While combing over my recent music downloads (Bruce Dickinson does a decent, apropos cover of All The Young Dudes!) I came across a .doc file of semi-intelligible bar reviews tucked away in the bottom, left-hand corner of my desktop. A week ago, I’d gone on a bit of a tear with some friends that started on Ossington and continued east on College through Little Italy.
Since, I haven’t done a proper review in awhile, I decided to post these scribblings and maybe even bone them up with whatever memories I have left of the night…
Reposado Tequila Bar was our meeting spot. I’ve only ever been there on the weekend and between the limited seating and the jazz bands they usually have in, you might have a difficult time of it. It’s still worth it.
I couldn’t begin to tell you which tequilas I’ve tried there because when you’re handed a 2 oz pour in an extremely-pretty stemmed shot glass, you shut up and drink it. I’ve stayed in the mid-price range and been very well-rewarded. They do offer Corzo Blanco Tequila (which I had the pleasure of imbibing at home after Bacardi sent me a bottle) which would pair pretty well with their freshly-squeezed juice but I recommend going with some of their more complex reposados and anejos for some slow-sippin’ pleasure. Stick to 100% agaves and you’ll do just fine. Hell, you’ll have a good time if you give yourself over to Andrea the bartender. She knows what she’s doing.
Next up, we went to Sutra Tiki Bar in Little Italy. I’d wanted to go to Sidecar but one look inside convinced me otherwise; it was far too brightly lit and when you’re bar-hopping, the last thing you want to do is stand in an empty room anyways.
Now, tiki occupies a very particular niche in bar culture. It comes and goes, surging in popularity as people rediscover kitsch only to disappear again as soon as it peaks. The much-maligned quality of the cocktails doesn’t help either.
There are many ways for a tiki drink to go wrong. With multiple ingredients and garnishes that are meant to evoke tropical fantasies as well as stimulate your taste buds, a “sweet rum drink” is a rather crude understatement. Using multiple rums, spices, freshly-squeezed juices and home-made syrups is a must.
Take the Mai Tai. Two essential ingredients (orgeat and curacao) aren’t even available in Canada. If you want to make orgeat this recipe by Rick of Kaiser Penguin is one I’ve used and it’s good. The closest thing we have to Curacao in Canada is Cointreau but you should really just go across the border and pick up a bottle in Buffalo.
What, you ask, is in a Mai Tai? Trader Vic’s family (who came up with the most enduring version) provides three recipes and (one psuedo-recipe) on the website that bears his name and I’ll reprint the first one here:
THE ORIGINAL MAI TAI
2 oz 17 year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum
1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 oz Rock Candy syrup
juice from one fresh lime
Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell in the glass and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.
Now obviously, we Canadians run into trouble with the first item in the recipe, the rum. If you’re a bit of a traditionalist, you could go with Appleton Estate Master Blender’s Legacy rum (750 mL, 43% ABV, $89.55) which is produced by J. Wray but I agree with Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice who recommends a good demerara (rum from Guyana).
The only available brand in Canada is El Dorado (you can get two vintage Bristol Classics but they’ll cost you anywhere from $200-$250); their 21 Year-Old (750 mL, 40% ABV, $109.95) would probably work very well.
If you’re feeling really fly, you could use an ounce from each; part of the fun of a good Mai Tai is the mixing and matching of different rums. Regardless of your budget, there’s probably a couple of bottles you can afford.
As for the curacao, you really should make a run and grab a bottle of the good stuff but Cointreau will do in a pinch. Rock candy syrup is not the same as simple syrup, it has a whole lot more sugar, and a decent recipe can be found on the Tiki Central Forum. I don’t even need to get into why you should use a fresh lime do I?
Anyway! Sutra’s Mai Tai doesn’t even come close to the traditional recipe as you can see from their menu to the right. Substituting amaretto for orgeat is lazy bartending and those juices don’t belong anywhere near a Mai Tai.
I ordered one anyway, just to see what it was like and while it’s not bad, it’s certainly not worth $7.50. Stick with the recipe above because you won’t find one bar in Toronto that can make a decent Mai Tai.
Most of their other cocktails were similar bastardized versions of the classics. A coconut cup with a little umbrella does not a tiki drink make.
Despite the disappointing cocktails, the music was boomin’ and the back patio floor is covered with ankle-deep sand which is kind of charming. There are better bars for the cost of the drinks but you could do worse if you’re with the right friends.
(For more information about tiki, head on over to A Mountain of Crushed Ice.)
We were going to go the College Street Bar but the bouncers carded us and insisted we pay cover. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal but there were quite a few of us and, feelin’ rowdy and a bit put-out by the delay, we headed down the street to The Midtown where we were greeted with open arms.
It’s a new bar but it’s still stuck in the first few years of the millenium. Fatman Scoop and Co. were on the playlist and the bar was packed nine-deep with young ginos ordering round after round of shots. Between the dancing and the Jager-bombs, we fit right in.
Nostalgia can have a powerful draw; we didn’t end up leaving till after last-call so this venue marked the end of our “crawl” but I suppose it was for the best that we didn’t close the night at Bistro 422 with pitchers of rye-and-gingers in hand.