Restaurant with awesome cocktails [Booze]

2013 Jun 26

Where should I take a friend from Toronto for cocktails? Am currently considering Brothers Beer Bistro, El Camino, The Urban Pear, and maybe the Chateau Laurier if we want to go more traditional, but more recommendations would be awesome!


2013 Jun 26
I'd steer toward Union613 or Juniper, or Town. on elgin
Not sure about Brothers, that might be good for beer-oriented cocktails.
I'd stay away Camino and the Chateau. Not enough value there for what you get. Hope you have a good night!

2013 Jun 26
I'd second Union and Town. Also add in Moonroom and Albion Rooms.

2013 Jun 26
speakeasy (union 613 basement bar), hooch bourbon house (i would call to ask if jeff is working first though....), moonroom, town. probably in that order, too.

never been to urban pear for cocktails but i heard there is a girl server who does great cocktails.

Johanna, and Fresh Foodie usually have some pretty good input on this as well.

2013 Jun 27
You all pretty much covered anything I might know. I do trust Jeff and he's at Hooch now. His impact should still be in effect at Juniper and Union Local 613.

2013 Jun 27
I'd second the upthread recos (including the Laurier, because it's just so uniquely Ottawa), and add...

Milagro - they do great things with tequila cocktails, if you want something different.

The Arc Hotel bar - Classy. Where $14 martinis taste like they're actually worth $14, tho your friend being from TO, this likely isn't a novelty to them.

Shanghai - i really like their cocktail list here. It tends towards creative. As a bonus, drag queen kareoke!

...i'm noticing that of the entire upthread, Beer Bros is the only location in the Market. This is not surprising to me.

That said, if you want to bring your friend to the Market, because, well, Ottawa, the Grand has a good patio and the bar there tends to do a good job with the usual sort of things. Metropolitan too.

Some people swear by Cornerstone's patio but i would only suggest it for beers.

2013 Jun 27
sorry i can't agree with milagro...had the worst mojito of my life there. lime bar mix it was truly disgusting.

osolomeal, Hooch is new and they are in the market at rideau and dalhousie. my buddy had the tuna carpacio and really enjoyed it.

2013 Jun 28
@Eastcoast - i stuck to the tequilatinis. Mojito is one of those classic drinks that's consistently abused by lazy bartenders. As a rule I don't order it in this hemisphere. :)

As for Hooch, tnx, i wasn't aware of the location and misinterpretted a comment elsethread.

2013 Jul 1
Here's another vote for Union Local 613. They have really spectacular and innovative cocktails, and for more typical cocktails (sidecar, manhattan etc) made really well in a nice atmosphere, I'd suggest the Shore Club.

2013 Jul 5
I like how someone mentioned the Albion Rooms! Micha over at La Bottega told me this hidden gem had the best Old Fashioned's in the city and he was right! I've been to Union 613 and their speakeasy many times, I've been to Hooch (love the horse tartare!), and Juniper is good... but the Albion Rooms sets the standard!

If you're lucky, the bartender will cut thyme fresh out of the garden to garnish your thyme-infused gin creation!

If you're smart, you'll ask for something OFF the menu! Either your favourite classic or ask the bartender to mix something special up to your tastes.

2013 Jul 5
Can I ask, what exactly is smart about asking for something *off* the menu? Considering that people usually like to promote what they do best...

2013 Jul 7

Not certain if you've already been out and about with your friend, but truth be told I myself have started to take a dim view of the cocktail scene here in Ottawa.

While it was great to have the Moon Room and Union 613 step up and introduce a formal cocktail culture to the city, my finding of late is that their success has everyone now jumping on the bandwagon by Googling "cocktails", stocking up on Fees Brothers bitters and charging $15 a glass... all justified by the fact that someone squeezed a lime or boiled sugar, water and herbs to make their own simple syrup.

IMO great cocktails are liquid gastronomy, prepared with the same skill and know-how as food, and this starts with a skilled and talented bartender. It is one thing to read Imbibe and mix up their latest feature; it is quite another to have the flair and palate required to pull together disparate flavours and, most importantly, BALANCE them all together, to be consumed in one go. Most places flogging the cocktail banner these days are making them waaaay too sweet and/or waaaaay too watery + I don't know which is the bigger sin. For this reason I largely have no interest in a bar or menu that flouts cocktails unless I see a skilled bartender behind the wood. I will happily pay this person to make me a drink with nothing more than rail spirits, Angostura and sugar cubes at their disposal rather than pay $15 for a mish mash of boutique bitters, artisanal spirits and cordials made in-house by someone who can't make a daiquiri or mojito without checking their iPhone.

All this said, I should add that I'm very much a drinker's drinker so I need a good reason to add flavourings to my spirits, otherwise I'll take my whisky and rum straight, or my gin in a martini. Unfortunately thanks to the current price standards set by Ottawa's newly minted cocktail culture, the places that used to charge me $8 for a martini are now happy to relieve me of $10 and still more because clearly there are even better margins to be made at the bar.

With all the above said, I would break down Ottawa cocktail culture into two lists 1) places that have a cocktail programme in place and 2) bartenders that take their cocktails seriously and know that balance is the key to making a good drink not barrel aging, bespoke bitters or exotic spices. While all of these can be nice, they do not in and of themselves a great cocktail make.

Since the latter is so much shorter let's start there...

Jeff Taylor - currently at Hooch Bourbon Bar, I've also enjoyed Jeff's cocktails at Murray Street, Union 613 and Juniper. He is very much an avid bourbon fan so if whisky cocktails are your thing he's the man to see, but his take on the Vesper (vodka, gin) for Valentine's Day equally showed off his cocktail chops.

Steve Benson - runs a bespoke cocktail business for private events and is also on the bar a couple of nights a week at Brothers Beer Bistro in the Market. Great with beer cocktails + also works with Beam Global so knows whisky cocktails inside and out. I like his take on smoked cocktails and what I've sampled of his barrel aging experiments at Brothers were worthwhile.

Liz - I always liked her at the Moon Room and she now tends bar upstairs at Union 613; of particular note is the great take on Baileys Liz came up with over the winter and her contributions to Union's cocktail menu are usually my favourites.

Bethann aka @Tasket - IMO formerly Ottawa's best bartender who is now on hiatus indefinitely while she travels. Amazing palate, this is someone who not only knows the classics but knows how to subtly tweak them to suit the client's taste. Aside from her charm behind the wood, she is the kind of bartender to whom you announce your mood and preferred flavour profile, and she hits it out of the park each time.

Cocktail Culture in Ottawa...

Union 613: The emphasis here is on bourbon cocktails but their monthly menu covers the gamut with a few standards on hand that have become their regulars' favourites with the Dark'n'Stormy worthy of special mention.

Hooch Bourbon Bar: A "take" off on what Union 613 has started, the best thing I found here is Jeff Taylor tending the bar and curating the cocktail menu.

El Camino: After tasting Carmichael's Whiskey Sour at the Mello's Pop Up last summer I knew that the bar here would be solid + I haven't been disappointed. Of particular note is the Pina Colada made with the water of freshly cracked coconuts.

Juniper: While never known as a place for cocktails, I was always a fan of the old cocktail menu here: it was very well priced and much of it featured bitters and infusions made in-house. The menu was recently revamped by Jeff Taylor & nicely done but truth be told I miss their takes on classics such as the dirty martini and Long Island Ice Tea. I also miss their old prices.

Moon Room: For many this is *the* destination for cocktails in Ottawa, a cocktail emporium first, bar/tapas joint second. The owner Tracy is serious about cocktails, makes a mean marinated cherry, an excellent orgeat and has a filtered water system for making ice, all of which keep the standards here high.

Brothers Beer Bistro: Along with an excellent selection of beer, there is a selection of beer cocktails and an even more extensive selection of cocktails when Steve Benson is tending the bar. At last mention Steve was working Saturday nights but I can't attest to what happens when he's not there.

Town: My one experience there -- cocktail included -- was less than warm and fuzzy, but there is nonetheless a short list of well considered drinks and a comfortable bar for knocking them back.

Two Six Ate: I've noticed for some time an on-going and well thought out cocktail menu here and given the reasonable prices I'm remiss for not having given them a try: suffice to say that an evening of their amazing bar snacks and a test drive or two of their cocktails is on my horizon sooner rather than later.

Gezellig: The staff behind the bar clearly take their short menu of cocktails as seriously as their wine list and while I've yet to be wowed, neither do I have any complaints about the price, service or quality of their cocktail skillz.

Taylor's: While there's no formal cocktail menu per se, someone here knows how to mix a drink or two as their very spicy and satisfying caesar will attest, not to mention their on-going seasonal cocktail offerings, making this a place to stop in for a drink and charcuterie when you're in the neighbourhood. Last July's strawberry daiquri with a balsamic vinegar reduction was a particularly memorable creation.

The Albion Rooms: Recently made over by The Corgis consultancy group from the UK, and while the corporate suits have come up with some interesting concepts, this place needs more training and experience behind the bar. While they offer to mix up the classics along with a bespoke menu of 7 cocktails, I found it hard to pay $15 for 2oz of gin spiked with too much agave syrup. Count on $50 for two drinks and three bites' worth of bar snacks, IMO too expensive but not surprising given that Ottawans have suddenly developed deep pockets when it comes to cocktails.

The Shore Club: Another place flying the cocktail banner, their head bartender was recently touted in Ottawa Style mag for his cocktail offerings but I personally wouldn't know given the steep prices on the menu and the consistently mixed reviews.

Chateau Laurier: Hard to beat this place for the sheer ambiance and grandeur of the room, I reckon that cocktails were meant to be consumed in exactly this sort of setting, preferably on a Sunday evening when you've most of the room for yourself and the resident lounge lizard thankfully has her night off. The cocktail offerings here are part of the hotel's "Mixology Experience", but if you're lucky you get a mixologist that doesn't crush the mint in your mojito and a never ending supply of bar nuts and Chex :o)

2013 Jul 7
Johanna really knows her stuff, and not just because I agree with her on pretty much everything, including the lamentability of the price jump for unexceptional cocktails.

Thanks for the incredibly detailed and useful write up!

2013 Jul 8
I dropped off some of my bitters with Steve (Brothers Beer Bistro) and Jeff (Hooch Bourbon Bar) this weekend. I can't wait to hear back from them to see what they come up with.

What they got:
- orange (94% cologne spirit)
- aromatic (94% cologne spirit)
- lemongrass/vanilla/cherry (40% Canadian rye)

As soon as the Hellfire bitters are ready, they'll get some of those too! Serrano peppers and lime in a tequila base with bitter roots and seeds.

2013 Jul 8
Thank you so much Johanna! We ended up making cocktails at home and enjoying the weather, but I'm going to bring a date to El Camino and the Speakeasy at Union613 later this week!

2013 Jul 9
Rizak, if you want to drop off some of those hellfire bitters to Absinthe, I have a couple of ideas for them.

2013 Jul 10
Excellent choices AFK, I would be torn between the two so hitting up both is the way to go. Union's Speakeasy in particular is an excellent date spot and the current cocktail menu hits all the right notes, but be forewarned that it's a small space (~20) and can fill up quickly so you might want to get there earlier in the evening and then wind up at El Camino for more drinks and snacks.

Of course, rumour has it that Fresh Foodie is a mean hand when it comes to cocktails so perhaps at some point he'll be opening up a speakeasy in his garage... :)

PS: @Rizak, I've been wanting to try your vanilla and bitters but my husband says you haven't been to the last couple of OWA meetings... when are you going next and will you bring the Hellfire bitters with you?

2013 Jul 10
I have to make up a fresh batch now. I had only made up a small amount for testing purposes. I need some more ingredients which I have to pick up tomorrow night and it'll be a couple of weeks after that. I'll send you a private message then. I promise.

2013 Jul 13
The cocktails at two six ate were good, I had an apricot julep that was great and my negroni was pretty good too.

The speakeasy at Union613, however, was incredible, and I probably had the best 2-3 cocktails I've ever had there. Would absolutely recommend giving it a shot.

2013 Sep 5
I agree, afinekettle - the speakeasy below Union 613 has by far the most impressively stocked bar in town: Rittenhouse Rye, yellow Chartreuse, Punt e Mes, Amer Picon (house made), Carpano Antica vermouth... the list goes on! The cocktails they fashion with these delights are exceptional.

If I were to suggest one thing to them, I'd recommend using some bigger ice. Some nice, massive, clear, handcut chunks that fill an entire old-fashioned glass. Oh yes.

2013 Sep 5
I'm really of the opinion that unless Union613 gets a bunch these, they can just give up on making quality cocktails altogether:

2013 Sep 5
Last Friday, had a great Mojito at El Camino for $10. Made with love!

2013 Sep 6
Yeah, well ... at those prices I think it may be a while before they saturate the market.

2013 Sep 6
1400 for a kit to make ice. I would love to know how many of those they sell.

2013 Sep 6

You can get with this, or you can get with that
You can get with this, or you can get with that
I think you'll get with this, for this is where it's at

I'm sure the compressed sphere is marginally better, but for the price....

2013 Sep 6
By comparison, this is a steal of a deal:

Or at the very least, why don't they get some Tovolo King Cube ice trays?

2013 Sep 10
I've been using Rizak's Whiskey Pucks.

Similar size, great visual.

But those Revolo monster cube molds are tempting, oh yes they are...

2013 Sep 15
Back to the drinks themselves... I have to admit to feeling somewhat guilty/sheepish about not including Supply & Demand in the list above. Not only do they have a very comfortable, slick bar, but there cocktail list is well thought out, well executed and very well priced. It's really not a drinking establishment per se, but their cocktail menu combined with their amazing apps make this my secret go-to place for a drink and snack. Their in-house charcuterie has to be tasted to be believed, and it also goes very well with their Caesar, garnished with a slice of chorizo and an oyster.

Italofilo, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth isn't for sale in LCBO stores but bars order it by the case directly from Majestic Wine Cellars ( I'm thinking that if you made friends with some of the local bartenders they might help you find an individual bottle :o)

2013 Sep 23
Thanks, very much, Johanna! Yes, I will have to cozy up to a few select bars and turn on some so-called charm :) Or maybe I'll just order 10 cases of the stuff...

By the way, I just ordered a Single Minded Whisk(e)y Guide and can't wait for its arrival. I encourage all those following this thread to do the same!

2013 Dec 19
Hey Johanna - just received a case of Antica Formula from Danny Ferlisi at Majestic Wine Cellars! Thanks for the suggestion!

2013 Dec 19
Johanna knows her sh#t! Let me know if you need a drinking--er--"cocktail sampling" buddy :P

2013 Dec 19
that position is already filled :p sparrow seed

2013 Dec 21
Here's another voice in support of Johanna's expertise. We have converted a tea cart in the dining room to a bourbon cart and it is literally filled with Johanna's excellent recommendations bought stateside.

2013 Dec 31
Thanks very much for the kind words blubarry, great use for a tea cart, post a pic when you have a moment and show us your stash! On that note, keep in mind that Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo and Van Winkle 12yo are coming to the LCBO in the next few weeks. Without a doubt they are pricey bourbons ($65 and $89 IIRC) but I really do love the Van Winkle profile.

Italofilo, I'm impressed: are you planning on opening your own bar or do you have a Holly-Golightly-Breakfast-at-Tiffany's party in the works? I can't imagine going through a full bottle of vermouth, never mind a full case. Respect :)

2014 Jan 8
Van Winkle! That's exciting! On a related note: Johanna, do you know if George T. Stagg is released at the same time every year? Or is that confidential information given the limited quantities available? I'd settle for Jr. Stagg!

As for the vermouth - no, no party. I'm just a thirsty father that finds solace in the preparation of a good drink at the end of the day (those are 375 mL by the way!)

I've been meaning to give the Albion Rooms a try - maybe the bartender chops have improved by now?