Best Pubs in Toronto: Top 5 Craft Beer Pubs
Pubs are a thing of beauty. A place where you can meet friends in a casual atmosphere, grab a plate of unpretentious yet delicious food, and drink your ale or lager of choice. They are a place of community, where you spend an hour chatting with a complete stranger or your best bud. The best of them are warm and inviting, great places to lay low for a few hours, and places where you feel oddly at home. A good pub is about more than the beer – it’s about the place and the moments.
For me, these are the top 5 pubs in Toronto for grabbing a craft beer:
1. Bar Volo
My very first beer memories of Toronto involve Bar Volo, and owner Ralph Morana (and sons) have made sure they they remain top in my mind. A small venue clad in dark wood and decked out with a great summer patio, Volo has made it their primary mission to carry the best beer that Ontario and beyond has to offer. Beyond that, they have been drivers and innovators in the market: from promoting and holding the highly successful Cask Days which champions cask beer, to importing great new Canadian and US beer, to bringing in the best of the world to their bar. Seats can be hard to find on a busy day but Volo’s warm owners and high quality are the standard bearers for the city, province, and maybe even the country. Their selection is immense (bottles, on tap, and multiple regular casks), their commitment to local brewers unquestioned, they host great events, they’ve taken great steps to growing the local beer scene as a whole, and now – they’re even brewing their own beers! Ask Ralph or one of his sons, who work with him in what is a family business, for a recommendation and you’ll get a quick glimpse of how much craft beer matters to them. If, for some reason, you have only one hour to drink beer in Toronto, you are best served to spend it here – good luck on deciding which beer to drink though!
In European drinking environs, the idea of the ‘the local’ is king – a pub for the ‘average man’ to relax in, where you’re comfortable to unwind after a long day with a pint and friends. This is The Only Cafe for me. Despite its ‘far flung’ East-end location (which is actually close to my place) and unassuming, eclectic spot, The Only delivers with 24 tap offerings focused on local craft beer (and now a regular cask offering!). There’s always a table for me to work with the laptop, the staff are friendly and more than willing to get to know you, and great beer is always on tap. Often their pints are well priced (though climbing), the music is eclectic and jamming, and the two beer fridges are filled with bottled offerings if nothing on tap suits you. I’ve heard it called, “that hippy place in the East” but don’t let that deter you – pubs are for being unpretentious and laid back, and hippies are best at this!
3. C’Est What
A massive basement pub right in the heart of Toronto – this is the throwback, the pub that was doing craft beer and blazing the trail before it was hip. C’Est What completely focuses on Ontario and they always have a wide array of local taps and casks on. It’s cozy, live music often graces their doors and, being next to historic St. Lawrence Market, it’s in a great location for a pint or two after wandering through the market. It’s annual cask events are not to be missed; you can try samples usually for $1 each (no cover), which allows you to try a lot of different things. I don’t get here nearly enough but, when I do, I’m not disappointed.
When you stop and think about it, it’s really quite amazing what owner Brock Shepard has done with this Kensington location in such a short period of time. He’s established himself as a top notch craft beer stop, serves a regular cask offering, and now has his own brand on-tap around the city and coming soon in bottles, Augusta Ale. His place has an old-timey saloon feel, complete with red checkered table cloths, rough-hewn wood, old Westerns playing on the lone TV, and a great wood bar to sidle up to. The burgers are made in house and I rec0mmend the brunch burger – beef topped with a fried egg, bacon and maple syrup; had with a pint of coffee stout and you have a weekend brunch of champions!
5. Victory Cafe
Though this place had has its ups and down, this is the epitome of a ‘local’ – mixed crowds devoid of beer nerds; nachos, wings and other typical pub food for snacking; and a feel that makes you wish for a cold winter night just so you can open the door to a blast of warm air and crowd noise, and belly up to the bar or crowd into a small booth with good friends. Upstairs and down, patio in the summer, wonderful Mirvish location, craft on tap and on cask – if I wasn’t an east-ender this could easily be my go-to pub.
Each of these are dedicated craft beer places and more than a place to get the newest, rarest offering – though, many of them do that as well. Beyond the hype, these are the places you want to settle into for a ‘session’ with friends. As always, it’s my personal, subjective rating