If you’re looking to catch a discreet buzz in a Toronto spot that’s far from mainstream, you’re in luck.
While they’ve been around in places like New York City (La Esquina, Please Don’t Tell) and London (La Bodega Negra) for years, Toronto is home to a growing number of secret bars and restaurants – some of which are inevitably on their way to becoming the worst kept secrets in the city.
Here are some of our favourites…
1307 Dundas St. West
Over on Dundas West, behind neon signs for tarot cards and down a hidden staircase is The Libertine. While the vintage feeling, speakeasy-type space actually does have an in-house fortuneteller, the focus of this not-so-secret-anymore spot is on their craft cocktails and notable, seasonal cuisine that includes favourites like a deep-fried chicken.
Escobar at Baro
485 King St. West
Late last year, Baro took over prime King West real estate to offer the in-the-know set of foodies their fix of quality Latin food, and the late night cocktail sippers a refined, password protected, invite-only watering hole. Located on the second floor, Escobar offers a well-curated cocktail menu and retro decor, and is complete with a very Instagrammable neon sign that reads “Pablo Loves You” (by now, you’ve definitely seen it on the social media accounts of friends who have found their way inside).
60 Kensington Ave.
Though it’s no longer the best-kept secret among Toronto’s hipsters the way it once was, Kensington Market’s Cold Tea is still yet to make its way into the mainstream or become saturated with the hard-partying King West set. Tucked away in the Kensington Mall, behind a secret entrance – marked only by a red light – you’ll find crafty cocktails, fresh dim sum and a breezy backyard patio. For the record, they don’t actually serve cold tea.
184 Ossington Ave. (back door)
If you want to avoid the often-overcrowded Ossington bars that have become increasingly rammed with partiers of all backgrounds in recent years, you can mow down on pizza and other Italian goodness and wash it down with flowing wine and cocktails at SP184. Located in the alley behind Superpoint (which opened its doors late last year), behind an unassuming door, you’ll find the raw, industrial, low-key party spot.
89 Ossington Ave.
Another hidden gem on Ossington is Gift Shop, a full-service cocktail bar hidden inside barber shop, Barber & Co. The small bar-shop hybrid is dimly lit and features retro tiles and mirrored ceilings. Filled with iconic collectibles like Rolex watches, vintage comic books, Hot Wheels and more, here you’ll find creative concoctions curated by Bartender of the Year Vancouver recipient, H. So not only will you get the allure of a speakeasy, you’ll get world-class cocktails, too.
Toronto Temperance Society
577A College St. (above Sidecar)
Located above College St.’s Sidecar and accessible through an unmarked black door, you’ll find the private members club Toronto Temperance Society. Lucky for you, you don’t actually have to be member to eat, drink and be merry at this spot – but you do need to email ahead of time. You may also want do something crazy and leave your phone at home; cell phone use is not permitted here.
1415 Dundas St. West
If you’re in the mood for rocking Converse and ripped jeans, swap the stuffiness for a dive bar and visit the pinball machine-filled Unlovable tucked away in Little Portugal. The unmarked basement bar offers a “good vibes only” type of setting, and the spot features regular DJ sets, drink specials and a solid beer list.
The Hole in the Wall
2867 Dundas St. West
The aptly named The Hole in the Wall is a narrow (super narrow), unassuming watering hole at the corner of Dundas and Keele. The casual spot is a good place to unwind over craft beer and live music – including open mic nights – and indulge in some comforting refined pub grub.
While these spots will inevitably lose their discreteness over time, if you check them out now, you’ll still feel like you know something the rest of the city doesn’t upon entry (and you don’t have to worry about running into your boss when you’re five cocktails in).
Did we miss any of Toronto’s top secret bars? Spill the beans and share their locales in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.