Not-your-average cocktail bars to check out in Toronto

Yes, Toronto's is flooded with darling cocktail spots and charming dives from east to west. But this weekend, why not check out one of the city's more uncommon spots, the kind that do things a little differently. We've got the goods on where to sample a low-lit sake cocktail in a Japanese rockabilly bar or catch an evocative circus act in a ritzy supper club.

Candyland

1
619 King Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M5

This much anticipated newcomer is best described as a dinner theatre meets circus. The King West spot features everything from acrobats to a big blues band, a place where gourmet dinner fare is complemented by a velvet-clad stage, tufted Victorian sofas and parlour-esque leather arm chairs. Not to be confused with a bottle-service-model club or guest-list dance bar, Candyland is about eating and entertainment, not getting your love-in-this-club vibes on.

Black Dice Café

2
1574 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6K 1T8

Full of intimacies that reveal themselves over the course of the evening, The Black Dice is Toronto’s sole Japanese rockabilly bar. Housed at Dundas and Dufferin, the compact spot is oft quiet during the week, the perfect kind of atmosphere for an anonymous cocktail (save spontaneous nights where a fleet of motorcycles are parked out front and the rockabilly types roll British punks tunes off the 1950s jukebox). It ramps up on the weekends, drawing crowds with their unparalleled Japanese whiskey selection and DJ tunes (from 50s rockabilly to surf to R&B), streaming through the doorway.

Pravda Vodka Bar

3
44 Wellington St E, Toronto, ON M5E 1C7

This King West Russian vodka house is a well-known party spot, featuring two floors of vaudevillian vibes. Crushed velvet, acrobatic dancers, and a brass band that jumps on the bar at midnight to perform an upbeat rendition of the Russian national anthem: this is the sort of party you can expect at Pravda (not to mention a lively dance floor and the best selection of premium vodkas in town). Check out the elevated (and chilled) tasting room where – with the rest of the bar watching through the glass walls – you can take a shot from a specialty bottle.

The Libertine

4
1307 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1X8

One of the original modern speakeasies in the city, The Libertine fell under new management earlier in 2015, resulting in a general overhaul of the subterranean hideaway and, perhaps most notably, an entirely new tapas and cocktails menu. Open Wednesday to Saturday, the place gets packed, so pop in early for what could quickly become a clairvoyantly fun evening (a fortune teller provides tarot card and palm readings) and a late-night dance party (the DJ plays a compelling mix of open format hip hop, deep house and top 40).

The Lockhart

5
1479 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1Y8

One of Dundas West’s newest cocktail bars is making waves in national news: a Harry Potter theme bar with subtle references to the fantasy series that will garner nods from fans (while the non-interested will see them simply as cute intricacies). Enjoy invented-in-house “potions and elixirs” aptly titled “Ludo’s debt” (lemon-infused gin, Lillet Blanc and Aperol) and “The Shacklebolt,” (a slight spin on the Dark ‘n’ Stormy), alongside dinner and snack fare like a puff-pastry baked brie, marinated poached prawns, mac ‘n’ cheese sliders, and gourmet popcorn.

Rush Lane & Co.

6
563 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 2B6

A top pick if you’re showing a cocktail buff around the city or are a booze-enthused local yourself. Complete with a cocktail lab filled with chemistry-class-reminiscent contraptions, as well as chic modernist décor, Rush Lane's aesthetic vibes complement the funky, experimental nature of its cocktail menu (which includes drinks that come out flaming, smoking and in hollowed pineapples – alongside more standard libations, of course). The $100 award-winning Caesar is served – I am not kidding – inside a full Peking duck, with a straw sticking out. Order it 24 hours in advance for a taste.

Hanmoto

7
2 Lakeview Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 3B1

This izakaya defies a lot of what you expect to see on the city’s best-of lists, and yet, it finds itself across many. The food is, simply put, spectacular, with items like Hamachi tartare and moto-style devilled eggs. Cocktails and cheap beer mingle well with the gritty interior – red-hued light, bare cement walls, bamboo wrapped tables and a bustling open kitchen create the low profile vibes of this very high profile spot. If the wait or the fare don’t strike your fancy, try Hanmoto’s Korean half-brother down the block, the equally delicious Oddseoul.

The Hole in the Wall

8
2867A Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6P 1Y9

What makes this oh-so tiny cocktail bar special? Well, apart from the fact that you’ll feel like you’re in a pulp fiction flick (with cute hipsters instead of gangster-types), it was one of the trailblazing bars to open after the Junction neighbourhood lifted its prohibition in the 90s. Although small in size, the venue has a little something for everyone, from buck-a-shuck specials to Singapore Sling cocktails to live blues music. Dinner fare includes fusions, classic spins, and a rather renowned mac ‘n’ cheese dish, while Sunday brunch serves up specialties like the must-sample Crab Madame breakfast.

Cabana Pool Bar

9
11 Polson St, Toronto, ON M5A 1A4

Cool your bod day or night at this outdoor pool and nightclub, which features everything from glass dancing platforms to white cabana recliners, not to mention a seamless view to the lake and city skyline. Cabana has a huge outdoor space, hosting pool hangs that assemble as many as 2,500 people. This spot gets rowdy on the weekends (plus a wee expensive), but weekday deals like $10 pool access Tuesday through Thursday make it a super steal for a daytime swim and cocktail.

Our talented brewmasters are among the most beloved makers in the city, having carved out Toronto’s status as a destination for award-winning craft beer. Although the culture is home-grown and goes way back, post 2011, a slew of new spots have popped up across the city. Here are the stories behind both our famed microbreweries and innovative newcomers on the scene. [Photo credit: Celine Kim]
From second-storey terraces to canopy-covered courtyards, 2016 has been a good year for Toronto’s patio game. We’ve got the goods on the brand-new brewery on Roncesvalles and the Lakeshore’s most recent party-worthy spot. East to west, these resto-bar newcomers have created inspired outdoor spaces so you can start patio season off right. [Image credit: iStock.com/Sean Pavone] 
On Sunday May 1st 2016, the Artscape Wychwood Barns hosts TO’s largest festival for gluten-free foodies. With workshops led by gluten-free experts and over 65 food vendors to sample from, this event is a must-attend for wheat-sensitive Torontonians. From cupcakes to malt beer and cider tastings, the Gluten Free Garage is where to snack up and stock up this weekend. [Photo by Franco Deleo; courtesy of the Gluten Free Garage]
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