SpiritHouse, which opened last week, aims to bring a little cocktail cred to King West, a neighbourhood that’s often better known for the quantity rather than the quality of the booze consumed. A “spirit” bar rather than just a cocktail bar, SpiritHouse boasts a 400+ bottle selection, one of the largest in the city, including the Canadian Tag Vodka, Victoria Gin and Tromba Tequila. It’s also founded by Len Fragomeni, of the Toronto Institute of Bartending (they operate out of the same building at Portland and Adelaide), which means it’s quickly becoming the place to go for a thorough cocktail education.
Inside, the bar’s huge selection takes the spotlight, with countless bottles on display. At the back of the space, there’s a “happy hour” room, with a large clock face always set at happy hour and a plush black, tufted banquette. Across from the bar, another room feels like an old-fashioned library to which one might repair for whisky and cigars after dinner (yes, there’s even old, sepia-toned photos of distilleries on the walls).
In charge of the bar is Brad Gubbins, TIB’s creative director and head instructor. The massive 11-page drink list, with all the drinks containing double pours of liquor, contains four separate cocktail menus: first, there’s house cocktails like the Caesar Sangrita ($12), Cucumber Basil Smash ($13) and Man of Interest ($12), which are mostly seasonal; then, there’s Vintage Cocktails like the Sazerac ($16), Old-Fashioned ($14) and Negroni ($12), which have been around a century or so; third, there’s modern classics like the original Cosmopolitan (circa 1988, $12), Sidecar ($15) and Aviation ($13), from the past 50–60 years; finally, there’s the “Aficionados” list for those who like it strong, including the Toronto Cocktail ($15), Corpse Reviver No. 2 ($14) and Boulevardier ($17). SpiritHouse also sells barrel-aged cocktails in custom eight-ounce bottles ($48), which are meant to be shared or nursed over for a couple of hours (although we saw one patron pour the whole thing into one glass and down it). Guests can also pick any three tequilas, bourbons, whiskies or rums for a tasting flight.
To offset all that booze, chef Kendall Collingridge offers a menu of “sexy bar food,” with spirits incorporated into a few dishes like the bourbon-brushed mini burgers made with ground prime rib (three for $11), poutine with pulled duck, Quebec cheese curds, duck béchamel and whiskey jus ($10) and warm, sugar-spiced donuts with a Patron chocolate ganache dip ($7). For snacking, there’s a charcuterie plate ($21) and a cheese plate ($19). And to finish it all off, there are drunken jello shots, which might sound just like the vodka confections of your youth, but are in fact desserts made out of classic cocktails ($9).