Trend: adj. A prevailing tendency or inclination.
Craving: noun. An intense, urgent, or abnormal desire for longing.
Think of these two words. Now, think of burgers. Now, think of cocktails. Now, think of Toronto. Each of these things is more related than might be apparent at first thought…
Remember back circa 2011 (I know, its like forever ago) when the city saw a slew of burger joints popping up all across town. It was starting to seem more likely to stumble upon a burger joint than a convenience store and who could blame these savvy proprietors – people love burgers! They’re delicious, sensitive on time and on the wallet, and though they may not be entirely diet friendly, fu*k it… did I mention they’re delicious?
It’s undeniably true that Torontonians are all-up-on what’s trending, and that our cravings for whatever’s hot at the minute are insatiable. Lucky for our burger bearing entrepreneurs, they identified an edible niche that could simply never go out of style… maybe that’s cuz it never did. (Don’t tell the hipsters that meat, cheese, and buns were cool before they thought of it, or they may go back to their Emo-teen days, slit their wrists and try and tout it as the hot new condiment.)
What made the burger craze in Toronto so fantastic was that it took a timeless classic and gave it new life in a great light. A similar revelation has come to the connoisseurs of fine cocktails.
“The enthusiasm for cuisine in general in Toronto has given more attention to the craft element of cocktails,” Lucas Sharkey-Pearce, co-owner of URSA, tells me. “There are a lot of young bartenders who are getting more serious about the practice – adapting on the classics and interpreting those preparations based on technical standards rather than just free-wheeling it.”
Not only are old-fashioned, prohibition era cocktails making a massive resurgence in bars all across town, but casual drinkers and full-fledged drunkards are delighting in the art of fine cocktails without simply serving as a member to clubs like the Toronto Temperance Society or Soho House Toronto.
Hotels that have always been revered for their masterful mixology such as The Drake Hotel, DEQ at The Ritz and Sandy De Almeida’s inspired contributions to The Gladstone Hotel are starting to appeal to a more varied audience.
Robin Goodfellow heads up the bar at URSA, and has mixed feelings on the evolution of cocktail culture in the city.
“There is a severe need for bartenders to spend more time to learn and properly execute the classics,” he says. “Bartenders are being very creative and doing impressive things to tweak drinks with their own style, but their technique on how to make a hundred year old drink may not be proper.”
While Robin believes that we’ve still got a long way to go until we amass enough of the curators and the venues to support a full-fledged cocktail revolution in Toronto, when you’ve got award winning mixologists like Rob Montgomery at Miller Tavern on Bay squeezing fresh juice each day, a former spirit slinger like Jen Agg (The Black Hoof, Hoof Raw Bar, Hoof Café, and Cocktail Bar) starting cocktail-centric accompaniments to her current establishments, and dudes like Aaron Beaudoin at Goods and Provisions who makes his own bitters, it’s hard to say the scene isn’t getting stirred up.
From spots like Skin+Bones in Leslieville, whose wine list isn’t the only appealing element for those that like a l’il drink with dins, to the newly opened Montauk on Dundas West that caters specifically to the craft, whether you like it straight up, old fashioned, or infused, there’s something to be discovered as the cocktail culture in Toronto gets a little less cult-y.