Start (and end) your night in Toronto with these local bartenders

Here’s where to find some expert mixology in Toronto with especially stunning cocktail lists.

Amy Carlberg

Amy Carlberg

December 15, 2023- Read time: 6 min
Start (and end) your night in Toronto with these local bartendersJames Kenny, the mixologist at sibling restaurants SARA and RASA, one of several places that really stand out in Toronto's mixology scene. | Photograph: Brilynn Ferguson

Toronto’s bar scene is as varied as the city itself, from basement dives to rooftop escapes. Get a glimpse at a few of the places that stand out in the city’s vast world of bars and mixology.


“Our menu is continuously evolving, reflecting our core identity as a venue with a low, stirred-down vibe,” says Tommy Byrne of the Writers Room Bar

“Being situated in one of Toronto’s trendiest neighbourhoods with a rich bohemian history, we’re always finding ways to integrate elements that are fresh and vibrant.”

Toronto’s location of the Park Hyatt underwent a major restoration in recent years, which included the transformation of its iconic rooftop bar into the Writers Room, paying homage to the literary minds that have spent time at the hotel.

Opened in September 2021, Byrne says the cocktail philosophy at the bar reflects the ever-changing nature of their location at the heart of the city.

The Farewell to Shore cocktail. | Photograph: Courtesy Writers Room Bar

He emphasizes a collaborative atmosphere where a team of skilled bartenders each contributes their expertise, centering their creative process around a carefully curated list of simple and minimal, yet premium, ingredients that bolster their commitment to sustainability and waste reduction.

“An example is the Alchemist's Elixir, a refined low ABV interpretation of sangria featuring a grapefruit marmalade derived from repurposed grapefruit skins,” says Byrne.

Tommy Byrne’s go-to cocktail to start: “Our Bitter Relief is a must on our menu. It’s a simple Negroni riff featuring a slow-infusion of whole coffee beans and Tanqueray 10.”

To finish: “Not So Sleepy Hollow–another enticing low ABV option. It’s a bright and creamy dessert-style cocktail, almost like a pumpkin colada with dark rum and Seedlip Spice 94.”

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If you’re of the plant-based persuasion, you may want to check out Gia, a plant-forward restaurant with vegan and vegetarian options—not to mention quite a few tasty cocktails.

Bar manager Angel Jay describes the cocktail program as “whimsical and fun”, and all drinks are vegan or can be made vegan. Think house syrups of fig, blackberry and hibiscus crafted with fresh fruit and organic cane sugar, and mocktails that include wares from the old local shop House of Tea.

Angel Jay’s go-to cocktail to start: I Should Live in Salt made with gin or vodka, vermouth and house pickle brine.

To finish: Bramble On made with Empress gin, elderflower liqueur, blackberry syrup, lemon, egg whites and vanilla.

“It's basically dessert,” says Jay.

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James Kenny, the mixologist at sibling restaurants SARA and RASA. | Photograph: Brilynn Ferguson


James Kenny, the mixologist at sibling restaurants SARA and RASA, describes his cocktail programs and the process by which they’re built as “chaotic by nature.”

“The vision behind the flavours comes from the method of setting limitations,” says Kenny.

“I start by finding a new expression, spice, or method that I haven't worked with before, and I find a way to use it in a cocktail. Once I've figured all of that out, that's where the process begins.”

Kenny’s style involves a symbiotic relationship with the kitchen team to create cocktails that are truly worth stepping out for. For example, RASA’s competition-winning Down By The Bay made with Diplomatico Mantuano, lime, sumac-infused aperitivo, honeydew and coriander bitters, or SARA’s subzero pre-batched freezer door martinis poured and zested tableside (ask for house brine).

“Both restaurants have a dynamite kitchen team, and they're excellent for running ideas by, helping me employ different culinary techniques behind the bar,” says Kenny.

“My philosophy when making a drink is this: If you can easily replicate it at home, it isn't something I really want to put on my menu. That, and you should be able to taste every listed ingredient.”

James Kenny’s go-to cocktail to start: “I'm likely to drift towards rum-based drinks at the start of my meal, and in between courses.”

To finish: “An old faithful is Naked and Famous—equal parts mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, Aperol, and fresh lime juice—that cocktail just checks every box for me. I'm also happy a lot of spots these days carry a decent selection of Amari for after dinner—many of which are a weapon in cocktail creation.”

Book a same-day reservation at SARA and RASA using DINR.
At Quetzal's Michelin star experience, impressive cocktails that match the food are all designed to celebrate Mexican cuisine and culture. | Photograph: Rick O’Brien


Quetzal has received a Michelin star for an experience that includes impressive cocktails to match food cooked over a 26-foot-long wood-burning grill, all designed to celebrate Mexican cuisine and culture.

Agave spirits are the base for every single cocktail on the menu here, which might also include ingredients like hoja santa, a sacred leaf used in Mexican cooking to flavour moles and wrap tamales.

General manager Matthew Kopysh works with bar manager Eder Sanchez and a bartending squad of four to create the cocktail program.

“Itanoni in Mexico is famous for their tortillas, and when we visited there last spring we finally got to try their tascalate–a chilled, alcohol-free beverage made from toasted tortillas, cacao, pine nuts, canela, and achiote paste,” says Kopysh.

“It tastes like Oaxaca in a mug, and when we got home it was obvious that tascalate had to be worked into the cocktail list somehow.”

The result is a labour-intensive añejo tequila and mezcal Old Fashioned infused with the tascalate base, which Kopysh calls “completely transportative.”

“We're currently serving a dirty tequila martini that's supposed to be loosely evocative of a mole estafado—capers and caper brine, toasted coriander seed, and a shot of sangrita to chase the whole thing,” says Kopysh. “It's a super savoury concoction, and it tastes a little bit like a meal you might have at a roadside stop off the highway in Santiago Matitlán.”

Matthew Kopysh’s go-to cocktail to start: “The No Heather, It's Heather’s Turn is a mezcal margarita, splashed with pineapple and juiced poblano and rimmed with Tajín. It's a bit salty and savoury, a little spicy, a little bitter, and just the right balance of tart and sweet. It's the perfect way to wake up your palate before a meal here.”

To finish: “Straight mezcal is the way to go. Right now we're obsessed with Agua Santa's Pechuga, a bracing but fruit-forward mezcal that's perfect as a dessert pairing or a standalone digestivo.”

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