Ontario Bars & Nightlife
60 Kensington Ave., Kensington Market
The name is local slang for the alcohol concealed in teapots served in Chinese restaurants after last call at the bars. But here at Cold Tea in Kensington Market, everything is all out in the open—and it’s packed to the rafters. Some call it hipster utopia, where young Toronto creatives gather for locally pressed cider and cans of Ace Hill Pilsner. The tiny kitchen churns out endless supplies of dumplings and also plays host to a rotating cast of restaurant pop-ups (check Cold Tea’s Instagram for the latest collaborations).
1276 Dundas St., Little Italy
It's hidden behind a modest, nondescript storefront, and walking into Mahjong is like entering a portal to another world. The walls are adorned with a vivid jungle scene by local artist Gabriella Lo, the floors evoke a glamorous retro feel with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, and apothecary-style glass cabinets hold bottles of booze and wine. Drinks may have Canadian-centric names (like the Lake Joe Spritz, which, as the menu proclaims, is meant to evoke “that Muskoka lifestyle minus mosquitos and four-hour drive”), but with a Japanese influence, using ingredients like yuzu, sake, plum wine, and Nashi pear.
1161 Dundas St., Little Italy
With potted greenery; light wood accents; a high, wood-beamed ceiling; and skylights that flood the room with natural light, Paris Paris can feel more Southern California than, say, the capital of France. But this wine bar and all-day canteen in Trinity-Bellwoods stays true to its name when it comes to the menu, featuring Cabernet Francs from the Loire, Chardonnays from Burgundy, and grenache rosé from Provence. Foodwise, the whole roasted oyster mushroom doused in chicken jus is a winner.
1282 Dundas St. W, Little Italy
A new addition to the Dundas West neighborhood, the Founder is one of those dark, sleek, slightly industrial-looking places that seem to come straight from of a futuristic film set. Which isn’t to say it takes itself too seriously. Just take a look at the menu with its cyber- and social-media-inspired drink names, like Click Bait and OMG – Take Me Back. There are over 150 cocktails served here, so it’s virtually guaranteed you can get whatever you want in the beverage department. Then give the food a try: Small plates—mackerel and eggplant skewers, quinoa falafel, anchovy crostini—are the specialty.
The Rooftop Bar at The Broadview Hotel
106 Broadview Ave., Riverside
This indoor-outdoor bar perched on top of the new downtown Broadview Hotel is one of the better places to take in what may be the best skyline in Canada. There’s an open-air terrace with plenty of seating, so it’s a no-brainer for afternoon cocktails, but even indoors you’ll get a sense of being high above it all, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and a huge, pyramid-shaped skylight. Our favorite cocktail is an ode to Beyoncé: Becky with the Good Hair, a healthyish mix of vodka; carrot, orange, and lemon juices; coconut water; and rosemary.
Mister C Bar Room
80 Blue Jays Way, Entertainment District
Although it’s technically a hotel bar (located on the ground floor of the Bisha, downtown), the feeling here is that of a private members’ club, where guests cozy up in velvet club chairs next to a roaring fire. That’s the feeling, though, not the mandate—Mister C is open to the public. The drinks are a fine complement to the intimate atmosphere. Expect a list of expensive-but-worth-it cocktails, like a premium margarita made with Don Julio 1942 tequila and the Penicillin, with Glenmorangie Original single-malt whisky, honey, lemon, and ginger.
607 College St., Little Italy
Although it’s a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, with its leather booths, wood floors, and white-painted brick walls, the Walton feels like a cozy, quiet bar and café that’s been around for decades. In the mornings, Wi-Fi, espresso, and pastries make it an inviting place to perch and work; in the afternoons and into the evenings, take advantage of the lovely outdoor patio in the back (weather permitting) with a cocktail.
838 College St., Little Italy
Adorned with sleek, geometric shelving and lots of carefully placed indoor plants, Pray Tell is a charming and casual cocktail spot—and unlike its beloved nearby sister bar, Track & Field, it’s light-filled and fairly quiet in comparison. While it makes sense to go for the cocktails alone (there are riffs on classics as well as more inventive creations like a floral Pisco sour with passion fruit and rose-infused Cointreau), there's a full dinner menu plus plenty of snacks depending on what kind of night you want to get after.
Track & Field
860 College St., Little Italy
Sprawling across a fairly large basement-level space, Track & Field is a casual spot with a reliably lively crowd. The draw here is the bar games, which are on another level: Astroturf-covered bocce ball courts and large shuffleboard decks take center stage. Expect good craft beers, cocktails, and a live DJ on weekends–the size of the space makes it a great place for large groups, too.
878 Bloor St. W, Bloorcourt
Comfortable and unpretentious, Civil Liberties is a great place for cocktails that insists it’s not a cocktail bar: There isn’t a cocktail menu, so you have to rely on your bartender to listen to what you like and create something you’ll enjoy on the spot. There are some snacking options, but if you’re hungry, opt for what they call a Toasty, which is actually just a really good grilled cheese.