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.

Celebrating V-Day with Veuve, some improv and a little rock ‘n’ roll


I wasn’t going to do anything for Valentine’s Day. Unlike some people, I don’t loathe it but I’m no fan either; why do you need a day to show how much you love someone? Cards generally suck and aren’t flowers good pretty much any day? So I had no plans until my friend Michelle came to me with the idea of a dinner party for Saturday. Despite not knowing who might already have plans, we decided to throw something together and see what might happen.

Invitations were sent out and we got seven guests; a perfect number for this kind of thing. Michelle was going to make salmon with lemon and capers and baked squash with carrots and walnuts, drizzled in maple syrup. For cocktails, we decided to make mimosas so I went out to the LCBO and picked up two sparkling wines: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut and Yellowglen Pink Rose. I’d never tried the Pink but I’d heard it was sweet and light and since I was juicing the oranges and grapefruit, I wanted two options depending on the flavor of the juices. If they were a bit more tart, the Pink would go well and if they were sweeter, the Hungaria would do just fine.

People were invited to bring a dish and any drinks they might want. Michelle and I also ended up buying a bottle of Absolut and Flor de Caña (a Nicaraguan 5 year old rum, currently only $23 at the LCBO!). I also had a bottle of Centennial lying around as well as beer and wine so I figured we were well-prepared.

After dinner, we broke out a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut (a very thoughtful guest had brought it) but didn’t mix it with the orange juice. I always like Veuve because it’s one of the few champagnes with a distinctive taste to my tongue. It’s so crisp and not too dry with a bit of tartness and hints of apple and citrus.

The last drop drained, we moved onto the Hungaria which held up pretty well considering what had come before it. The addition of the orange juice was nice but I wish it had been a bit sweeter. The grapefruit juice was far too bitter and I had to add some grenadine. We never got around to trying the Pink which was a shame because it might’ve worked better with the juice.

Before leaving for the night’s entertainment, I created a shot with some amazing maple syrup Michelle had picked up from a friend’s farm. The recipe goes as follows:

3 oz Centennial Rye
3/4 oz maple syrup
top up with green tea ginger ale

The syrup adds a complexity that complements the hints of green tea and ginger. The rye is smooth enough that it never overwhelms and the carbonation gives it a smooth finish.


Replete and more than slightly drunk, we headed out to Man Men, an improv show playing at the Bad Dog Theatre that skewers Mad Men, the AMC show about an advertising company in the 60’s. It’s incredibly funny and if you’re looking for something to do on a Saturday, you could do far worse. It’s playing until the end of February so check it out if you get a chance.

Since the show ended at around eleven, we capped off the night by attending Shake a Tail, a retro rock ‘n’ roll night at Clinton’s Tavern. The bar has a great style,with log cabin walls and an excellent selection of beers on tap. The back area–where the party’s at–gets really sweaty but that’s how it should be; I don’t think I stopped dancing all night. It’s less esoteric than Goin’ Steady, Toronto’s other retro night, but while the songs are more well-known, there are no huge line-ups and the crowd’s a bit more varied.