Toronto’s nightlife and drinking culture is very different to Australia’s culture.
Firstly, there’s the sport. Huge and numerous television screens adorn most bars in Toronto – even in higher end bars and nightclubs.
If you’re not interested in watching the baseball, hockey, lacrosse, basketball, or even soccer, you need to plan where you’re going so you don’t wander into a sports bar masquerading as something else.
Secondly, the NIMBYISM (Not In My BackYard, for those unaware of the acronym) in Ontario means liquor stops being served around 2-3AM, as required by law.
Because of this, there is a proliferation of seedy underground “after hours” nightclubs run in private premises by shady characters of dubious origin. So if you’re in any industry where your job finishes around or after midnight and feel like a drink in Toronto, your options are swift, and limited. Australia – this is what you have to look forward to.
And yet in spite of these factors, Toronto still manages to have some of the coolest bars and nightclubs that I’ve been to. When my childhood friend Brooke moved here with her husband and gorgeous toddler Tate, we managed to schedule in some drinks in her new neighbourhood – St Lawrence.
Pravda Vodka Bar
Pravda vodka bar is an opulent bar filled with sumptuous furnishings. I’m not sure how politically correct a communist-Russia themed bar is these days, but the overall look is impressive and the red tones and plush cushions and lounges give the place a warm feeling.
Our experience at Pravda is amusing, thanks to passive-aggressive attitude from the bar staff. The upper level is closed for a function, so everyone is packed into the downstairs level. The music and conversation is at a loudish buzz. After a look at the menus, Brook orders a Socialist Lychee Martini, and I order a Trotsky Lemon Berry Martini.
The bar tender explains to us that they don’t take debit cards. Which is fine, we both have debit cards on us that function as credit cards. The bartender, in a rude tone, explains to us that these don’t work (apparently this problem is unique to this bar in Toronto, and indeed, the world – I wouldn’t say just the western world, as I’ve not experienced this problem in Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, French Polynesia, anywhere else in Canada, the United States… you get the idea).
When I try to explain that my card works fine as a credit card everywhere, the lady gets huffy and says if it doesn’t work, then she has to pay for it herself. So Brooke suggests she’ll just run upstairs and get her credit card. As Brooke leaves, the bartender takes the drinks back with pursed lips, and puts them behind the bar, just to be careful. Which is hilarious – us lawyers must look like the dodgy type who would steal a drink without paying for it!
The cocktails are nice enough, but with the attitude and the lack of seating, we decide to move somewhere else where we can relax and have a chat.
Location: 44 Wellington Street East, Toronto.
Cost: Regular Martinis $11 each (which we had), Premium Martinis $13.
Brooke mentions she’s passed a little French wine bar on her travels through St Lawrence and would like to check it out.
On the inside, C’est What is not French in the slightest, despite the name, and is very multicultural. The menu has one of the largest ranges of cuisines I’ve ever seen in a bar, and food to satisfy the hungriest of carnivores and the pickiest of vegans.
We both pick dishes from the Sans Viande section of the menu. I have the falafels and Brooke chooses the veggie roti. The meals are huge, and we probably could have shared one entrée (main) between us both. But, given I have been on a juice detox and just polished off two alcoholic drinks, I manage to eat everything.
The hummus is a standout on my falafel plate – chunky and fresh. And the proportion of pita bread given to the amount of hummus and falafels is perfect. Brooke mentions it looks a little like tuna salad and I tell her that a lot of “faux” tuna salads for vegans are indeed made from chickpeas.
The band finishes and before the comedians start, we decide to go somewhere we can have a quieter drink and a chat. I’ve learnt the hard way not to talk during a comedy sketch – aside from being impolite, you’ll be asked questions you don’t want to answer!
Location: 67 Front Street East at Church, Toronto
Cost: Roti and Falafel Plate are $12 each.
Houston Bar & Grill
This is the part of the night that gets a little fuzzy.
We’re three drinks in by this stage, and that is pretty much my limit in Canada. I have a hazy recollection of the host and waitress being very lovely, and us drinking two white sangria cocktails, which were delicious.
We were sober enough, however, to notice one huge television screen at the back of the dining establishment, and about eight in a row behind the bar. I’m assuming these are a hangover from Houston’s former days as a ribs and steak joint.
The service and drinks were great, but if you’re trying to avoid television screens, I’d go elsewhere.
Location: 33, Yonge Street | Toronto (On.) M5E 1G4
Cost: $60.00 (4 drinks, plus tip)
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