  • Martuni’s
  • Beehive
  • Obispo
  • The Periodic Table
  • The Cognac Room
  • Forgery
  • Mezcalito
  • Coquetta
  • Bear vs Bull
  • Lone Palm
  • Bon Voyage (opening summer 2018)
  • Wildhawk
  • Hideout
  • Treasury
  • Lolo
  • Horsefeathers
  • Pagan Idol

New Orleans

  • Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone (during the day): The main bar is actually built under an old carousel top. This is a nice, old hotel bar that’s well worth the visit.
  • sylvainSylvain (pictured left): Though a restaurant, the place feels more like a bar. This was my third favourite spot in New Orleans and was worth the 15 minute wait on a Thursday night. Really beautiful.
  • Sobou at the W Hotel in the French Quarter: I was at this bar on a busy night when one of the bartenders was missing, meaning ours was totally run off his feet. It was way more casual than what I have seen at other W hotels (Montreal!) which made it more inviting. Anyway, there are much better places to drink in NOLA.
  • IMG_8658Kingfish (pictured right): I had the pleasure of having a pre dinner drink at this true neighbourhood establishment and was mighty impressed. Definitly get a seat at the bar and enjoy yourself. Really great spot with high end drinks. Order the Bramble.
  • Bellocq: I had a peek at this bar when it wasn’t open on my way to Kiefe Liquors. It had a true speakeasy feel and I wished I had been able to go in. Owned by the venerable Cure and Cane & Table group.
  • Cure2WGB-Cure (pictured left): As a cocktail nerd, there’s nothing that gets me more excited than the opportunity to visit one of the bars on the World’s Greatest List. Cure is located just outside downtown New Orleans in an old fire station. The cocktail menu is divided into their own seasonal creations and “cocktails they love”. It’s a beautiful, warm spot with friendly staff. The drinks were largely hugely impressive, as was the food. We were most impressed with a vodka-based (gasp) banana daiquiri-type drink made with their own banana syrup. Overall, it’s not to be missed even though somewhat outside the core area of the city.
  • broussardsBar at Broussard’s (pictured right): Thought fully a well-known restaurant, the cocktail list at this bar was without question the most impressive in the city, and made use of incredibly interesting ingredients. I actually ordered a very simple mix of cognac and the local Peychaud’s. Really, really nice.Ye Olde Absinthe House
  • Hermes at St. Antoine’s: It’s pretty amazing to sit at an old bar, enjoying a drink, and then realize that people did the exact same during the American Civil War. New Orleans is chock full of such places but Hermes bar at St. Antoine’s truly evokes the old world feel. I had a great Champagne Cocktail, New Orleans style, with Peychaud’s instead of Angostura.
  • french75barFrench 75 Bar at Arnaud’s (pictured left): one of the world’s most famous bars. This was a true highlight of my time in NOLA, and was instantly added to my favourite bars of all time. If I was to open a cocktail bar, it would be almost exactly like The French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s. The place perfectly marries formal with warmth, and the decor and white jacket clad bartenders make for a truly memorable experience. On top of all that, the cocktails were superlative.
  • IMG_8664Cane & Table (pictured left): As part of the famous Cure/Bellocq group, I was expecting a lot from Cane & Table and I wasn’t disappointed. Overall, it was my favourite spot in the city, which is saying a lot given the options available. The cocktail menu is one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen, and totally focused on drinks for the heat of this southern city. The Absent Stars and the Boss Colada were two of the best drinks we had while in NOLA. Luckily both are described online in New York publications. Cane & Table is a trendsetting establishment, and if it wasn’t for Cure already being on the World’s Greatest list, it would unquestionably be there. The room reminded me a lot of Maison Premiere in Brooklyn and fit in beautifully with the feel of the French Quarter. Book online ahead of time as this is not a spot to be missed.
  • IMG_8665Tujague’s (pictured right): I stopped in at this venerable and ancient establishment on my way to Cane & Table and was very impressed by its understated beauty. The stacks of plastic cups on the bar, however, through me off a bit. Never a good sign. Maybe one day I’ll go back for a drink.
  • Ye Olde Absinthe House: This is really nothing more than an old dive bar on a crazy busy corner in the French Quarter. That said, any bar with absinthe in its title earns a certain level of respect from me regardless of serving most of its drinks in plastic cups.
  • imageSazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel (pictured left): As one of the world’s truly beautiful hotel bars, you can’t really go wrong. Stunning, Diego Riveresque murals grace its walls, and the art deco feel makes the drinks taste that much better. Well worth a visit.
  • Beachbum Barry’s at Latitude 29: I stopped in briefly at this tiki bar on a hot day but was sadly in a hurry and couldn’t stay for a drink. Though the menu was impressive, the place seemed very new, and therefore lacked the old beach hut feel of most tiki bars. I’d love to go back.
  • IMG_8659Napoleon House (pictured left): I found this ancient spot on my own. The room literally seems 500 years old, and is a stunning place to enjoy a drink. The bar is a formal affair, with the bartender dressed in a red jacket and tie. The cocktails are what you would expect for
  • Erin Rose: Hmm, not quite sure what to make of this place. A total dive bar, to be honest, where drinks are served in plastic cups. Everyone was smashed out of their minds when I stopped in. The place smelled of cheap beer as well, so I kind of left in a hurry.
  • imageCompiere Lapin: I had a nice lunch at this restaurant on a crazy rainy afternoon. The rose-flavoured Pimm’s Cup gave me a subtle inkling of the seriousness of the bar service at this rabbit-themed spot.
  • Everywhen

 

 

 

 

Boston

  • Drink-BostonWGB-Drink (pictured): routinely ranked as one of the world’s best bars and one of the few on this list I’ve been to.  Totally amazing.  Big lines.
  • Eastern Standard:  Awe inspiring stock and length of bar.  Good cocktails. More of a restaurant though, and be forewarned, the bar is full of sports televisions.
  • The Hawthorne at The Commonwealth: It’s not very often I’m unexpectedly blown away by a bar. Though technically a hotel bar, nothing about the subterranean Hawthorne feels that way. The space is welcoming and cozy and yet modern and stylish at the same time. My server, Altamash, came from a food background and yet seemed as knowledgeable with cocktails as anyone. He was also incredibly friendly and happily provided recipes for the drinks. Most importantly, I was introduced to the astonishing Bolivian spirit called singani at The Hawthorne, in the equally astonishing Above The Clouds. The floral notes of this cocktail and spirit rank with the greatest of my imbibing experiences. Creme de Mure, elderflower and Curacao complemented the grape-based singani perfectly. And if that weren’t enough, Altamash finished the night with a freebie taster of something called Spring Fling, which was almost as good as the first.  Do not miss The Hawthorne!
  • Yvonne’s: be sure to try and get a seat at the smaller bar just to the right of the main door. It looks out onto a low-ceiling library and eating area, which is really beautiful. The drinks are decent and the space is worth the visit.
  • jm Curley: this is about as neighbourhood and unsophisticated and yet still a cocktail bar as is possible (sort of). I was there late and the very messy drunken group at the bar were definitely regulars. My drink was not overly amazing, but I’ve included the bar because Boston seems to lack much a good cocktail scene outside of Drink and The Hawthorne.
  • No. 9 Park
  • Oak Long Bar & Kitchen
  • ArtScience Culture Lab & Cafe
  • Loyal Nine (Cambridge)
  • Trina’s Starlite Lounge (Amesbury, north of the city)
  • Check www.cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com at any time for the latest on the Boston bar scene.  The authors regularly discuss the newest and best bars in the city.

Washington DC

  • Off The Record:  An old haunt for reporters in basement of a DC hotel.  Also worth visiting.
  • MG_9851-500x333The Columbia Room (pictured) (within The Passenger, reservations only):  I had a great experience at this tiny bar in a converted closet.  The bartenders pair food with the cocktails and go to great lengths to explain what their doing.  Well worth an advanced reservation and the flat rate.
  • The Tabard Inn Bar: tiny but really great nice.  Historic.
  • Round Robin: A classic DC hotel bar.  Well worth a visit.
  • Mockingbird Hill
  • The Passenger
  • Jack Rose Dining Saloon
  • Againn DC
  • Rockville

Amsterdam

  • HPS3-cropkopieHPS (left):  Jarl de Vries is an incredible bartender and HPS might go down as one of my all-time favourite bars. It was located in a residential neighbourhood, and it almost felt like Jarl was mixing drinks for us in his apartment.
  • door74-amsterdamWGB-Door 74 (right):  This is a bit of a legendary bar right downtown in Amsterdam on a side street.  If you can find the door, it is well worth a visit.  The cocktails and cavernous setting live up to the hype.
  • Vesper:  Considering it’s one of my all-time favourite cocktails, how could I go wrong?  Similar to HPS in that this tiny bar was located in a residential neighbourhood.  We had to wait for a place at the bar but it was totally worth it.
  • WGB-Tales & Spirits
  • Pulitzer
  • Bar 27

Tokyo

Tokyo is one of my favourite cities on earth in which to enjoy cocktails (and pretty much everything else for that matter). The bartenders are, for the most part, entirely formal and take the craft very, very seriously. Many of the bars ooze an authentic Madman feel, and you will not feel out of the place showing up for a drink in a suit and fedora, especially at one of the city’s many fine hotel bars. Prepare to spend a decent buck on drinks in Japan, however, and to pay a cover charge just for the privilege of a seat at the bar. It’s well worth it though, to watch old school bartenders close their eyes and repeat a hard shake the exact way they’ve done it a million times before.

  • shake.480Tender Bar (left image):  There are a million reasons to visit Tokyo but going to have a drink at Kazuo Uyeda’s incredible bar is reason enough.  The old school author of Cocktail Techniques, his bar stock is a bit of a blast from the past, and he still uses ingredients just to add wild colour to a drink, which is not something really happening elsewhere.  All that said, he is an amazing bartender and has created some incredible drinks, including the esteemed Hideriboshi, one of my favourites.  The bar itself is small but incredibly elegant.  Located up in an office building, it is basically exactly what I would want in my own bar.  The service is typically Japanese, highly formal and elegant.  Well, well worth a visit.
  • 10744624906_e76cf67434_zWGB-High Five Bar (right image):  Routinely ranked as one of the world’s best bars, this tiny spot in an another office building is actually remarkably similar to the Tender Bar, even in the its use of the hard shake.  Great drinks and also well worth a visit.
  • The Highlander Bar at The Hotel Okura:  I don’t own a kilt but if I did I’d wear it to this great hotel bar.  Long on whiskey and a bit short on inventive cocktails, this spot is mostly about the amazing ambience in a hotel that oozes 1960’s.  I just heard this icon is scheduled for demolition along with the rest of the incredible hotel.  Really sad.  Go before it disappears (too late… it was torn down)
  • The Imperial Bar at the Imperial Hotel: Though the original Frank Lloyd Wright hotel (which survived the great 1927 earthquake and subsequent fire) is gone, the bar has withstood multiple renovations and evokes a genuine feel of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The back of the bar is oddly sunken, meaning the bartenders operate at face level with clients, which is something I’d not seen before. The drinks are classic and typical of a hotel bar. Don’t miss it.

 

  • The New York Bar at The Park Hyatt: this is a stylish bar with astonishing views of Tokyo. It’s a place to be seen and to be seen. The cocktails are good though, and the place is worth the view alone.

 

 

  • Bar Gen Yamamoto: There aren’t really words for the Gen Yamamoto experience. When I asked Gen for other bar recommendations in Tokyo he replied in spotty but confident English that he prefers juice over alcohol. Little did I know at the time how prescient his words would turn out to be as he served the first of our six course “Japanese-sized” cocktails. The room is no bigger than a small bedroom and sparsely adorned in the style of a traditional Japanese tea house. The bar itself is made of a giant slab of cypress and imbues the space with a sweet, coniferous essence. There are ten seats, and only about the same number of bottles behind the bar on a small shelf. Gen mixes seasonally or kaiseki style, and in the summer our cocktails were made from fruits like tomatoes, grapes, white corn and the Japanese yuzu. Most importantly, and oddly, he uses chilled spirits rather than ice, meaning the cocktails end up cool but not cold. It somehow works beautifully, however, and the stunning glassware only amplifies the experience. This is not a bar anyone should skip in Tokyo, or anywhere in the world for that matter. It’s that special.
  • Radio Bar: I’m not sure I can remember a bar that more resembles that which I would open myself that Radio Bar. It is a classic, traditional spot, dimly lit, classy and decorated in rich woods and dark greens. The bartenders are typical for formal Japan: white server jackets and ties. It’s as if the bartending scene in Japan is stuck in the 1950’s, and yet we’re all so much better off for it. Radio Bar is the way bars should be. Enough said.
  • WGB-Star Bar: As the only current Japanese entry on the WGB, Star Bar must obviously be on everyone’s Tokyo bar list. The martini I ordered was the best of my life, which is saying so much as I’ve literally ordered thousands of them across the globe. As my first cocktail, a seasonal yuzu sour, was nothing more than adequate, I quickly came to understand the WGB ranking when the martini arrived. The head bartender apparently used nothing more than standard Beefeater gin with a house mix of dry vermouth. The single olive garnished the glass skewered straight on by a long toothpick. Anyway, somehow, it all added up to a martini masterpiece, and I’m crushed I ran out of time to go back for another.  The bar is in the basement of a small office building and seats no more than fifteen people. It also allows smoking, which was a bit of a shock to my system, but the martini of the Gods made up for everything. Please go and please order the same. It will change your life.
  • Bar Orchard: I wasn’t sure what to make of this postage stamp-sized spot on the sixth floor of an office building (as is so common with Tokyo bars). Unlike every other bar in the city I’d seen, Bar Orchard was littered with an eclectic mix of just about anything they could use to beat the stuffiness out of the typical Japanese drinking establishment. The cocktails were wild and ridiculous. The place reminded me a lot of famous Nottingham Forest in Milan or The Artesian in London, which I’m not sure is a good thing. The drinks are somewhat conceptual rather than drinkable. My mezcal drink arrived in a box with day of the dead Mexican amulets and a small fire inside. It was pretty funny, and the bartender laughed in a way the Japanese normally don’t. Worth a visit but, ultimately, not my thing.
  • *Bar Mimi
  • EST
  • Caesarion
  • Mori Bar
  • *Ben Fiddich

Seattle

Photo by Ulterior Epicure

Photo by Ulterior Epicure

 

IMG_6491WGB-Canon (pictured above): Jamie Boudreau’s venerable establishment is worth the trip to Seattle alone.  I made a reservation at 11 PM enabling me easy entry.  A very special experience.

IMG_6536Rob Roy: (pictured above) Overall, this might have been my favourite bar in Seattle, which is saying a lot.  I loved the place, not too pretentious, quiet and a total dedication to great drinks.  Really great spot!

zig zagzig zag 2Zig Zag: (pictured above) Basically what started it all.  The west coast equivalent to Milk & Honey.  I had to wait to get in and it the place was bananas.  I loved the vibe right at the bar and my bartender was busy but friendly.  Great drinks.

Von Trapp’s

Rumba

Barrio

L’Oursin (restaurant bar)

*Liberty Bar

IMG_6483Tavern Law: (pictured above) This is a hip and busy place around the corner from Canon.  Worth a quick visit.  Needle & Thread is the private speakeasy type place upstairs.

Needle & Thread

IMG_6482Good Bar: (pictured above) I was lucky enough to be served by Niyah Bystrom at this beautiful restaurant bar in south Seattle.  He whipped up a low octane Peychaud’s, Falernum, Rooibos-infused Dolin Blanc and Crema di Limone cocktail that was one of the best I had in the northwest.  Well worth it.

IMG_6478Bar Sajor: (pictured above) I stopped here and spoke to the bartender for a bit but did not have a drink.  It’s much more a restaurant and what an incredibly beautiful place.  The food, I hear, is equally impressive.

IMG_6476E. Smith Mercantile: (pictured above) This was right up there as one of my absolute favourite places in Seattle.  At first I thought it was a gift shop.  The tiny bar is in the rear of the space and it’s absolutely crucial you stop in for a drink when in Seattle.

Damn The Weather: To be honest, I wasn’t floored by this spot, despite it coming highly recommended.  The bartender was friendly enough, but there wasn’t anything to really set it apart.

Artusi

Suzi Pratt

Suzi Pratt

Barnacle: (pictured above) This vermouth/amaro bar in the Ballard area north of downtown is truly one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever frequented.  Light and airy, I loved my drinks here and the conversation with the head bartender and owner.


FullSizeRender (2)Essex
: (pictured above) Also in Ballard, this is really relaxed spot next to one of the better restaurants in the area.  Great cocktails.

IMG_6534Bathtub Gin & Co.: (pictured above) A true speakeasy accessed off a laneway, this is a beautiful spot with amazing drinks.  Go early as it’s tiny and sitting at the bar is the place to be.

IMG_6500 (1)White Horse Trading Company: (pictured above) Though it doesn’t serve spirits, the head bartender at Zig Zag said it was his favourite spot in all of Seattle.  The old guy behind the bar informed me right off the start that they don’t have food but that he would “order me a pizza” if I wanted to eat. Awesome.  Lots of beer, wine and port.

 

Taste Cafe at the art museum

Vito’s

The Hideout (for a date)

*Knee High Stocking Company

Stoneburner

Percy’s & Co.

Diller Lounge

Herb & Bitter Public House

Poppy

Lionhead

*Sun Liquor

Single Shot

Suite 410

 

Portland

IMG_6425Teardrop Lounge: (pictured above) nice spot in downtown Portland.  Friendly bartenders, awesome circular bar.

FullSizeRender (1)Kask: (pictured above) tiny cosy spot downtown that serves great drinks.

FullSizeRender (4)Imperial: (pictured above) more of a restaurant and a great spot for brunch.

Clyde Common: legendary Jeffrey Morgenthaler restaurant in the Ace Hotel. I wasn’t blown away, to be honest.  The bartenders weren’t overly friendly.  Maybe it’s better for dinner.

FullSizeRenderOven and Shaker: (pictured above) though it’s essentially a pizza restaurant (with some of the best pizza I’ve ever sampled!), the Snickering Chipmunk cocktail I had here at lunch was the best of my entire trip to the Pacific Northwest!  Totally incredible cocktail menu.  Do not miss this place.

IMG_6417Multnomah Whiskey Library: (pictured above) it’s a bit hard to understand why this bar is not on the world’s best list.  It truly is an experience, if not just for the room, which is without question the most beautiful bar in the world with the largest collection of spirits on earth.  Go right when it opens or you won’t get in.  DO NOT MISS this bar in Portland.

Secret Society

Raven and Rose

Mint

Americano

Ava Gene’s

IMG_6439 IMG_6436Bit House Tavern: (pictured above) this is a pretty huge bar and I had a decent drink but wouldn’t go back.

FullSizeRender (3)Rum Club: (pictured above) the vibe at this small neighbourhood spot is out of this world.  I had a good drink and loved that everyone seemed to know everyone else.

*Hale Pele: I’m sorry I’m missed this famous tiki bar but it’s a bit out of the downtown core.  Next time!

St. Jack’s

Pope Bourbon House

Interurban

IMG_6426 IMG_6429The Driftwood Room at Hotel DeLuxe: (pictured above) this was one of the most quaint and cosy hotel bars I’ve ever frequented.  I managed to squeeze myself into the bar and had a great drink.  Worth the walk to the edge of the downtown core.

Departure at The Nines

Expatriate

Circa 33

Tasty on Elder: I ate dinner at the bar at this incredibly and wildly popular restaurant downtown.  Well worth it for the food more than anything.

TMimages PDX

TMimages PDX

Pepe le Moko: (pictured above) I went to this bomb shelter type bar on Thanksgiving night and it was dead, meaning I got a seat at the bar and the full attention of the friendly bartenders.  The drinks they whipped up were incredible.  Really great spot.

Vancouver

  • The Clough Club: not really my cup of tea.
  • L’Abbatoir: a good but cramped restaurant bar with a huge reputation.  I wasn’t blow away, to be honest.
  • chambarbarthChambar (pictured): This is an amazing place for dinner and great drinks.  One of my favourite cocktails, The Blue Fig, was introduced to me at Chambar.  A recent renovation has made what was already a great place even better. Probably the best restaurant bar I’ve ever been to.
  • The Union
  • Shameful Tiki Room
  • The Cascade Room
  • 2013_photo_9The Keefer Bar: among the top five bars I’ve ever visited.  This is the bar in Vancouver for great drinks (with Hawksworth second).  DO NOT miss a trip to this tiny galley kitchen type spot.  Both cocktails I tried were among the best I’ve had (The Paomo Cola was revelational). The Keefer Bar is the best cocktail bar in Canada, and one of the best in the world. It’s about time everyone realized it. If Australia has six or seven on the world’s best list, we deserve at least one, and there’s no doubt it should be Keefer, and I’m from Toronto. I’ve been twice, most recently in late August, 2016, and though the space and staff are warm and welcoming, the cocktails and the innovative quality of the ingredients are the reason to go. There are lots of creative and skilled bartenders in bars all over, but those at The Keefer Bar are among the best. The drinks are true masterpieces, each and every one. The place is very special. Please make a point of going if you’re anywhere near Vancouver, and here’s hoping the World’s Greatest Bar list finally includes Keefer as it’s first Canadian entry.
  • hawksworth_barHawksworth: I was lucky enough to visit this Georgia Hotel restaurant and bar on a night Craig Robertson was behind the bar.  Great guy, great bartender, great drinks, great spot.  A little on the formal side so dress up a bit.  Most American whiskeys I’ve ever seen in one place.  Extensive classic cocktail list with some real surprises. Don’t miss this spot.  I imagine dinner is great as well.
  • Prohibition: is located in the basement of the same Georgia Hotel and is a really beautiful spot, though there is the inkling of a vodka and soda scene and the bartenders were way too busy to pay much attention to me. If I were you, I’d grab a good drink upstairs at Hawksworth.
  • The Diamond: Located in the thick of things n Gastown, this upstairs spot has a great feel and is a truly beautiful space. I’ve only been once, and the cocktails, unfortunately, did not blow me away. It’s definitely worth another try.
  • Guilt & Co.: Across the street from Diamond and L’Abbatoir in Gastown, this jazzy music scene spot apparently has a fairly established cocktail scene.
  • imageBrix & Mortar: Located within the hustle and bustle of beautiful Yaletown, Brix & Mortar is a serious spot for good cocktails. The bartenders and the cocktail list are of the highest quality. Really worth a visit.
  • Sylvia’s Bar at The Sylvia Hotel
  • Gerard Lounge at The Sutton Place Hotel: I’d heard so much about this place as being legendary in the Vancouver drinking scene. Maybe my expectations were a bit high as it was bit of a dated forest green and brass room with an average bar. That said, we’re so short on decent hotel bars in this country, it makes this list by default.
  • Mamie Taylor’s: I had a very mediocre drink at this restaurant. Seemed pretty ordinary despite the hype.
  • Uva Bar: I’ll admit that I more or less just stuck my head in at this hotel bar. Seemed like a decent, if not spectacular place.
  • The Lobby Lounge at The Fairmont Vancouver Waterfront: As I’ve mentioned many times before, Canadian cities lack even decent hotel bars. Hotels inevitably completely miss the mark when adding or renovating a lobby bar causing me great sadness in the process. Most of these bars are either overly modern, sterile, full of television screens, poorly decorated or simply make no effort to make a decent drink. My expectations are so low that even the faintest glimmer of success makes me take notice. In reality only London and New York (though to a much lesser extent) offer great hotel bars. Though the drinks are double the price of a normal cocktail bar, there is nothing that beats being served an incredible martini by a uniformed waiter at The Savoy. Nothing. During a recent trip to Vancouver with my son, I was somewhat blown away with the Lobby Lounge at The Fairmont Waterfront. Bars at Fairmont hotels are normally abysmal so it was a total shock when we stepped into the Lobby Lounge. Though modern and hip, the approach is welcoming, and the drinks excellent. A large, white grand piano makes me think lounge music would at some point accompany the cocktails, which would be a huge improvement over the Joan Baezish folk guitarist they had when we were there. An open wall to a tree-lined Vancouver street and views of snow-capped mountains across the bay is pretty hard to beat. Well worth a visit.

Victoria, BC

  • imageLittle Jumbo: I don’t get the feeling there are that many high-end and current restaurants in Victoria as most of the downtown core seems dominated by tourists (of which I was one) and cruise shippers. Any way, Little Jumbo is the exception. Not only is the food great, the place is beautiful and the cocktails as good at any restaurant bar to which I’ve been. Really and truly worth visiting. Book ahead.
  • imageClive’s Classic Lounge at Chateau Victoria: Clive’s Classic Lounge represents one of the best hotel bars in Canada. West Bourget, my bartender both nights I was there, is a great guy, amazing drink master and creator of one of the best Baska Snaps cocktails in history. I’d recommend sitting right at the bar. The cocktail list is impressive and the place has an authentic feel of yesteryear. Maybe it’s the low ceilings and rich furnishings, I don’t really know for sure, but you feel welcome and slightly but pleasantly inebriated the moment you walk in.
  • imageVeneto at The Rialto (pictured right): Though technically a hotel bar or even a restaurant bar, Veneto feels more like a true bar. Don’t even think of sitting anywhere but right at the bar and try to go on a night Brian is serving. The cocktails, ingredients and spirit collection is of the highest quality. Truly a beautiful place. Don’t forget to check out the Rialto liquor store next door.
  • Q Bar at The Fairmont Empress: Apparently the recently closed Bengal Bar was old school spectacular. I was crushed to have missed seeing it by only a few months. I figured it would have been replaced by modern ugliness but was really pleasantly surprised by the Q Bar. The room, stunning ceilings, bar, lighting and artwork is nothing short of spectacular. The cocktails are pretty ordinary but you could do much worse for a hotel bar in Canada.
  • imageClark & Co.: The head bartender at Clark & Co. is well respected in Victoria and the sorrel-infused Vesperish drink I had reflected that well. The sports TV above the bar was a bit of a disappointment but otherwise it seemed a decent place to grab a nice drink.

 

 

Chicago

Chicago, being a bit smaller than Toronto, is only better in which to drink because of The Aviary, a world class experimental bar on the 50 Best Bars list year after year. We don’t have anything like it in our city. Otherwise, however, Toronto is just as good a place for cocktail bars as Chicago. Both are devoid of truly classic hotel bars, and both have decent tiki options, creative hipster spots as well as speakeasies and restaurant bars.

  • original_barThe Violet Hour: I had one drink at this beautiful bar just west of downtown and found the staff and bartenders unusually friendly.  The cocktail itself was somewhat just okay but by the time I left at 6:30 PM, there were thirty people in line, which likely says a lot.
  • The Sportsman’s Club
  • Barrelhouse Flat
  • Analogue
  • Bernard’s Bar at The Waldorf-Astoria: a rather atypical hotel bar at the stunning and modern Waldorf-Astoria.  A small and cozy, leather-clad room on the second floor is very intimate and full of well-heeled thirty-somethings.  The cocktail list is brief and classics driven but my Vesper was ordinary, unfortunately.
  • aviary-interior_11WGB-The Aviary: It takes a lot to impress me at a cocktail bar, and I have to admit I was totally blown away by The Aviary.  Though ultra swanky, I was made to feel incredibly welcome.  I found the hostess, waitstaff and manager exceptionally warm, knowledgeable and professional.  The decor is essentially the opposite of so many of the speakeasies opening everywhere (though The Office downstairs is their take on that theme): elegant, bright, comfortable and airy.  It wasn’t really my scene but I totally appreciate what they are trying to do and how much effort they have put into every detail.  I even noticed the support staff all poured water the exact same way.  Some may find this over-the-top but I feel it is a reflection of the attention to detail that no doubt imbues the bar from top to bottom.  I ordered a Joseph’s Cane and was introduced to guignolet, a totally new spirit for me to investigate (which almost never happens anymore).  Anyway, the cocktail was, quite simply, one of the best of my life.  What I didn’t know was that The Aviary is more or less a molecular bar, much in the same vein as Barchef in Toronto, Nottingham Forest in Milan and Hyde & Seek in Bangkok.  Presented in a highball, the glass was filled with softish mini spheres of frozen guignolet (a cherry/wine liqueur from France) and garnished with a thin brick of cachaca-soaked peeled sugar cane topped with a cilantro leaf holding a Horton Hears a Who arrangement of toasted coconut, finger lime cells and a caperberry. The drink itself was cachaca, champagne and finger lime-infused coconut rum.  I ate every single guignolet sphere.
  • WGB-Three Dots and a Dash: Very recently this tiki bar was listed on the 50 Best Bars list but I think its own popularity has been its downfall. I was there on a late Friday night, however, when most bars are a bit nutty. Anyway, I had to wait in line to get in, which I was okay with as it moved quickly but, once inside, I was stunned with the packed and frantic nature of the place. It reminded me of a shitty dance club rather than one of the best bars in the world. When I did finally get close to the bar, the bartender was pretty frazzled, and poured premixed tiki classics from taps on the bars, stuffed the tiki vessels with a variety of garnishes and hurried them off to servers. I ordered a Daiquiri and what arrived was of the slushee variety. A severe ice cream headache quickly followed. Anyway, everyone around me was barely twenty-two and all were blitzed out of their mind. As a basement spot, I think it might give off a good vibe if the crowd was different. Much, much different. It was recently delisted from the 50 Best Bars list. I’m pretty sure I know why.
  • The Drifter: A high-ceiling basement spot located beneath the Green Room pub, The Drifter is a speakeasy with a neighbourhood feel. Live shows on a small stage at the end of the room make this place stand out among the rest. My celery-based drink was very good, and I would happily return if I lived in the area. Well worth a visit.
  • The Berkshire Room at The Ace Hotel: I only just ran in and out of this hotel bar so I can’t say much. The space is actually very beautiful and inspiring within which to imbibe. That said, I peaked at the cocktail list and it seemed a little flat and dated. One day maybe I’ll go back.
  • The Broken Shaker Chicago: I had just visited the original in Miami was somewhat surprised to learn they had just opened a Chicago location in the vicinity of my hotel. Though not quite up to the standards of the venerable Miami spot, is the nonetheless one of the best places in the city to get a good drink. My cocktail came with a lobster butter wash, which I thought was pretty neat until it arrived warm and somewhat undrinkable. I’d still go back.
  • The Milk Bar at The Chicago Athletic Association: I’ve been to a lot of bars, but nothing really like The Milk Room. Their angle, which I didn’t know ahead of time, is vintage spirits. As a result, their cocktail list starts at about $40 and goes to $200. I heard another patron ask out loud what I myself was too afraid to do, “is this the only cocktail list [gulp]”. But, they’ll make pretty much anything, and will incorporate a vintage spirit into the drink for something different. I had an A La Louisianne with vintage Benectidine. The space is one of my all-time favourites, dark, closet-like, extremely dimly lit and cavernous. The Milk Room is not to be missed.
  • The Green Bar at Duck Duck Goat: I have no idea if they even serve cocktails but this tiny, emerald room at the front of this incredible Chinese restaurant is without question one of the most stunning places on the planet in which to consume a drink. I was blown away.
  • Billy Sunday
  • Celeste
  • The Dawson
  • *Lost Lake
  • Punch House
  • Scofflaw
  • Slippery Slope
  • The Whistler
  • Artemesia
  • Best Intentions
  • *Kumiko

Nashville

  • Rolf & Daughters
  • Husk
  • Corsair
  • Holland House
  • City House
  • The Tippler
  • No. 308
  • The Patterson House

London

After visiting London once again in April of 2017, I realized I’m more of a hotel bar person that true cocktail bar fan.  There is no question that London is the hotel bar city of the world, and probably the best cocktail city in the world overall.  I barely scratched the surface but was utterly blown away by the vast selection of truly exceptional hotels bars.  In the end, my favourites include the venerable The American Bar at The Savoy, the unbelievable neighbourhood bar called The Gibson, Bar Termini in Soho, the cosy hotel bar at Dukes, where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond series.  The Seymour Bar at Zetter Townhouse Marylebone, and The Bassoon Bar at The Corinthia were also very impressive.

  • imageWGB-Connaught Bar at The Connaught Hotel (pictured left):  I was initially very impressed with this bar but after visiting others, realize it wasn’t one of my favourites.  That said, it would instantly become the best hotel bar in Toronto if relocated.
  • Seymour’s at Zetter Townhouse Marylebone (pictured below): The sister to the more established Zetter property at Clerkenwell had only been open one week when my family and I had a late afternoon drink at this stunning and warm establishment.  The Madeira Sour was nothing short of revelational, and this small, outrageously cozy hotel bar instantly became one of my all-time favourites.

                             image image image

  • Dukes at The Dukes Hotel (pictured below): I had a feeling I would love this place from the images online and the stories of Ian Fleming creating James Bond and his Vesper at this tiny but venerable establishment.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet street, I found my way to a crowded, lively and thriving establishment seemingly teeming with locals, though as a hotel bar, it’s not likely.  Anyway, I fell in love.  It might actually be the greatest bar ever for me.  The bartender wheeled a trolley to my table and made the best damn Vesper on earth table-side as she meticulously explained the reasoning behind each ingredient (without being asked).  Their Vesper is entirely different than mine and everyone else’s… No.3 gin (made around the corner) to Polish vodka at 2:1, Sacred vermouth and angostura bitters instead of the unavailable Kina Lillet, orange instead of lemon.  Anyway, it was staggeringly good, regardless of being nothing like the one I have made hundreds of times.  What an experience.

image  image  image

  • WGB-The American Bar at The Savoy (pictured below):  Where so much of the current cocktail world started.  I was like a child in Willy Wonka’s factory at The American Bar.  The bar area was breathtaking and the cocktail list I would say, overall, was the greatest I have ever seen.  My Aviation-inspired Wingspan was beautiful and it was pure joy to sit facing the bar and take it all in.  And being able to pay $10,000 for a Sazerac made from ingredients of its 1850’s date of creation was mind-boggling.  Of course I didn’t do it, but just being at a bar where it would have been possible was as close to finding God as I’m ever going to get.

image  image

  • imageWGB-Claridge’s Bar at Claridge’s (pictured right): Though not one of my favourite hotel bars in London, Claridge’s is nonetheless worth a visit and would stand out in most other cities as an exceptional hotel bar. The service is formal and exemplary. With a menu based in the classics, you can’t go wrong here.
  • imageBassoon Bar at Corinthia Hotel (pictured left):  The Bassoon Bar had not yet opened for the day when I stuck my head in.  The bartender, however, permitted me to look around and I was totally impressed with the look and feel of this venerable establishment.  Though the cocktail list is now on tablets, which I found a bit cheesy, the list was very impressive.  I will be back.
  • imageDorchester Hotel Bar (pictured left):  To be honest, I was disappointed with the feel and look of this bar despite being at one of London’s finest hotels.  In total contrast to the opulent beauty of the rest of the hotel, the bar looked like it had been redecorated a la 1996 with jagged red glass and silly broadloom.  Not a good feel at all.  The cocktail list, however, was impressive.
  • The Hide Bar
  • The Rivoli at The Ritz:  In keeping with many of the hotel bars in London, the actual bar at The Rivoli is very small and the seating area very tight and cozy.  It all adds up to a fine bar and well worth a visit.  The hotel itself, not surprisingly, is stunning.
  • imageHawksmoor Air Street (pictured left):  The bar is actually not much more than an enlarged hallway on one’s way into the restaurant.  Though somewhat uninspiring, it is more than made up for by what happens behind the bar.  The cocktail list is phenomenal and immediately establishes the bartending staff as extremely progressive and experimental.  The cocktail I chose was made with Dolin’s Chamberyzette, a wild strawberry-infused vermouth aperitif.  It was my first time for the product and it made for a beautiful and light afternoon cocktail.
  • Playboy Club (when Davide is behind the bar)
  • NOLA
  • imageQuo Vadis (pictured right): This bar sits at the base of a hotel and restaurant complex in Soho.  I had an incredible cocktail and was very impressed by the cocktail menu.  Very small but really worth a visit.
  • *WGB-White Lyan
  • Satan’s Whiskers
  • Milk & Honey London
  • The Library Bar at The Lanesborough Hotel
  • The Green Bar at Hotel Cafe Royal
  • Lounge Bohemia
  • WGB-69 Colebrooke Row: As the sister bar to one of my all-time favourites, Bar Termini, 69 Colebrooke Row’s maintains the same simple, sous-vide approach to drink making. The theme here is film noire and as tiny and formal as Termini, this bar oozes sophistication. My floralish sparkling wine cocktail was amazing. This is a special place, well deserving of its spot on the WGB list.
  • WGB-Callooh Callay: With three separate bar areas, all very different, Callooh Callay is somewhat vast when compared to the other bars nearby. I tried both the main bar and the one upstairs, whose menu is based on emotions. The drinks I had at both were some of the best in Londond. My bartender, from my neighbourhood in Toronto, was friendly and very good at what he does. Overall, I think this is one of the best bars in London, with a great feel and outstanding drinks.
  • *The Cocktail Lounge at Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell
  • The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel: I kind of stumbled upon this place while we waited to be seated for afternoon tea at the famous spot and was really impressed by the bar and cocktail menu.
  • WGB-Nightjar: (pictured left) Normally molecular bars are located in swanky, modern spaces so I was surprised to learn that Nightjar’s speakeasy surroundings housed a concept bar serving cocktails out of goose eggs and conch shells. I truly appreciate the effort that went into the drinks but, alas, I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to drinking, and some of the frilly swagger of these types of institutions is lost on me.
  • WGB-Happiness Forgets: Though a really great cocktail bar, I’m still not entirely sure how it makes the WGB list. The place is located in the basement, and has that French wine cellar feel. The bar staff and servers are very welcoming and the drinks were really good but nothing out of this world. I’d go back, though, as it’s a nice spot.
  • WGB-Dandelyan: I’m not sure what to say about this sprawling, ultra-chic spot in the lobby of the equally ultra-chic Mondrian Hotel. Located on the Thames, the place was packed with the stylish after work crowd.  The bar menu was exceptional and diverse, almost too diverse. I think it took me half an hour to decide on a drink. Well worth a visit though.
  • Swift: This bar was recommended to me by the guys at Callooh Callay and it seemed more of a restaurant than a bar. Thirties-themed, the small cocktail menu is classics based.
  • WGB-Artesian Bar at The Langham (previously rated #1 bar in the world). (pictured below) I waited many years to visit the Artesian. But, sadly, it’s really not my kind of place. That said, I give them full marks for the stunning decor, and their over-the-top approach to drinks in a classic London hotel, and I have no idea how the bar manager ever convinced the management to let him/her introduce such a wild menu. But, drinks served in rolling glasses, clouds (with lightening no less) and hollowed out seed pods, are not really my thing. In fact, I didn’t really find them overly drinkable. Oh well, to each his own.
  • WGB-The Gibson: (pictured below) I think, overall, this is my favourite bar in London, which is saying so much. I know that because I realized it is precisely what I would open if I could. A true neighbourhood bar in every way, except that the cocktails are of the highest standard. The place oozes a welcoming, eclectic vibe, that makes you want to stay forever. The night I was there, a fifties-styled gentleman in a fedora played singalong hits on the piano in the corner. My Gibson martini (could I have ordered anything else?) arrived in a brass martini glass with house-pickled onions, and locals, drunk I imagine, danced in the aisles. Truly one of the greatest bars on earth.
  • WGB-Bar Termini: (pictured below) A tiny spot meant to emulate a lunch counter at an Italian train station, Bar Termini was a revelation. The servers, dressed in formal white and with thick Italian accents were wildly friendly and playful. The cocktail list, though limited, was spectacular. Their sous-vide approach to drink preparation led to one of the most interesting cockails I’ve ever experienced: Terroir. They literally attempted to recreate the effect of soil and microclimate on taste in a glass. Vodka is infused with extracts of lichen, flint and clay, resulting in a cocktail that literally tastes like the earth, but drinkable. The place was packed and lively and I sat at the bar discussing cocktails with the amazing bartenders. Such an incredible spot and so deserving of a WGB designation.
  • WGB-Oriole: The new and exciting sister bar to Nightjar, Oriole is located in a basement in an industrial area outside of the downtown core. I was there on a Sunday, meaning it was quite quiet, which I didn’t mind. As per expectations, the cocktails were spectacular, if a little overthought. The bar is backed by about a million labeled containers of ingredients. It’s hard to believe they could go through all of it in time. Live hillbilly music rounds out the tropical theme. Well worth a visit.

Miami

  • *WGB-The Broken Shaker: I’ve been fortunate in my life to have traveled a fair amount and while abroad, I’ve also been lucky to have visited some of the world’s best cocktail bars. I visit my parents in Naples, FL every winter as well, but rarely make the two hour drive across Alligator Alley to the Atlantic Coast. This March, however, was an exception. Any given year’s best bars globally are nominated and awarded every summer at the venerable Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans. Though the list changes annually, some bars make the grade year after year. The Broken Shaker in Miami is one of those bars. A closet-sized establishment just off the patio of the Freehand Hostel, the scene is so ultra hipster, I felt out of place not sporting a Mennonite-sized beard or not having the top button of my shirt done up (I just couldn’t bring myself to do it). Anyway, though not overly hip, I know a few things about a good drink, and the Broken Shaker provided me an “aha” moment after the first sip. The Gorilla Monsoon was a gin-based long cocktail served over crushed ice that dripped East India. Garam masala, Cardamero, lime zest, chutney, tiki bitters and candied mango added up to that moment when you realize 99.9% of everything else you drink is ordinary. The bartender was extremely friendly even when crazy busy, and the bar counter warmly overflowed with jars of edible flowers, herbs. candied everything, pink peppercorns, dried Persian black limes and alka-seltzer tablets; the place a chaotic but homey tribute to the cocktail eclectic. In the end it reminded me of one of those old trinket shops of thirty years past. But instead of a metal spring or an old radio battery, you’re served up one of the best goddamn beverages you’ve ever had anywhere near your mouth.
  • The Regent Cocktail Club at The Gale Hotel: Focused on the classics, this classy bar in a classy art deco hotel on the classy strip is worth a visit for a good, steady drink.
  • Employees Only Miami
  • Swizzle Bar at The Washington Park Hotel
  • Repour at The Albion Hotel
  • Gramps
  • Sweet Liberty: This loud, warehouse-styled spot was much hyped but I wasn’t really blown away. Nice menu and my Bamboo was really nice but otherwise, meh.

Houston

  • Pastry War
  • WGB – Anvil
  • Julep
  • Coltivare
  • Morningstar
  • Better Luck Tomorrow

Columbus, OH

  • IMG_7569Curio at Harvest (left):  the best moments in life are when you’re totally surprised and from the moment I walked into this tiny spot in the stunning German Village of old Columbus, I was blown away.  Rebecca made me an amazing apply brandy-based spiced rum cocktail but the charm of this spot is the feel.  With no more than eight bar stools, the place felt like a little cave despite being on the second floor.  The cocktail list was classics driven but formidable and interesting.  Curio might never be found by the bigwigs in the cocktail world which is probably best.  Nothing would make me happier than if it remains my little secret.
  • IMG_7568Mouton (right): located on the popular High Street strip not far from The Ohio State campus, Mouton is a really nice spot with huge windows and a very welcoming and light feel.  Kyle made me an interesting smoked Ancho Reyes and Tequila cocktail that was a tad too sweet but otherwise really nice.  Nice people and great spot.
  • IMG_7570The Blind Lady Tavern (left): is a beautiful old building now surrounded by the small skyscraper section of Columbus.  That said, you’re transported back to the 1800’s when you walk into the bar.  The cocktail list is small but impressive and the staff are happy to talk shop.  Really nice spot.
  • The Bottle Shop
  • Denmark

 

Las Vegas

The cocktail scene in Las Vegas is as odd as the city itself. I’m really not quite sure what to make of it to be honest. Considering the city’s 24 hour obsession with drinking and all things bon vivant and villainous, I’m actually surprised the cocktail scene isn’t better. I went to six of the reportedly best bars in the city and didn’t really find any to which I would return other than the famous and venerable Golden Steer steakhouse. I guess one way of looking at it is the cocktail scene is in keeping with the superficial veneer found in everything in Las Vegas, as if the whole of one’s experience in the desert is a mirage.

    

Champagne Cafe: I gravitate to authentic and original whenever I travel. This is especially true when it comes to bars. My trip to what is essentially a total dive bar in a strip mall well off the beaten path in Vegas was no exception. I knew things would be interesting when my Uber driver asked me if I was sure I was in thr right place when he dropped me off. It was and I’m glad I got to experience one of the city’s original cocktail bars that is essentially unchanged since the early sixties, when Vegas was just slightly less grandiose than at present. The bar is really just a long line of slots and the drinks are, well, interesting. I ordered a Vesper and let’s just say what arrived was nothing like what I had at Dukes in London where Ian Fleming created the cocktail while writing Casino Royale. There was also a lot of smokers, which is always a bit of shock for me. Anyway, go if you’re in Vegas and you want to see what drinking was really about before the glitz and kitsch of the strip took over.

  

The Golden Steer: Wow. This is about authentic as one could ever expect of any restaurant or drinking establishment. We sat in Elvis’ booth, and I’m being completely serious. He literally sat in the exact same red leather seat and ordered “extra greasy” steak hamburgers twice a day whenever he was in the city. Crazy. The deep and rich decor of the late fifties is unchanged and totally amazing. The steakhouse food was absolutely incredible, as was my gin martini with giant olives. I, like The King, would eat and drink here exclusively if I’m ever back (and could afford it).

    

Velveteen Rabbit: More than anything, don’t miss this bar because it’s a reason to head to downtown Las Vegas. Not knowing much about the city, I always assumed Vegas was created at the strip. I was therefore very surprised to learn that the original Vegas was a cluster of frontier town buildings several miles away from all the current action. The area is apparently being restored and revitalized after years of neglect. I was happy I got the chance to see it. I also went as an homage to my two standard poodles whom I affectionately refer to as velveteen rabbits whenever they get groomed. Anyway, this bar was as close as I think one will ever get to a true cocktail bar in Vegas. The bar menu was adventurous and interesting. Alas, my burdock-infused mezcal drink was almost undrinkable. I give them an A for effort, though, and would encourage anyone to give it another try.

Petrossian Bar at The Bellagio: Despite being square in the lobby of the unbelievably garish lobby of the unbelievably garish Bellagio Hotel, this version of the amazing bar in New York (which I’ve also visited) might have actually been the best drinking experience of my brief stay in the city. I kept it simple with a martini and though I desperately wanted to break the bank on some Beluga caviar, the overall experience was excellent. That said, I did feel badly for the woman trying to play the beautiful grand piano as the literally thousands of tourists in the lobby only thirty feet away made enjoying her music impossible.

Rosina Bar at The Venetian: So many of the bars in Las Vegas sit within the endless and cavernous casinos found at every hotel. I was a bit shocked to find noisy slot machines within ten feet of what was supposed to be a great bar. Anyway, though the Rosina Bar is surrounded by the casino of the The Venetian, it is its own space and is serenely and beautifully appointed. It seemed more respite from the gambling madness than participant. Thank God.

The Dorsey at The Venetian: I had fairly high expectations of The Dorsey when I heard Sam Ross of Attaboy and Milk & Honey fame was involved. Unfortunately, The Dorsey in my mind is the exact opposite of the The Rosina above. Totally and very intimately embedded in the hotel’s casino, I actually can’t think of a place in which I would less want to drink. So I didn’t in the end, and left.

Others:

  • Fireside Lounge
  • Atomic Liquors
  • Bound Lounge at The Cromwell
  • Herbs & Rye
  • The Golden Tiki
  • Downtown Cocktail Room

Los Angeles

  • IMG_1794The Varnish (left): this is an excellent speakeasy type bar at the back of the famous Cole’s restaurant downtown.  Routinely ranked as one of the world’s best bars, it is absolutely worth a visit.  I found the service casual but excellent and the cocktails were nothing short of outstanding.  Try the Elevenses if still on the menu.
  • WGB – The Walker Inn: The tasting cocktail menu at this WGB lived up to the hype. The clarified Bloody Mary (think clear) with side tomato jam toast was nothing short of spectacular. The bar is small, dark and library-esque; all seemingly required attributes for the growing number of ‘secret’ back bars. The theme of the night was ‘A Day on A Boat at Sea’. As such, the cocktail flight represented a chronology of marine experiences, less motion sickness, thankfully. That said, I wasn’t quite sure the bartender who announced the nautical thinking behind each drink had genuinely bought into the concept. Not quite a true molecular bar, The Walker Inn successfully incorporates novel and progressive techniques into drink-making without getting carried away.
  • The Normandie Club: The front bar to The Walker Inn, The Normandie Club is a standalone outfit in its own right. The cocktails and ambiance is more straightforward but the drinks were still of the highest quality. Worth a visit, especially if you can’t get into The Walker Inn.
  • Musso & Frank: This dining institution on Hollywood Boulevard is an absolute must for so many reasons. As the longest running restaurant in Hollywood, the place has an incredible history and patina of the past. The waiters where red jackets and ties and the martinis are known the world over. Ask for them extra cold, as mine came a little warm for my liking.  
  • Melrose Umbrella Company: I was a bit surprised to walk into what could easily be described as a giant barn, especially in downtown Los Angeles. All that was missing were farm animals. It definitely made for a unique drinking experience. The cocktails, however, were great, and as such lived up to its reputation. 
  • Bar 1886 at The Raymond: I loved this out-of-the-way bar next to a well known local restaurant. The low-ceiling room almost felt like the dining car on a train. The cocktail menu was Looney Tunes themed, and came in an old VHS box. More importantly, my peach-infused pisco drink called the ‘Hey Arnold Palmer’ was outstanding. Well worth a visit.
  • ***The Spare Room
  • Cadet
  • Apt. A
  • Bar Ama
  • Tacoteca
  • Bestia
  • Cole’s
  • La Descarga
  • Next Door Lounge
  • R Bar
  • Honeycut
  • Faith & Flower
  • Far Bar
  • Fiscal Agent
  • Ace Hotel
  • Petty Cash
  • Guelaguetza
  • Tiki-Ti
  • Harlowe (!)
  • The Eveleigh
  • Tonga Hut
  • Harvard & Stone
  • Power House
  • Grandpa Johnson’s
  • Lost Property
  • Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
  • Hinoki & The Bird
  • The Chestnut Club (!)
  • Dominick’s
  • Pistola
  • The Corner Door (!)
  • Love & Salt
  • Sassafras
  • Copa D’Oro (Santa Monica)
  • Terrine
  • Hakkasan
  • Redbird
  • Mess Hall
  • Tiki Hut
  • Liquor Lair
  • Punch (Pasadena)

Montreal

  • FullSizeRender (3)Holiday Inn Select Chinatown (right image).  For surreal ambience alone, this bar has to make the list.  The cocktails are outright horrible but the giant Chinese pagodas and fish pond makes it an unforgettable experience.  Its so kitsch you’ll want to take a million photos.  Order a gin and tonic and enjoy yourself.  Update: a new renovation has cut down on the kitsch, sadly, but the pagoda and fish pond are intact and still worth a visit.  The bar is a bit modernized but still serves crappy drinks.
  • FullSizeRender (2)Bar Le Lab: Kind of a molecular hybrid bar, but really fun nonetheless. I ordered their signature Jerky Lab Jack based on Jack Daniels (which is unusual in its own right), dry Curacao, house BBQ bitters and a clothesline over the drink of beef jerky.  It was interesting but didn’t blow me away.  The staff were extremely friendly and the place has a neighbourhood corner bar feel.  The rest of the cocktail menu was a bit peculiar but with a good selection, making use of lots of great ingredients, including the venerable China China.
  • IMG_4433Bar Big in Japan: This bar is kind of the opposite of Lab, in that it’s highly intimidating and not at all your local watering hotel.  That said, I appreciate what they’ve done, and the bar itself is a contortionist’s version of Through the Looking Glass.  Very dark, very hip and ultra cool.  The service was distant and mediocre and the cocktail list was thoroughly uninspiring.  It actual fact, I don’t think Big in Japan is a cocktail bar at all, despite its haunting beauty.
  • Mile Public House (Brossard)
  • The Palm Room at The Ritz Carlton:  The old and insanely beautiful Palm Room at the Ritz in Montreal is without question the most beautiful hotel bar in Canada (and among the best globally). With frescoed thirty foot ceilings and ornate, giant doors, the room is breathtaking and demands fancy clothes and drinks. My Monkey 47 gin martini was exceptional, as was the service. And, best of all, my daughter could join me as it is technically part of the hotel lobby. Do not miss the special spot when in Montreal!
  • Balsam Inn*
  • Bar Kabinet**
  • Etre Avec Toi at W Hotel

Copenhagen


  • WGB – Ruby: I was lucky enough to visit the famous Ruby on their 10th anniversary, meaning they had put together an anniversary cocktail menu. The cocktails were what you would expect at a bar that started it all in Scandinavia. The service was exemplary and professional without being pretentious. The bar room is simple but beautiful in the way only ancient European rooms can be. The basement, however, is the place to be at Ruby. Very low ceilings, dim lighting and sumptuous leather furniture in which to sit back and relax. A very special bar.
  • Duck and Cover: Hmm. I was so floored by the feel of this basement bar in a residential neighbourhood, I don’t even know how to put it into words. The owner apparently made a bunch of money in the Danish military and slowly collected the furniture for the bar. The result is a place that literally feels like someone’s apartment, and in a very good, Scandinavian way. The small bar was impressive and my wet martini made with Cocchi was simple but exquisite. It instantly became one of my all-time favourites. Please do not go to Copenhagen without visiting Duck and Cover.
  • Strom: Another basement bar but very different than Duck and Cover. Strom has been a bar in one form or another for over one hundred years, and it feels that way. Brightly lit for a basement bar, the place has that vintage patina that makes one feel instantly welcome. It’s the bar the Copenhagen bartenders call home. Mikael Nilsson was my bartender and is the owner of this great spot.
  • Helium: This is the Copenhagen bar you go to when you’re on a date and you want to dress up a bit. A really beautiful spot, very elegant, dark and bound to impress. The bartenders and cocktails were great, especially their casked Vesper. The Lillet mellowed in the cask and somehow transformed the drink into something soft and inviting. Really incredible.
  • The Barking Dog: The basements of the very old Danish buildings of Copenhagen just scream out to house bars. The Barking Dog was no exception. Very popular among the cocktailing elite in the city, I found it to be good but not as good as those mentioned above.
  • Lidkoeb: A sister bar to Ruby, Lidkoeb thrives as an outdoor bar in a beautiful part of the city. I had one drink, which was fine, and then moved on. Really beautiful spot though.
  • Bronnum: Another sister bar to Ruby, Bronnum feels like the bar in the lobby of a grand old European train station. My thyme-imbued Champagne cocktail was quite incredible, as was the friendly service. Well worth a visit.
  • The Library Bar at The Plaza Hotel: I’m a sucker for hotel bars, and this just might be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Gabled ceilings and twenty-five feet of old books, old art and old design make The Library Bar is very special. Though I was expecting mediocre cocktails from what I’d heard, the grappa-based Franco I ordered was quite incredible.
  • Curfew: Not one of the bartenders in Copenhagen recommended I try Curfew, despite it being the busiest of the bars I visited. Apparently the owner and head bartender has rubbed the rest of the city’s cocktail scene the wrong way with self-serving hyperbole. Anyway, it was packed and bustling and actually quite fun. The room was stunning, with an amazing attention to detail. The bartenders were very friendly and the vintage drink I had, The Vancouver, was excellent. I’d definitely go back.
  • Gensyn
  • Gilt
  • Atze Peng
  • Balderdash
  • Dispensary

Malmo, Sweden

  • Care Of: I was very fortunate to visit C/O the night Stefan was behind the bar. The Nordic Connection he made for me was without question the best drink I had on my trip. As a Linie Akvavit-based sidecar, I was blown away. The sidecar syrup he used as the sweet in the drink was astonishing. Such a great drink. I think the world will be hearing more of this place in the future.
  • MJ’s: A brand new bar in a newly renovated hotel in Malmo is a stunning hotel bar worth a visit. They appeared to be just getting their cocktail program off the ground when I went but it’s worth it just to sit at the bar and have a glass of Champagne.
  • Renaissance Hotel Bar

Rome

  • Caffe Propaganda
  • Barnum Cafe
  • Banana Republic
  • Dot Bistrot
  • *WGB-The Jerry Thomas Project
  • Mazzo
  • Roscioli
  • Hassler Bar at Hotel Hassler

Paris

  • imagePrescription Cocktail Bar (pictured left): This bar instantly went down as one of my all-time favourites.  In fact, if I could ever open a bar, it would be as similar to Prescription as possible.  Our bartender was friendly and inviting and the two drinks we ordered were among our best ever.  The decor is dark and steamy, as if drinking in a deep cellar, but it works beautifully.  Really, really amazing.
  • Bar Le Coq
  • Le Bar at The George V
  • WGB-Little Red Door
  • Moonshiner
  • Sherry Butt
  • **Le Mary Celeste
  • **The Dirty Dick
  • *WGB-Candelaria
  • **Bar Hemingway at The Ritz Paris: I actually tried to visit this bar in August, 2015 but the entire hotel was closed for renovations.  Hopefully they don’t alter the bar too much…
  • Harry’s New York Bar (pictured below): One of the world’s most famous bars, and with good reason.  My older bartender was wearing a formal white coat with his tie neatly tucked into the buttons.  I ordered a champagne cocktail to keep it light and he absolutely blew me away with Harry’s version of what is a drink I assumed I knew well.
  • **Mabel
  • Copperbay
  • Baton Rouge
  • **Le Syndicat
  • Gravity Bar
  • Grand Hotel Pigalle
  • Glass
  • Bar Le Forvm
  • Baton Rouge
  • Les Grandes Verres
  • Lulu White

image  image

Reykjavik

I had the good fortune of visiting this incredible country in the late summer of 2015 and made an effort to seek out a few of Reykjavik’s cocktail bars.  Most of the better restaurants in the city (Snaps, Sjávargrillið) have decent cocktail menus dominated by Icelandic gins and vodkas.

  • imageThe Gallery Bar at The Hotel Holt (pictured right): I’m not really sure how to describe this odd but inviting windowless room filled with art and dominated by a large fire place at one end.  On one hand its kitsch and 1980’s decor is a bit of a turn-off but somehow it all works and is worth a visit.  The cocktail menu is basically classics but there were enough interesting drinks to elevate it from the ordinary.
  • Slippbarinn (pictured below): This bar-dominated restaurant is a happening, forty somethings place for true cocktails.  The comic book themed menu was very impressive and my 21st Century was very good.  Iceland, unfortunately, is very expensive and Slippbarinn is no exception.  At ~$25 CDN, the cocktails were dear but worth it (sort of).

image  image

Prague

  • Black Angels
  • Public Interest
  • Bonvivant’s CTC
  • Bar & Books
  • Bugsy’s
  • Tretter’s
  • Gin and Tonic Club
  • Malkovich Bar
  • Innuendo Prohibition Bar
  • *WGB-Hemingway Bar
  • L’Fleur
  • Cash Only
  • Anonymous Bar
  • Parlour

Barcelona

  • Boadas
  • Bobby Gin
  • Caribbean Club
  • Creps al Born
  • Dry Martini
  • Enigma
  • Paradiso
  • Solange

Other Cities

  • IMG_3420Vail, Colorado: The Sonnenalp Hotel Piano Lounge (pictured left).  This is about kitsch more than anything else, and the drinks are mediocre at best but there is something about the Bavarian theme and the the comfortable love seats that makes a really great bar in my eyes.  I have no idea why it works for me but it does.  Funny.
  • Richmond, Virginia: The Rogue Gentleman
  • Richmond, Virginia: Heritage
  • Richmond, Virginia: The Answer
  • Alexandria, Virginia: Magnolia’s on King
  • St. Louis: Taste by Niche
  • Alley 26Durham, NC: Alley Twenty Six (pictured right): I went to Durham for one crazy night to a Brian Wilson concert (yes I know it’s a bit odd) and stopped by the only true cocktail bar in Durham twice (before and after the show).  The bartender actually taught me something about making an Old Fashioned, a drink I’ve made a million times.  Well worth a visit.
  • Chapel Hill, NC: One Restaurant
  • Charleston, SC: Prohibition
  • *Charleston, SC: Mash
  • Charleston, SC: Saint Alban
  • **Charleston, SC: Living Room Bar at The Dewberry Hotel
  • Asheville, NC: Sovereign Remedies
  • **WGB-Denver: Williams & Graham
  • Denver: Ace Eat Serve
  • *Denver: Occidental
  • Jasper, AB: The Emerald Lounge at Jasper National Park Lodge
  • Banff, AB: Rundle Lounge at The Banff Springs Hotel
  • ***WGB – San Diego: Polite Provisions
  • San Diego: Sycamore Den
  • *San Diego: Noble Experiment
  • San Diego: Coin-Op
  • La Jolla, California: The Hake
  • St. Augustine, Florida: Ice Plant Bar
  • Venice, California: The Tasting Kitchen
  • Yountville, California: Lucy
  • Los Gatos, California: The Lexington House
  • Kansas City: Manifesto
  • Madison, Wisconsin: Forequarter & Underground
  • Ashland, Oregon: Alchemy
  • Eugene, Oregon: Izakaya Meiji
  • Eugene, Oregon: Rye on Third
  • San Antonio: Last Word
  • Spokane: Clover
  • Spokane: Bon Bon
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming: The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming: The Rose
  • Scottsdale, Arizona: Counter Intuitive
  • Scottsdale, Arizona: Citizen Public House
  • Scottsdale, Arizona: The Beverly
  • Phoenix: Crudo
  • Santa Fe: Bistro 315
  • Santa Fe: Low’N’Slow Lowrider Bar
  • Dallas: Midnight Rambler
  • Dallas: Parliament
  • Dallas: FT33
  • Dallas: The Gin Mill
  • Pittsburgh: Bar Marco
  • Whistler, BC: Bearfoot Bistro at The Listel Hotel
  • Edmonton: Mahogany Room at Hotel Selkirk
  • Calgary: One18 at Marriott Downtown
  • Winnipeg: Merchant Kitchen at The Alt Hotel
  • Cambridge, ON: Wilk’s Bar at Langdon Hall: This is a stunning room with a giant old world fireplace. The cocktails are classic and somewhat ordinary but the feel of the room is very special.
  • Ottawa: Options Jazz Bar at the Brookstreet Hotel
  • St. John’s, Newfoundland: The Lounge at Luxus Hotel
  • Halifax: SPG Lounge at Four Points Sheraton
  • Halifax: Bar 6
  • Halifax: Lot Six
  • **Halifax: Bar Kismet
  • Palm Springs: Ace Hotel Bar
  • Palm Springs: Appetito
  • Palm Springs: Birba
  • Palm Springs: Tonga Hut
  • *WGB-Mexico City: Licoreria Limantour
  • *WGB-Tequila, Mexico: La Capilla
  • *San Jose, Costa Rica: Bebedero
  • Memphis: Hog & Hominy
  • Austin: Drink Well
  • Austin: Small Victory
  • Atlanta: The Lawrence
  • Atlanta: King & Duke
  • *Austin: Midnight Cowboy
  • Oklahoma City: Ludivine
  • Orlando: Capa
  • Pittsburgh: Tender Bar & Kitchen
  • Philadelphia: 1 Tippling Place
  • Indianapolis: Ball & Bisket
  • Indianapolis: Libertine
  • Minneapolis: Marvel Bar
  • Minneapolis: Red Cow/Red Rabbit
  • Portland, Maine: Portland Hunt & Alpine Club
  • Portland, Maine: Vena’s Fizz House
  • Madison, Wisconsin: Merchant
  • Honolulu: House Without a Key at Halekulani Hotel
  • Kauai, Hawaii: Nalu Kai Bar at The St. Regis Princeville Resort
  • Sani Mountain LodgeSani Pass, Lesotho: Sani Mountain Lodge Bar: As the highest bar in Africa, this is one of those places you only ever go to once but remember forever.  There is nothing to do here in the evening but go to the bar and enjoy the unbelievable views of South Africa at the top of the Sani Pass at the border between South Africa and Lesotho so everyone, including the border guards, will be at the bar and you will undoubtedly have fun.  There is whisky, gin, hot gluwhein and beer.  What more do you need?
  • Alberts Cocktail BarDrakensberg Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: Albert’s Cocktail Bar at The Cathedral Peak Hotel.  I don’t remember much about the drinks at this cocktail bar but the views from the seats in the window balconies are essentially the best in the world.  South Africa’s Drakensberg mountain range is totally spectacular and nothing beats a martini (no matter how wet) after a day hiking these incredible mountains.
  • Puerto Rico: Don Pueblo
  • *WGB-Melbourne: Black Pearl
  • *WGB-Melbourne: The Everleigh
  • hotel-alvear-palace-bar.11Buenos Aires: Lobby Bar at The Alvear Palace Hotel.  This bar pretty much defines the genre.  My wife and I were pretty well dressed for the experience and yet we were still underdressed.  It’s worth the long, long trip to Buenos Aires just to sit in such refinement and sip a martini.  Totally ostentatious decadence.
  • home-hotel-bar-restaurantBuenos Aires: Home Hotel Bar (right image).  Tiny but they serve really, really great drinks.  Also probably the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
  • *WGB-Buenos Aires: Floreria Atlantico
  • Belfast: The Bar at The Merchant Hotel
  • *WGB-Hamburg: Le Lion Bar de Paris
  • p10303681WGB-Milan: Nottingham Forest (left image).  So worth the trip just for the crazy eclectic ambience.  Enjoy a bubbling molecular cocktail next to a rattlesnake in a bottle of whiskey.  One of my all-time favourites.
  • Milan: Bar Basso
  • Bangkok: BambooHydeAndSeek
  • Bangkok: Hyde & Seek Gastro Bar (pictured). Nath Arj-Han was recently named Southeast Asia’s best bartender and with good reason (although I think the only two cities in the area actually making good cocktails are Bangkok and Singapore).  His cocktail list is among the best I’ve ever seen, with a Thai edge to so many great classics.  His bar stock is extensive, and so much better than anything I saw while in the area.  He even dabbles with molecular, and with great success.  The food as well is excellent.  If you’re in Bangkok, you basically have no choice but to go.
  • Singapore:  Raffles Bar.  World famous.
  • Singapore: Jekyll & Hyde
  • Singapore: The Tippling Club
  • Singapore: Jigger & Pony
  • Singapore: Black Swan
  • Taipei: Ounce
  • *WGB-Singapore: 28 Hong Kong Street
  • *WGB-Hong Kong: Quinary
  • Hong Kong: The Pontiac
  • *WGB-Sydney: The Baxter Inn
  • *WGB-Sydney: Bulletin Place
  • *WGB-Sydney: Eau de Vie
  • *WGB-Sydney: Shady Pines
  • Brisbane: Canvas Club
  • Floridita interiorHavana: La Floridita (right image).  This was Hemingway’s haunt during his time in Havana and it hasn’t changed a bit.  His name is still engraved in the wall of graffiti.  Also the origin of the Daiquiri and the version bearing Hemingway’s name.
  • Havana: La Bodeguita del Medio
  • Havana: Hotel Churchill at the Hotel Nacional
  • Havana: Dos Hermanos
  • Havana: Cafe del Oriente
  • *WGB-Berlin: Buck & Breck
  • Berlin: Kopf
  • Berlin: Rum Trader
  • Berlin: Lebensstern
  • Berlin: Melody Nelson
  • Stockholm: The Gold Bar at the Nobis Hotel
  • WGB-Stockholm: Linje Tio
  • *WGB-Munich: Schumann’s
  • Cordoba, Spain: La Bicicleta
  • St. Petersburg: Lobby Bar at Grand Hotel L’Europe:img_0769The cocktail scene in St. Petersburg is a bit odd. It seems the city is about 25 years behind in their approach to drinks. I didn’t get to every bar, obviously, but I checked out those I missed online and many seem to focus on the stuff people were doing a long time ago. When one of the top bars in the city has a mojito on its main website page, things aren’t looking particularly interesting (with nothing against mojitos). Another supposedly decent cocktail bar claimed to be the place where “the beautiful people of St. Petersburg converge”. The whole thing really does scream early nineties in North America.Anyway, the best bar I visited was the Lobby Bar at the venerable Grand Hotel L’Europe. It is a truly special place, with an eclectic but functional mix of Art Nouveau and classical Russian design. The cocktail menu comes on an iPad, which is where things started to go wrong. The bartenders are very young, though professional and friendly. With such a stunning old bar, I expected to find refined, if not slightly surlish, old world Russians behind the bar. Things really went downhill when my martini inexplicably arrived with lime juice. Lime juice! And then the bartender had to refer to an instruction book to make one of their house drinks, which I thought was strange. All that said, once I provided specifics, things looked up from there.So, despite mediocrity on the drink front, as one of the world’s truly special hotel bars, The Lobby Bar cannot be missed.
  • *WGB-Moscow: Chainaya Tea & Cocktails
  • *WGB-Moscow: Delicatessen
  • Baveno, Italy: Lounge Bar at The Grand Hotel Dino
  • Budapest: The Bar at The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
  • Dublin: The Library Bar at Central Hotel
  • Edinburgh: Tigerlily
  • *WGB-Edinburgh: Bramble
  • *WGB-Barcelona: Dry Martini

The Best

In no particular order, these are my favourite cocktail bars globally:

  • The Hawthorne at The Commonwealth (Boston)
  • The Hoof Cocktail Bar (Toronto)
  • The Toronto Temperance Society (Toronto)
  • The Bar at Alo (Toronto)
  • PDT (New York)
  • Mace (New York)
  • ZZ Clam Bar (New York)
  • The King Cole Bar at The St. Regis (New York)
  • The Campbell Apartment (New York)
  • Maison Premiere (Brooklyn)
  • HPS (Amsterdam)
  • Harry’s New York Bar (Paris)
  • Prescription Cocktail Club (Paris)
  • The Gibson (London)
  • Bar Termini (London)
  • Dukes at The Duke Hotel (London)
  • The American Bar at The Savoy (London)
  • Tender Bar (Tokyo)
  • Bar Gen Yamamoto (Tokyo)
  • Bar Radio (Tokyo)
  • Star Bar (Tokyo)
  • Imperial Bar at The Imperial Hotel (Tokyo)
  • The Highlander Bar at Hotel Okura (Tokyo)
  • The Keefer Bar (Vancouver)
  • The Aviary (Chicago)
  • The Columbia Room (Washington, DC)
  • Nottingham Forest (Milan)
  • Curio at Harvest (Columbus, OH)
  • French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s (New Orleans)
  • Cane & Table (New Orleans)
  • The Broken Shaker (Miami)
  • Duck & Cover (Copenhagen)
  • True Laurel (San Francisco)
  • Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant (San Francisco)
  • Pacific Cocktail Haven (San Francisco)
  • Musso & Frank (Los Angeles)
  • The Golden Steer (Las Vegas)

2 thoughts on “Bars

  1. Thanks for coming in to Clive’s this weekend Scott. It was a pleasure having you at the bar and meeting a kindred spirit in regards to baska snaps. I appreciate your praise in the writeup.

    • Agreed. It’s been a long while since I’ve met a bartender not only attempting the things you’re doing, but full on pulling them off. I’d be your best customer if I didn’t live thousands of miles away. Thanks for the Fernet at the end of the night. Scott

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