Last night bartenders from 20+ of Toronto’s best cocktail destinations pulled off a monumental takeover of the Evergreen Brick Works to celebrate the start of another installment of Toronto Cocktail Week (October 15 to 20) with the Opening Party.
For hundreds of spirit-loving guests, it represented a rare opportunity to do a comprehensive cocktail crawl of the city’s best bars in one sprawling post-industrial location—from secretive west-end “it spots” like Mahjong to luxurious hotel bars like the Ritz. It all started out with a smart Negroni at the Campari Café, and moved on to a row of pop-ups from hot spots like Bar Reyna and IST Eatery, which served up a Johnnie Special, a gingery Johnnie Walker scotch whisky cocktail paired with a Tandoori Slider. Around the corner we sampled a genuinely inspired minty Southern Comfort drink (My SoCo is Soooo Cooold) invented by the folks at Civil Liberties, who served it alongside a little bite of brisket. Drink, snack. Repeat.
It also represented a pretty special moment in the life of the Toronto bar scene, since it’s not very often that all the cocktail bartenders get a chance to get together and just, well … play. There are way too many to list but, literally, it seemed like everyone was there, from OG bartenders from the Drake Hotel and Bar Raval, to the entire crew from the up-and-coming east end cocktail scene, namely, the Vatican Gift Shop, Poor Romeo, Pinkerton’s, the Maple Leaf Tavern and the Broadview Hotel. To be honest, those five are so close to each other in real life, that it’s pretty easy to do an east end cocktail crawl at the actual bars (and everyone should), but it was even easier last night when their pop-ups were all lined up in a row.
What was the main take-away from the night? Toronto’s spirits and cocktail lovers are definitely up for a little adventure, judging from the crowds around both the Bombay Sapphire sensory experience (vaporized gin) and the BarChef pop-up. The latter was a real show-stopper, with Frankie Solarik personally offering up an immersive experience celebrating of Autumn, that started with the aromatics of cedar, moved on to a Cryo canapé of poached meringue atomized with absinthe, all followed up with a drinkable—the “Kentucky Balsam,” a bourbon and balsam cocktail.
On top of once-in-a-lifetime, highly-Instagrammable experiences like that one, there was also a whole lot of learning going on. Ever wonder why bartenders are so particular about ice? Thanks to Oliver Stern’s wildly-popular cocktail class, held in a little hidden alley off the main area, a lot of Toronto folks can now say they’ve mastered Ice 101. Stern, who heads up the cocktail program at Don Alfonso 1890, taught proper mixing techniques, as well as the reason every bartender loves working with the Iceman’s gorgeous oversized clear cubes and spheres. Hint, hint: It’s not just cause they’re pretty.
Other people were keen to learn all about Japanese whisky—destined to be the most buzzy spirit of the fall. Experts at the Nikka whisky lounge were on hand to explain what makes it so special—and hand out delicious maple-whisky cocktails. Guests curious to learn about the difference between tequila and mezcal flocked to the Don Julio tequila cave for a cheeky little spiced drink, as well as Baro, which served up a Oaxacan Swizzle paired with an Albondiga Beef Meatball. That primed the pumps for a full immersion into Volcán De Mi Tierra—a new boutique, premium tequila released in Ontario this year.
Diageo World Class bartenders Shane Mulvany, Chris Enns and Jeff Savage (who just came second in the world) served up Tanqueray martinis, zingy Ketel One Vodka concoctions, a Bulleit Bourbon treat with a black tea infusion and the aptly named “The Breath of Trees”, a Johnnie Walker Black Label libation that included coastal forest cordial at their main bar. The LCBO’s pop-up whisky shop featured its own in-house experts talking people through full flights of Michter’s whiskey, as well as a display of some of the most interesting expressions they’ve run across. More classic whiskey was on offer just a few feet away where they were pouring sweet and delicious Buffalo Trace, made at one of America’s oldest and most storied distilleries. And, nearby, both Mother and Supernova Ballroom—two buzzy bars that opened up recently—demonstrated sustainable bartending and how to Drink Like you Give a F**k.
Is this starting to sound a lot more like night school than a party? Well, it shouldn’t. It was both. And more—way more than we can properly describe here. It was a cocktail crawl for the ages. And it certainly got the city’s palates primed for the rest of what’s shaping up to be an unforgettable week.
Here’s a peek inside the party and check out #TCW19: