Best of CityPlace

Booze & bites at 3 fancy hotel bars, all in Toronto’s downtown core

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Sure, it’s easy to walk over to our local grocer in your comfy clothes for cheap beer and rotisserie chicken, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes a downtowner wants a classy night out.

There are 3 hotel bars a short walk away where you can seek out style, some high-end booze and food. The bars let you be a big shot, and their service is flawless and friendly that you may forget that you’re actually not a big shot.

DEQ Terrace and Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton
181 Wellington St. W.

The Ritz-Carlton goes out of its way to make you feel at home. DEQ Terrace and Lounge is a warm and inviting venue with both indoor and outdoor space. They serve lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. until last call. Their truffle fries are addictive, piled high, seemingly neverending, making the dish the restaurant’s most popular. The oysters and burgers are also popular items, but our favourite is the tuna tartare. Served with lettuce and thin chips, the tuna was fresh and flavourful. The lamb meatballs were nothing to scoff at. Meaty and served with hearty marinara sauce, the thick sourdough was a perfect accompaniment. DEQ is changing up their menu soon, adding more shareable items such as fish tacos.

The food really soaked up the booze, which is served with marinated olives, plantain chips, and Maple Cajun cashews. The white negroni wasn’t your standard, with no hints of bitterness. The real standout though was the Scotsman. Made with a 12-year-old scotch and a butterscotch ripple liqueur, the drink already felt special enough. Topping it off was a cinnamon stick that the bartenders use blowtorches to char! Let’s just call those bartenders mixologists because the result was magic! The drink simply tasted like Christmas. When I said that to Esther, our server, she seemed genuinely happy to hear the feedback and was knowledgeable about everything we asked her about the food and drinks.

In the warmer months, the outdoor patio is open, with an open-air firepit, lots of outdoor patio furnishings and heating lamps. The Ritz describes DEQ as an “urban outdoor oasis,” designed by the same architects that designed the bar, Kohn Pedersen Fox from New York Toronto-based Page + Steele. Even though the bar seems fancy, it feels easy right away. There is no dress code. “Come dressed in whatever you are comfortable in,” Mimi AuYeung, the hotel’s public relations marketing executive told us. The room is filled with art, every one of them an image of trees, giving the space a Canadiana feel, with a gas fireplace keeping the room physically warm on a cool fall night.

Lobby Lounge, Shangri-La
188 University Ave.

A short walk away sits the Shangri-La’s Lobby Lounge, what the hotel calls an “urban living room,” featuring touches of music, fashion, and art. A pianist is playing as we walk through the lounge, and that is the norm since the bar has live music seven days a week. The piano is not your average — it bears not only Joni Mitchell song lyrics but her autograph too. The musician visited the bar in 2013. Fashion is on display with designer dresses in tall glass cases. The bar’s dress code is business casual, but the dresses on display definitely are not. One dress is a sparkly black and ivory number designed by Yves Saint Laurent in Paris in 1967. The art continues with large paintings by Shanghainese artist Wang Xu Yuan decorating the room.

The bar features not only a wall of wine, but a tall wall of champagne too, right under sculptures of birds on the ceiling. The back of the Lobby Lounge is more seating next to Bosk, the hotel’s restaurant. The furnishings are warm and woody and well as cool and glassy. The furnishings and wooden and the light fixtures are all glassy and modern. The bar was designed by Vancouver-based James Cheng, who uses a design concept called “Vancouverism,” making use of glass to reflect light.

The bar serves many tasty dishes such as sushi, calamari, and oysters. We went with two types of dim sum: pork with shrimp & scallop and the crystal shrimp dumplings. All were stuffed and flavourful. The service was also impressive, with our waiter Jason friendly and giving us good advice about the menu, namely a special beer co-produced by the Shangri-La and the Flying Monkey Brewery. And you’re probably wondering why the beer is special. Well, it has local honey in it. How local? See if you can get someone to bring you to the roof and you’ll see a beehive! The beer is fortunately not too sweet and only has a hint of honey, enough to make it drinkable and still refreshing. Drinks are served with sweet potato chips and wasabi peas.

The Lobby Bar, Bisha Hotel
80 Blue Jays Way

Bisha, the neighbourhood’s newest hotel by INK Entertainment, stars a luxurious space called The Lobby Bar that features booths and tables near a fireplace, which will make you feel like you’re a world away. The bar had touches of velvet and wood and was designed by Studio Munge, the design team behind many other INK Entertainment properties. The bar can satisfy all kinds of people since it’s open for lunch and dinner starting at 11:30 a.m., has no dress code and offers food for every taste bud. The menu features hearty comfort food such as burgers, prime rib, turkey club sandwich, eggplant sandwich and steak frites. If you’re looking for some smaller nibbles to accompany your cocktails, there are plenty of appetizers, such as ahi tuna, beef tartare, chicken wings, fried calamari and avocado tempura.


Diana Pereira

Diana Pereira is a journalist, a university journalism teacher, a world traveller, a fair-weather kayaker, and a frequent bruncher. She's working on her mermaid status, travelling to as many countries as she can that include a body of water and when she's home in Toronto, you can find her in a kayak on Lake Ontario.