Whether serving the classics or craft cocktails, it’s essential for a bar to carve out its own niche. Sometimes this can lead to a bartender starting a trend, but at a minimum, a good bar has developed an innovative approach to mixing drinks.
Bartender extraordinaire Rebecca White celebrated a 30-year milestone anniversary at the Double Tree Inn (formerly the Hilton) in 2016. Wright has been a dedicated mainstay at the lounge attached to the newly-refurbished Blake’s Bistro and has long been one of London’s unsung tourism ambassadors.
Another bartender extraordinaire is Greg Simpson, who rocks the bar at Waldo’s on King several nights a week. His specialties are the classics, particularly his well-crafted Manhattans and Martinis. Simpson is known for his wit and clever repartee and draws a loyal clientele. And no shortlist of great London bartenders would be complete without mentioning Pete Willis at The Church Key Bistro-Pub or Ray Nernberg at Blu Duby Downtown.
On-trend mixologists continue to shape the ever- evolving bar scene, whether through barrel-aged drinks, sous-vide cocktails, or culinary-driven ingredients. Here are ten great spots that have made cocktails essential to their operation, in alphabetical order.
Bar One Fifty One
Bar One Fifty One is a newly-designed bar in Stratford’s Prune Restaurant offering unique cocktails and a cosmopolitan-inspired food menu. Try the Smokin’ Prune with cold steeped smoked tea, Luxardo, bourbon, bitters and bourbon soaked cherries. Smokin’ Prune Tea is specifically crafted by The Prune tea sommelier in conjunction with Stratford Tea Leaves. theprune.com/bar-one-fifty-one
Blu Duby is one of the best spots in downtown London for cocktails. A solid-walnut bar top is one of the focal points in the 120-seat dining room, which includes a 30-seat bar and comfortable lounge. The contemporary and comfortable black chairs and tables provide contrast to the reclaimed exposed brick walls, solid maple hardwood flooring and fourteen-foot ceilings. Ray Nernberg recently prepared me a classic Cherry Negroni with Dillon’s Small Batch Cherry Gin, Red Vermouth, Campari and Orange. bluduby.com
Jess Jazey-Spoelstra and Chef Andrew Wolwowicz are the talented duo partnered in Craft Farmacy. This neighbourhood resto will feature an oyster bar, fabulous cocktails, great wines, lots of sharing plates and local craft beer. Jazey-Spoelstra’s stylish design sensibility is reflected at Craft Farmacy. It is about delivering style and comfort, and paying attention to the smallest details. A long bar, stunning fireplace, custom-made leather banquettes and tables with comfortable chairs set the tenor. Craft Farmacy’s Gin Fizzle includes Dillon’s Gin, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice, rhubarb bitters, seltzer and grapefruit peel. fb.com/CraftFarmacy
Los Lobos is the latest creation from Justin and Gregg Wolfe. This hot take on Modern Mexican cuisine is a feast for all senses. The inspiring Los Lobos bar serves up mezcal, bourbon and margarita-focused signature cocktails. Expect innovation! The Wolfe brothers love to take blended drink classics and island-style beverages up to an entirely new level and offer plenty of interesting options. fb.com/LosLobosLondon
Stratford’s Mercer Hall offers a chef-driven menu featuring local ingredients, Ontario-focused wines and house-infused cocktails. The fully stocked bar features all of the favourites that you have come to know and love, with a full selection of craft and recognizable brands. The cocktail list is ever-evolving to reflect trends and seasonality – they love to shake things up. The Lokal is made with Junction 56 Gin, St. Germain, Campari, grapefruit juice and IPA foam. We also love their Hearty Old Fashioned and the Mercer Mule. mercerhall.ca
The Mill Stone
The cocktail menu at Stratford’s The Mill Stone, as with the food menu, is eclectic, drawing inspiration from a variety of global cuisines (for example, Mescal and Madras together on a menu with an “Aperitivo” section). The seasonal selections on the cocktail list are developed with the food offerings in mind, using similar ingredients and ideas. Try the Berry Basil Mash with Junction 56 Gin, Madeira sour, chocolate bourbon, mint, lime, bitters, basil berries and soda. The lavender notes in the gin pair beautifully with the homegrown basil and local berries for an herbal, sweet and refreshing cocktail. We also like the Boulevardier. Manager Jamie Hayton says, “They swap out Campari for Amaro for a more approachable version of the classic aperitif cocktail.” With the off-season approaching, look forward to a little more time and energy being put into experimentation, as well as cocktail-themed events. themillstone.ca
Okazu is a worker-owned cocktail bar and dinner lounge serving Asian-inspired small plates and unique cocktails featuring cold-pressed juices, sake, soju and local craft spirits. It’s a chic venue in Stratford for grown-ups who want a little of everything in a luxe environment without having to plan ahead. This is not just a Japanese snack bar; this is a dinner lounge and cocktail bar featuring global food, clarified through a Japanese palate. The menu features dumplings, noodle bowls, and “not-so-noodle” bowls. Head bartender Brittany Holmes and The Red Rabbit’s Jessie Votary make cocktail magic. Try the 56 Miles to Thailand with Junction 56 Vodka, lime juice, pineapple juice, simple syrup, chilies and cilantro. okazusnackbar.com
Revival House is celebrating its third year hosting dining events, concerts and weddings in Stratford’s renovated historic Church Restaurant. The premiere dining and events space now also boasts a 48-seat garden patio on the quiet south side of the heritage building as well as the revived Belfry Bar in the upper level. The Belfry is welcoming and chic with a cocktail list featuring rare and local spirits. We love Candice Wigan’s Revival House Martini with Chambord, Limoncello, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Champagne and Rose Water. revival.house
Spruce on Wellington
Thomas Waite’s Spruce on Wellington has a charming seasonal patio. This is the perfect setting for al fresco cocktailing. Server Jamie Sandwich makes refreshing takes on the Moscow Mule and the Dark and Stormy. His new cocktail list features a Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned (High Fashion, with Gin, St. Germain, Grapefruit Juice and Rhubarb Bitters), and Apple Hinny (with Vodka, Apple Juice and Lime Ginger Beer). spruceonwellington.com
Wolfe of Wortley
We know why the Wolfe brothers’ Wolfe of Wortley made the longlist for Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2017. “Cocktail-wise mastermind Gregg likes to riff on the classics, taking something familiar, tried and tested and elevating it,” notes his brother Justin. The cocktail list features craft cocktails that are prepared with fresh ingredients, homemade mixers and premium liquors. A potent Smoked Manhattan is made with Bulleit Bourbon, Antica (red vermouth), Angostura bitters and cherry vanilla bitters served in a cinnamon smoke-filled glass. There are interesting seasonal features, quality spirits, and flights of bourbon. We also love the Fall Fashioned, made with Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Glenlivet 12 Year Old Scotch, fig/cinnamon shrub, a dash of Angostura Bitters, house-made cumin and maple walnut bitters, pickled apple ball and a red wine poached pear. wolfeofwortley.com