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The Toronto Temperance Society: College Street’s “secret” speakeasy

Members only: the interior of the Toronto Temperance Society (Image: Jon Sufrin)

There may be no decoy phone booth in the vein of New York’s secret bar, Please Don’t Tell, but a door on College Street betrays no hint of the Toronto Temperance Society (TTS), a newly renovated space above Sidecar where some of the city’s best cocktails are painstakingly crafted for members only. TTS just opened on Thursday, and it’s the kind of place where martinis are always stirred (sorry, Bond) and where bartenders—quite dapper in their suspenders and bow ties—get a kick out of procuring hard-to-find bitters.

TTS has the look and feel of a speakeasy: the staff hand-cracks ice for cocktails and pours concoctions through super-fine strainers while Louis Armstrong plays in the background. Drinks are made according to a stringent pre-1920s tradition that was nearly lost in North America during the years of prohibition, says co-owner Christine Sismondo. Most cocktails on the menu were perfected over generations by bartenders of yore, with the recipes preserved in venerable bartender handbooks. The resurrection comes with a fee, though: $285 for a year-long membership, along with adherence to a set of house rules.

Gin, whiskey, rum and tequila are the big guns here, forming the base of such bevvies as the Toronto Temperance ($10), a classic cocktail named after our city but, ironically, not available here until now. The gin and tonic ($11) sounds simple enough, but the tonic is meticulously house-brewed with chinona bark, allspice and other ingredients.

For those who aren’t feeling cocktail-minded, the TTS has an all-Canadian beer menu carefully thought out by the dude who wrote Cheers! A History of Beer in Canada (Nicholas Pashley). Food items are prepared downstairs in Sidecar’s kitchen, but owners want to keep the focus on good music, good company and, of course, top-notch hooch. “Try to think of us as your spirit guides,” the menu says—a suggestion much easier to follow after your first cocktail.

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