Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — When you walk into a cocktail bar, you usually are met with a drink list that includes your standard concoctions as well as favourite inventions from the man or woman behind the bar. Not so at Toronto’s Civil Liberties.
You won’t find a menu at all. What you will encounter is a cozy space with fun-loving guys behind the bar with more than a little rebelliousness in them. Nick Kennedy, one of those bartenders and co-owners, says Civil Liberties chose the no-menu concept in order to facilitate conversation.
“Usually when you are behind the bar, the menu is the last interaction you have with the customer. You give it to them, they pick their drink and you serve it to them, and that’s a lot of the times what it’s about,” Kennedy says.
But when there is no menu, customers will engage with Kennedy and his partners, David Huynh and Cole Stanford. It leads to a lively atmosphere and, according to Kennedy, a more satisfying cocktail experience for his customers. If someone likes a boozy drink, he may serve his take on an Old-Fashioned, while a drinker who isn’t keen on such a spirit-forward cocktail may receive a twist on a daiquiri or similarly soft-flavoured potable.
“We have a policy that if you don’t like it, we’ll drink it,” Kennedy says of the drinks he mixes for guests.
His desire is to expand people’s cocktail horizons, moving away from the standards of gin and tonic, rum and Coke, and vodka and soda, to trying drinks with more complex flavours, as well as less well-known products. When I asked for an Old-Fashioned, he served up one with Ancho Reyes, a liqueur made from ancho chile. The product of Pueblo, Mexico has 40-per-cent alcohol and is wickedly delicious, with a distinct flavour that mixes sweet and spicy notes. The roasted ancho chile is blended with sugar cane, so their is a similarity to rum but the spiciness adds texture and complexity.
“The depth of flavour you get off it is really cool,” Kennedy says of Ancho Reyes. “A lot of people ask a lot for spice in their cocktail and it’s not just at the top of the glass or around the rim. With this product you get it a real deep flavour and it blends really well, too.”
Civil Liberties, which debuted in 2014, is in the emerging neighbourhood near the corner of Bloor Street West and Ossington Street in Toronto’s west end. North of the bustling West Queen West neighbourhood, the area is a hot spot for new bars and restaurants.
“It’s a multi-ethnic neighbourhood and you see it with the businesses moving in here that it’s starting to really become an area where people can come and hang out in,” Kennedy says.
Address: 878 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON (see map below)
OTHER TORONTO COCKTAIL BARS TO VISIT
Resposado (136 Ossington Avenue) — If tequila is your thing, then Resposado is your place. This trendy spot on the Ossington Strip is often teeming with patrons looking for Patron, El Jimador and other fine tequila brands.
Bar Raval (505 College Street West) — Cocktails, wines, small bites and share plates. Few places in the city are more comfortable and capable as Bar Raval. It ranked No. 9 on the 2015 Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada list in its first year of operations.
dBar (60 Yorkville Avenue) — For those who enjoy some sophistication with their beverages, the lobby-level bar at the Four Seasons Yorkville is often bustling with activity — including a few celebrities or notable professionals — and has a wide selection of top-shelf drinks. Try #TheSix ($18), which is a reference to one of nicknames for Toronto. It features Stolichnaya vodka, Amaretto, pear juice, lemon juice, egg whites and Amarena cherries. If you’re hungry, be sure to order the decadent lobster roll ($29).