The almost summer guide to Toronto
We promise not to complain about the weather... too much. We've been out in the city running our tours all month and it's been a doozy. A bit of rain, a bit of sleet, a lot more rain, freezing wind... but you know, that just makes tucking in at our favourite bars and restaurants for a smart drink and warm dish even better. Our out-of-town guests don't seem to mind too much. And our local guests are used to it anyway.
Summer is coming. Mark our words. And in anticipation, we've put together a little guide to summery things to do, eat and drink in the city. These are some things we're excited about this, uh, summer.
While a few brave souls can be seen huddling outside at a few patios around the city, most establishments have not officially opened their outdoor spaces yet. But in anticipation, here are a few patios to watch for when the weather finally gets nice. We heartily endorse these venues, as we also visit them on our walking tours.
Craft Beer Market
1 Adelaide St. E. (at Yonge)
It's actually open already! This is one of the largest downtown patios and what makes it special is that it's tucked away in a private area behind the main Craft Beer Market space, sort of facing Victoria Street. It feels like you're sequestered away from the downtown hullabaloo, so you'll miss all the sirens and assorted street noise that you can enjoy at other patios in the city.
190 University Ave., Third Floor
Momofuku Kōjin enjoyed a beautiful refresh last year, and the sleek third-floor space (along with the amazing grill-centric cuisine by Colombian chef Paula Navarrete) has been one of the city's hottest draws every since. This one opens as soon as we get some consistent sunny weather. With commanding views of the University Avenue hustle, you'll not only feel on top of the world, you'll be positively smug about it as you enjoy a wicked by-the-glass wine chosen by sommelier extraordinaire Steven Sousa.
875 Queen St. W.
Always a favourite on the patio-bereft West Queen West strip, Noce's patio offers a panoramic view of the 7-11 right across the street on Walnut Avenue. We're not being facetious: this is a great place for watching the comings and goings of Toronto's most colourful characters. You can play "spot the beard!" Or, another favourite, "bartender or barber?" Speaking of which, Noce's bartender and GM Michele Maffei will happily set you up with the city's best negroni and a wood-oven pizza. Tell him we sent you. Until the patio opens, you can always lounge inside, where the drinks are just as good.
922 Queen St. W.
The city's cutest patio is here, tucked behind the restaurant along an alley and community garden. No music, no city noise, just the sounds of chirping birds and clinking glasses. As it should be. Carmen's owner Veronica Laudes makes the city's best sangria, and if you're lucky she'll do it with fresh watermelon juice. Yeah, it's amazing. Order up some pintxos and you're all set.
1161 Dundas St. W.
Paris Paris doesn't have a patio. But during the summer, sommelier and GM (and Grape Witch) Krysta Oben takes her show on the road, crossing Dundas Street to take over a hidden patio spot tucked behind a community centre. Here, she runs Garden Garden, with pours of delicious natural wines, beers and other treats, plus delicious snacks from the Paris Paris kitchen team. Garden Garden kicks off June 23 and runs every Sunday "as long as the weather's nice," says Krysta.
We're already talked about rosé in a previous blog. Though some think of rose as a summer patio drink, we like to drink it all year long. Montecito will be pouring the brand-new vintage of Honsberger's incredible Cabernet Franc rosé. The 2018 vintage of this small-batch Niagara wine is due out very soon. We tasted it last week with Montecito sommelier Heather McDougall, and it is a true delight. Montecito is the only restaurant in Toronto that will have this wine. So there's your inside tip! (Just check before you go, to make sure it's arrived.)
As soon as the sun gets hot, it'll be time for a gin and tonic. New to the Ontario market is a beautiful gin from Quebec called Romeo's. Every release of this gin is curated by an urban Montreal artist. The bottles are gorgeous, and so's the gin. Get it for $38.85 at the LCBO.
Coming from New Zealand, a line of wines that are lighter in alcohol — less than 10% — will be released at the LCBO in July. The Doctors' Rosé from Marlborough is quite lively and red-berry driven while the Giesen Pure Light Sauvignon Blanc (there are still some bottles at a few LCBOs right now, with more coming this summer) has a touch of sweetness and a lovely citrus-apple profile. These are great sunshine-and-fun wines, full of flavour and light on the intoxicants. Check out the NZLighter website for more info.
STUFF TO DO
This will be Toronto's first official Summer of Cannabis! Last week, Tokyo Smoke opened in the highly visible former HMV music store location at Yonge and Dundas. Expect long lines at peak times (so, all the time). This is just the second retail store in downtown Toronto, after the Hunny Pot on Queen West. And now that smoking or vaping weed is permitted anywhere that tobacco smoking is allowed, Toronto will likely be going up in smoke this summer. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) We're excited for the Journey Cannabis and Music Festival happening August 23 to 25 at the 990-acre Boyd Conservation Park in Vaughan. Expect live music, interactive kiosks with info on cannabis, seminars and talks, a retail shop (though no cannabis will be for sale at the site, it's strictly bring-your-own) and an appearance by social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk. (Yeah, he's everywhere.)
And speaking of cannabis, the Toronto Craft Beer Festival will have a dedicated outdoor space for cannabis consumption — dubbed the Pot-io — running all weekend long, from June 11 to 13. The Pot-io is a collaboration between the festival and the Hotbox Café, a pioneering weed lounge in Kensington Market (and other locations). As with the Journey Festival, no weed will be for sale on site — you'll just have to bring your own stash.
Tickets for the first of Drink Toronto's highly anticipated summer patio parties will go on sale this weekend. (Don't worry, we'll send you heads up.) All year at our weekly Wine School, we've been pouring some killer wines and having a few laughs — and learning, of course. But school's out for summer, and we're throwing three awesome parties on a rooftop patio in the heart of downtown. You won't want to miss it. We promise. (And have we ever steered you wrong?)