The Big Q of 2018: Why Toronto?
Holy hell have we been asked this question a lot! So we figured fuck it, let’s get the good vibes out there so that everyone knows what's up with this awesome city.
Quick update ICYMI, as of April 2018 we live in Toronto! And is gonna be for like that for a long while :)
There is a load of factors that went into where we decided to put down roots, but when we left London in June 2017 to kick the shit outta our world tour (no, we never get tired of saying that) we actually had no clue where we were going to live and so the tour was also very much a exploration in what we wanted next from our lives.
During the tour, we were lucky to spend a lot of time with many amazing people, none more so than the wonderful peeps at Proof & Co in Singapore and across Asia/Australia/soon to be the whole world. That company has done so much for the market’s it set up in, bringing in quality product, working with cocktail communities that exist to only grow them further, and enacting real long term investment in the people & places.
A wonderfully positive shift in recent years has meant you no longer need to go live in one the “big” markets to get yourself heard and be noticed. The internet has a big part to play in that, but also with the rise of craft cocktail culture and increased tourism, people are drinking better everywhere meaning the demand spreads beyond just the concrete jungle capitals long considered to be the only place to get a great drink.
And so thankfully, early in the tour, those chats with Proof got us very inspired to go be part of an emerging community somewhere that we believed in, was already kicking ass and ready to go bigger, just as they had done. Though we don't for one second think we're fucking with this industry on the same scale they are.
So we travelled constantly and many, many cool cities & cultures. We got to eat and drink like crazy with literally five and a half months between eating a home cooked meal (it became gross and unenjoyable fyi), in fact we experienced so much we were honestly overloaded for a while and it took some time to decompress and process what a rad whirlwind it had been.
During all that chaos, Toronto had stuck out, big time. The people were lovely (obvs) but the city had something that we really dug and as everyone kept asking "What’s been a favourite so far?", TO was always on that list.
The scene here it buzzing and has been for a while. You’ve got a history & plethora of owner operated venues from Toronto OG’s Jen Agg (Cocktail Bar, Grey Gardens & Le Swan) and Robin Goodfellow’s Little Bones group (Pretty Ugly, Bar Raval & Harry’s) to Nick Kennedy (Civil Liberties & Vit Beo) and a much longer list than we have time for. To see these bars in action is the shit, and to see places that every night are educating a new bunch of folk on what tasty drinks are, is never anything less than a fucking joy to see. There’s a great tiki bar here so that is a massive win (hiya Shameful!) and from there the river runs deep with a huge cross section a killer bars in all shapes and sizes (The Gaslight, Bovine Sex Club & Sweaty Betty's are but 3 of our go to's).
Also, places be fucking busy! People in TO go out, and the amount of restaurants show just that.
So yeah, the city is fucking great, but not without its faults. The tax the Canadian government place on shit is nuts, 128% for anything fermented and 178% for anything distilled. They ain’t messing around, but then neither is the free healthcare. Also the governing liquor body for Ontario, the province Toronto is in, might actually be the single worst, most archaic, fucked up and corrupt system anywhere in the world. We could write a whole article on why the LCBO sucks (but could be actually be great! and at some point in the future when we’re near breaking point we’ll probably get half cut and do just that).
And so despite the government doing everything to try and make quality alcohol unattainable in TO, cocktail culture continues to boom. Toronto Cocktail Conference is goes down for the first time this year in August 18, completely sold out (!!) and very much by bartenders, for bartenders. While in October there is the consumer-focused Toronto Bar Week, aiming to get more Toronto bums in more Toronto venue seats.
That stereotypical Canadian humility has manifested itself in media to create a huge deficit here in terms of quality journalism/media that is F&B-focused or positive, with many consumers still not realising just how great the venues they have in their own backyard are, and so the struggle to reach those people is real and ever evolving for the whole community.
So “why Toronto/Canada?” y’all ask, well the opportunities, quality of life and standard of the whole hospo game here is unreal and a result to those who’ve been leading the city to better and better things. The attention this city and country’s bars have received is a fraction of what it deserves, and as the quality and volume continues to grow positively, we’re pumped to be here and become a part of that. Despite many dick moves from those in power, the city’s drinking scene is alive and kicking and we believe Canadian bars will only increasingly be on the tip of everyone's tongues around the world for years to come.
Don’t sleep on Toronto, cos the scene here is doing everything but that.