Hidden Bars of Toronto

Five of the city’s secret finds for drinks, dancing and more.

Fact: a game of hide and seek is always better with alcohol.

Here are some out of the way establishments that go to extra lengths to offer up good times while remaining under the radar—at least physically.

UNLOVABLE | 1415-B Dundas Street West
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(Photo by Shane Armas Korpisto via Flickr Creative Commons)

On the opposite end of the city, be sure to spend some time searching for the cloak-and-dagger, backstairs charm of Unlovable. Discreetly tucked away on Little Portugal’s hippest corner, you’ll be able to stretch your legs and revel in the cavernous underground space, appropriately kitted out with colorful tchotchkes. For a little more green, you can take your pick from a wider range of local and imported brews, or splurge on a house-made cocktail.

Frequent DJ sets, playing everything from Italo Disco to ‘Dad Jams’, are kept well under talking-volume, so feel free to bring friends and, actually, talk to them.
 

BILL HICKS | The very generous half of 946 ½ Queen Street East
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Named after the excruciatingly dark comedian, this charmingly dingy closet-sized gem can be found off the beaten path of bustling Queen East.

From the walls, plastered up and down with crazy paper ephemera and throwback albums (from Stevie Nicks to Scritti Politti to Dolly Parton – you’re covered), to the vinyl ceiling, the place practically drips with cool, without a trace of second-hand musical snobbery.

A wide range of liquors and tall cans make this an ideal stop for locals; the surprisingly un-fancy prices are sure to draw travellers from afar.
 

COLD TEA | 60 Kensington Avenue – at the back

@mikeroc rockin the #coldteabar #bbq #kensingtonmarket

A photo posted by Illa Brown (@mcillabrown) on


Some folks were genuinely pressed when Cold Tea’s secret Kensington location was revealed to the world. More than three years later, the once-hidden site is now a hotbed of activity, and open for business every single night.

Brave the expected line-ups and indulge in upmarket cocktails and Asian-influenced eats, while jumping along to one of many DJ-hosted dance parties. Cool down by heading out to the back patio to bask in the lamplight glow, or better yet, start your evening there at one of several communal tables.
 

THE HOLE IN THE WALL | 2867-A Dundas Street West
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(Photo by Josep Nycz via Spotted By Locals)

Squirrelled away on the corner of Dundas and Keele, this aptly named watering hole features a smattering of comfortable tables, unfussy décor and a generous stage. The space itself, though undeniably narrow, does not compromise comfort.

Live music and open mic nights are a major draw; so is the extensive kitchen menu, featuring oysters, vegan plates, and traditional pub fare, among other things.
 

ESCOBAR | 606 King Street West
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(Photo by Notable.ca)

For the fancy drinkers, Escobar, a unique Prohibition Era anteroom located behind the kitchen of King West’s noisy Latin hotspot Valdez, is your best bet.
 
Even after you’ve managed to find your way in, don’t expect a vast array of colourful intoxicants from which to choose. Instead, the diligent staff will whip up something to your liking, or surprise you with a tipple of their own creation. Polished surfaces and higher (worth it) price tags all but guarantee a classy evening.