Toronto is home to many bars and restaurants, with more opening up on a seemingly daily basis. No matter your preference — dive bars, cozy pubs, diners or upscale dining rooms — there’s someplace worthwhile to eat and drink in the city. But what about the ones that have history, or the ones that have enmeshed themselves into the culinary and cocktail or craft beer landscape, to the point of not only being well known but iconic, too? If you’re looking to order a pint or two, or dig into a good meal somewhere with some cache, here are 10 of the most iconic bars and restaurants in Toronto.
This craft beer and whiskey bar, opened in 1927, is one of the oldest licensed establishments in the city. The friendly spot prides itself on welcoming everyone and the low-key atmosphere is conducive to lingering over a beer with friends. There are 16 local craft beers on tap to choose from as well as cask conditioned ales and an extensive selection of bourbon whiskey. Food-wise, you have your pick of pub classics like chicken wings and nachos, or Asian-inspired street food like pork or veggie dumplings. The Monarch is also a live music venue.
You can’t have a list of iconic bars and restaurants in Toronto without including historic diner, The Lakeview, established all the way back in 1932. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long, The Lakeview has a huge menu filled with diner classics, burgers, sandwiches, salads, poutine and brunch favorites (many of which are offered 24 hours a day). The cozy diner also offers popular drink specials daily, like $5 caesars, $4 mimosas and $5 pints.
While not so much hidden as tricky to spot if you don't know it's there, Communist’s Daughter spent many of its early years being mostly unknown save for the Dundas and Ossington locals who frequented it. The tiny bar made a name for itself in the area before the Dundas/Ossington ‘hood became ground zero for hip watering holes and restaurants in the city and is still going strong.
There are numerous places to get a cold pitcher of beer and a plate of nachos in Toronto, but one of the most iconic has to be Sneaky Dee’s. Established in 1987 as a family business, the bar and live music venue has been going strong since opening its doors. Whether city-dwellers are stopping by for some of those aforementioned nachos, to tuck into a greasy, (hopefully) hangover-curing breakfast, or to see some live music, Sneaky Dee’s remains a much-loved Toronto institution.
The second diner to make this list, The Senator is Toronto’s oldest restaurant in Toronto in continuous operation in the same location, dating back to the 19th century. The historic eatery isn’t just known for how long its doors have been open, but also the fact they take pride in what they put on their plates. Almost everything here is made in-house, from the sauces and stocks, to batters and baked goods. The diner also sources what they can from local producers and farmers.
If you’re a live music fan in Toronto – whether you live in the city or you’re visiting – chances are you’ve found yourself at the Horseshoe Tavern, one of the best and oldest live music venues in Toronto. The property itself has been around since 1861, but the Horseshoe (or the “Shoe” as it’s often referred) first started welcoming visitors in 1947. The venue’s stage has seen many famous bands and musicians pass through for a set, from the Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo, to Wilco, The Rolling Stones and Arcade Fire. The Shoe is also known as a great place to catch up-and-coming and indie bands from Toronto and beyond.
Neapolitan pizza is not difficult to find in Toronto, especially now, but one of the first places to put the deliciously thin crust pies on the foodie city’s culinary map was Pizzeria Libretto. The Ossington strip was just ramping up when Libretto set up shop, but it became a near-instant hit among both locals and those who made the trip based on word of mouth. There are now several locations of the iconic pizza spot, but the Ossington original is where it all began.
Cold Tea has the distinction of being one of Toronto’s first “hidden” bars, in that when they first opened there was a certain excitement to even finding the place. Tucked away at the back of Kensington Mall, a red light on the door is the only indication you’ve arrived. While the secret has long been out, Cold Tea remains a solid choice for expertly-mixed cocktails in a laid-back, no-frills setting. The large patio gets packed in the summer and if you get hungry, there are dumplings on offer to snack on while you sip your beverage of choice.
Barberian’s Steak House
Known as one of the most famous steakhouses in Canada, Barberian’s opened its doors in 1959 (back when a rib steak cost five dollars). Steaks here are dry aged and butchered in-house and the atmosphere is elegant without feeling stuffy. In addition to top-quality steaks, Barberian’s is also known for great service and their amazing wine cellar, which houses 15,000 bottles from around the world.
The Only Café
Part café and part craft beer bar, The Only Café has been serving pints for over 30 years. The friendly spot in the East end offers a menu of over 230 bottles and cans as well as 25 local craft brews on tap. This is the type of place that you can walk into and instantly feel welcomed, whether you live in the neighbourhood or you just happen to be passing through.