Tag Archive: Bars I Don’t Like

Awhile back, I wrote about Bruce Buschel’s New York Times article on the 100 things restaurant staff should never do and the sometimes vitriolic debate surrounding the piece. Quite rightly, a lot of folks felt the list was pretentious and Buschel’s lack of experience certainly didn’t help matters.

He was roundly mocked by many people in the industry (and quite a few patrons) but just as many clueless freaks chimed in with support proving to me that a large segment of the population clearly has no idea how challenging it can sometimes be to a good server.

While I’m no hater (hell, at least a third of Buschel’s advice was solid) everything else he said left me with flashbacks to the motley assortment of owners and managers that I’ve had the misfortune of working with. Like many things in life, the service industry has far more bad eggs than good ones and it gets stinkier the higher you look.

Leaving aside the bickering between staff and guests (some things never change) and a certain segment of the workforce that will never amount to anything (I like to call them “the doomed”) the blame for staff performing poorly can almost entirely be laid at the feet of the owners and those power-hungry assholes they hire to manage their venue for them.

Training is clearly lacking here and while I’d like nothing better than to put together a helpful, concise training manual nobody who matters is going to pay attention and it’s way more to fun to right a shit-list of no-nos anyway…

And so, I present the twenty-five things restaurant owners should never do (I initially considered adding seventy-five more but there’s something to be said for brevity). A lot of this applies to managers as well and quite frankly, I see no harm in lumping ‘em all in together. To my mind, if the manager sucks, the owner’s either not much better or wilfully ignorant.

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Tequila and Mai Tais

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:


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 recipemenu2 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.

The best karaoke bars in Toronto


(A current list of all the karaoke nights currently running in the city.)

Karaoke’s always been a bit of a niche scene, with the larger Asian segment dominating like a Pacman-shaped portion of the graph while a slice of more western nights comprise a small (but loyal) contingent of singers spread throughout the city.

The most common reaction I get when I confess to enjoying karaoke is a surprised “Really?” tinged with (I think) a bit of disdain. The common thought seems to be that it’s all about tuneless, drunken sing-alongs and while that might be part of it (and God bless every single one of those martyrs for the cause) booze-soaked renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody are the exception, not the rule.

And therein lies the reason behind this list.

Everyone who gives a shit has an opinion about where to go for the best karaoke, some local spot that’s unreservedly fantastic and I won’t even pretend to be some kind of authority on the subject; my intention with this list is to merely provide a short (but solid) selection of joints that I think stand head and shoulders above the rest.

These places feature (mostly) good singers, eclectic song lists, drink specials and they’re open during the middle of the week; the only decent time to hold a really good karaoke night.

My favorite of the moment has to be Paradise (488 Parliament St.). Located just north of where Carlton begins, it’s definitely a dive but the owners are friendly, especially when they realize that you’re not like the rest of the bums that infest this place.

Karaoke nights are Sundays and Wednesdays and both feature $3.50 pints of Cool ($11 for a pitcher!). However, those in the know point to the Guinness tap from which flows Doublefist Stout. I can’t find anything about this beer and I don’t even know if that’s its actual name; the bartender wasn’t exactly sure himself. What I do know is that it’s smooth and creamy with a bit of coffee and caramel to taste. I like it; especially at $5 a pint.

However, the best thing about Paradise is the song selection! The MC (whose name escapes me at the moment) will proudly tell you that he didn’t pick any crap; just the stuff he likes and it shows. A quick flip through his book reveals the Sex Pistols, Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode, The Clash, Björk, T. Rex, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, The Arcade Fire and The Pogues!

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to be able to sing along to the best of Shane MacGowan and Co.! Having spent many a night doing the same thing on the way home from a party, it’s even better to do it pint in hand, backed by the original recording. It’s one of those things you can feel your way through with your eyes closed and if you’re a fan, you have to give it a try.

I even saw Berlin’s Sex (I’m a…) which I count as one of the best duets of all time. If you can sing this, you are my hero. Best of all, you’ll get to perform at least half-a-dozen songs which is unheard of if you’re not renting a private room.

When I’m too tired for Paradise and my coworkers at the hotel come calling, we go across the street to Hoops Sports Bar & Grill (458 Yonge. St). Food-wise, they have amazing daily entrees, including a bacon-wrapped filet for $12.99, and the wings and burgers are decent. The MC Jeremy will get you up there and the song selection is pretty good for a typical karaoke night. The crowd is usually pissed and very supportive and I have a good time. Bonus: Mixed amongst the crappy singers are some real professionals who have real talent so even if you’re not going to get up, you’ll enjoy some of the show.

Karaoke happens every Wednesday and Thursday and even if you don’t arrive until midnight, you’ll probably get a couple of songs in which is more than Peter Styles and the Gladstone Hotel can claim.

One event which I enjoy going to but have never actually taken the stage at is Hip-Hop Karaoke. Held at Revival (783 College St.) it’s the spot for aspiring MCs to show their stuff. Forgoing the usual screens displaying lyrics, here it’s all sheets but since most of the would-be rappers know the songs by heart, trying to read while performing is not recommended. Even if you’re not going to perform, it’s a blast to watch some unknown do Biggie and in many ways, it feels more like an open-mic/concert than a karaoke night proper which is fine by me.

Neutral has a pretty damn fine karaoke night on Tuesday that has some longevity in an industry where most don’t last longer than a year. Located at the mouth of Kensington Market (349a College St. West at Augusta Ave.) it features a more alternative selection of songs, curated by Steve-O, and while Nick Cave may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and why not?) with over 20,000 songs to choose from, you’d be hard-pressed to sing the same one twice in a month.

It can get busy but when it’s not, everyone gets their fair share of stage-time and the drinks are reasonably-priced, with some kind of special usually featured.

In a nod to the neighborhood’s past, Baby Huey’s on 70 Ossington St. now does karaoke! I haven’t actually tried it out but I have been to Huey’s and I know Richie Rich from his karaoke nights at both of the Foxes and I think it’s safe to say that you’ll find a good time here. He’s a great MC who’s very friendly and tries to get everyone up there. His song selection is also very decent.

The drinks are cheap ($4.50 for a domestic beer, $5.50 for bar rail) with $3.50 Jäger shots being just the thing to give you enough courage to join your friends behind the mic.

Do you have a favorite karaoke joint? Let’s hear about it!

(Image taken from therozblog’s Flickr photostream.)

Bar Blacklist – VIP Billiards


The bar I went to tonight has prompted me to create a whole new category on this blog. Yes, it was that bad.

From now on, when I go to a bar that is so godawful that I walk away wanting those hours of my life back, I’m going to write about it here.

Maybe that’s not fair though. After all, we all have different tastes and opinions, right? Maybe some people enjoy bad draft beer, auto-grats, watered-down cocktails and indifferent service. Normally, I forgive the last one on the list but the first three really make it hard to overlook.

So you don’t clean your pipes. Every beer is stale; the kind of taste you might get if the bartender put together a pint with the spill from all of the pints they’ve been pulling all night. Some (Rickard’s Red) are downright near-skunky but we let it pass because we were having a good time (and we’re probably too nice for own good anyway).

Your cocktails suck. I’ve had every kind of shitty drink you can find in this city but I’ve yet to come across one that’s watered-down and this bar’s definitely a contender. My coworker’s lychee martini might’ve been almost 1 oz of booze if we’d been pissed but it was the first drink of the night and it was pretty damn obvious.

The mediocre service I could overlook except that our table was slapped with an automatic gratuity.

What the fuck?

We ordered no food and you never bothered to tell us that you were going to tack it on to our bill (nor was there any mention of it on the menu). I’ve yet to go to a bar that does that and I wouldn’t have minded so much if the drinks had been good and the bartender had put together our round of shots in a timely manner (ten minutes is a bit much).

The icing on the cake had to be the manager-on-duty coming up to us and offering us VIP cards for (get this) free pool if we referred his establishment to our guests when they asked us for a recommendation. Then, and only then, would we could get a free game of pool and a line-bypass.


VIP Lounge & Billiards Club is a shithole.

Bars that don’t carry bitters


In the past week, I’ve found myself at two bars that don’t carry bitters.

I don’t have high expectations when it comes to going out because this is Toronto but I would’ve thought that most bars, especially ones in Little Italy, would carry Angostura bitters. Maybe not Pechaud’s or Averna or even Unicum but Angostura for sure, right?


Toronto, you have managed to disappoint me once again. The first bar, Clinton’s, is not exactly the most classy place but they had a nice selection of bourbon and I felt that a Manhattan would hit the spot. No luck although the bartender did offer to throw a splash of Jagermeister in there which failed to make its mark.

Now I like Clinton’s. It’s a good venue and every week, they throw Shake a Tail, one of the best dance parties in town. I’m quite happy to stick to beer and shots there but part of me wants to buy them a bottle of Angostura’s just so I can have it available when I’m around.

The second bar I went to, Strange Love, didn’t get off as easy. It comes across as the Social of Little Italy which is not a compliment. The Social, for those who don’t know, is a coke den/club on West Queen St. West that caters to hipsters and a motley assortment of jocks and 9-to-5ers looking for a little credibility. Strange Love is like The Social’s stranger, grubbier little brother with no cover and cheap drinks (if you get there before 11).

Still, any place that offers bottle service and claims to offer a “sophisticated lounge experience” should damn well have some fuckin’ bitters to offer! I was feeling poorly and thought that an ounce of bitters in my rye and ginger would be just the thing to settle my stomach but the girl didn’t even know what I was talking about.

You may be asking yourselves why I’m working myself up into a righteous fury over an absent bottle. You may even feel that this smacks of outright pretension (point taken) but I can’t see why any bar worth its salt can’t take the time to head out to the nearest grocery store and pick up a bottle of Angostura. It’s cheap, it will probably last forever and when an individualist like me comes in, you’ll keep him happy.

It’s like not having scotch! Yes, we know the plebes will stick with their bar rail and god bless ‘em, they represent the bread-and-butter of every bar. God knows I serve enough on the weekends and I certainly don’t begrudge them their mediocrity.


When someone enters your bar and desires something a little more substantial, maybe a drink with a little complexity (and I cannot think of a more appropriate example of this than a Manhattan, the king of cocktails), you damn well better have the ingredients on hand to please them.

Especially when everything about your bar suggests that you care about that kind of thing.

I leave you with my favorite version of the Manhattan which isn’t that radically different than the classic recipe except I generally forgo rye in favor of bourbon and I like a touch more vermouth and bitters. And I really like cherries.


2 oz Woodford Reserve (substitute Maker’s Mark or Wild Turkey if necessary)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
4 dashes Angostura bitters
3 Maraschino cherries

Stir the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with the cherries.

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