Toronto's Emerging College Street Whisky Strip

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For years now Toronto has been home to three truly world class whisky restaurants: Via Allegro in the West End, Allen's Restaurant staking its claim in the centre of town on Danforth Avenue, and The Feathers Pub in the East. Each houses a truly astonishing collection of rare bottles and provides something unique in terms of menu, venue, and location.

Over the past three years though, a more contemporary and closely clustered trio of restaurants with a strong whisky focus has developed along short stretch of College Street bracketed by Ossington Avenue and Dovercourt Road. In fact, the distance between the two furthest from each other measures a mere 200 metres from door to door. 

But who are these newcomers and what do they bring to the table?


Emmet Ray Facade.JPGStarting with the elder statesman of the strip means beginning at Toronto's best value bar, The Emmet Ray. Established in 2009, this cozy cash-only confines boasts 161 whiskies and counting (64 Scotch, 40 Bourbon, 23 Canadian, 15 Irish, 10 non-bourbon American whiskies, and 9 from the rest of the world), none of which exceed $16 per dram. As if that wasn't enough to qualify it for the above title, then add in the fact that draughtEmmet Ray Bar.JPG pints are $4.50 every single day of the week from open at 5pm until 9pm, and you've got a clear cut winner. When asked about his philosophy behind the bar, proprietor Andrew Kaiser simply states "everyone should drink whisky and be able to afford it". Worn-in like your favourite pair of shoes, it features live music 5 nights of the week and DJs for the other two. Expect a lively place where you are treated more like family than a mere customer.

Caledonian Facade.JPG
A little closer to Ossington, you will find Toronto's first true Scottish pub: The Caledonian. Opened in September of 2010, it is home to 140 whiskies (mainly Scotch of course), 10 draught beer taps, and the some of the best Scottish fare I've had anywhere, including Scotland. Featuring excellent haggis in multiple formats, Ardbeg smoked salmon, and arguably the best fish and chips in the city, owners Donna and David Wolff have brought not only the menu, but the true feel from across the Atlantic. On any given night you are apt to find Scottish ex-pats looking for a slice of home that extends beyond the plate, and on some special nights I have even been able to enjoy a dram while listening to softly
Caledonian Bar.JPG
 sung Gaelic folk songs from a group that is most assuredly not in the employ of the establishment. Beyond the bar, and if the weather is right, you can even take your dram onto one of the best patios in the city; with its walled-in seclusion and small grove of cedars, this may just be the best place I've ever had the luxury of sampling a Bruichladdich Dark Arts outside the distillery walls. In the end, The Caledonian is a hidden gem that manages to evoke the feelings of Scotland, but with the convenience and predictable weather of Toronto.  

Habits Facade.JPG
Last and most certainly not least is the new kid on the block: Habits Gastropub. Opening just over 10 months ago, owners Luis and Michelle have quickly amassed a selection of 75 whiskies (running the gambit from Scotch to bourbon to Canadian and beyond) to accompany their craft beer focused taps and well appointed wine list. All of this serves to heighten the experience when sitting down to the brilliant creations of chef Eric and his spin on classic comfort food and pub fare, including their brie-stuffed burger which for my money may well be the best burger in the city. Offering live music 3 to 4 nights per week,
Habits Bar Front.JPG
an interesting and ever evolving array of infused cocktails for those in your group not quite as keen on whisky, and a brunch that keeps bringing me back again and again, Habits is beginning to carve out its niche with steadily evolving aplomb. Ultimately, while not yet as well known as the other two on the strip, the passion evident in every interaction with its staff, food, and drink serves to provide a top notch experience regardless of the time of day or season.

So there you have it. A 200 metre stretch of Toronto featuring three very unique establishments offering up nearly 400 whiskies (duplicates notwithstanding). At either end is some of the best modern pub fare Toronto has to offer, while in the middle of the trifecta sits the best place for you and your wallet to drain a dram or two. If you are venturing down to the whisky strip and happen to run into a rather brash individual with his nose buried deep in a glass one moment and preaching the wonders of whisky with evangelical fervour the next, please do stop by and say hello. 
 

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As an addendum to this article, everyone should know that this Thursday, July 12th Habits is flexing its culinary muscle with a miniaturized take on the classic 5-course meal.

The price is $35 for 5 whiskies paired with food and you'll need to book your ticket in advance with Habits to secure your place.

You can do this one of two ways:
1) By calling them directly at 416-533-7272 and using your credit card over the phone.
2) By going to the venue and paying in person.

The menu for the evening is a stunning and includes:

1) Pear and tellegio cheese soup paired with a Speyside whisky

2) An updated take on mushrooms on toast using king oyster mushrooms on brioche paired with a Canadian whisky

3) A mini Scotch egg using a quail egg wrapped in in-house smoked trout paired with an Irish whiskey

4) Sweet braised pork belly paired with an Islay whisky

5) Apple bread pudding in a whisky caramel sauce paired with a Lowland whisky that is no longer available in Ontario.

The ScotchBlog team will be there to edu-tain you and guide you through the whisky pairings and talk general shop.

As always, when there is only one bottle of something available, the space is limited. So be sure to book soon if you're interested.

I hope to see many of you on Thursday and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the whisky strip in general.

Slainte!

I should probably update the bottle counts for these places.

As of March 2014, they're now at:

They Emmet Ray - 225 bottles

Habits - 320 bottles

The Caledonian - 160 bottles

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  • Matt commented on Toronto's Emerging College Street Whisky Strip:

    I should probably update the bottle counts for these places.

    As of March 2014, they're now at:

    They Emmet Ray - 225 bottles

    Habits - 320 bottles

    The Caledonian - 160 bottles

  • Matt commented on Toronto's Emerging College Street Whisky Strip:

    As an addendum to this article, everyone should know that this Thursday, July 12th Habits is flexing its culinary muscle with a miniaturized take on the classic 5-course meal.

    The price is $35 for 5 whiskies paired with food and you'll need to book your ticket in advance with Habits to secure your place.

    You can do this one of two ways:
    1) By calling them directly at 416-533-7272 and using your credit card over the phone.
    2) By going to the venue and paying in person.

    The menu for the evening is a stunning and includes:

    1) Pear and tellegio cheese soup paired with a Speyside whisky

    2) An updated take on mushrooms on toast using king oyster mushrooms on brioche paired with a Canadian whisky

    3) A mini Scotch egg using a quail egg wrapped in in-house smoked trout paired with an Irish whiskey

    4) Sweet braised pork belly paired with an Islay whisky

    5) Apple bread pudding in a whisky caramel sauce paired with a Lowland whisky that is no longer available in Ontario.

    The ScotchBlog team will be there to edu-tain you and guide you through the whisky pairings and talk general shop.

    As always, when there is only one bottle of something available, the space is limited. So be sure to book soon if you're interested.

    I hope to see many of you on Thursday and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the whisky strip in general.

    Slainte!

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