When the sun is out – or even when the weather is marginal – Torontoians pack the patios of their city. It’s as big a part of their lifestyle as hockey and consuming beer. And their choices are as plentiful as seats at a Blue Jays game.
Patios at bars and restaurants are Toronto’s gathering place.
This is a look at the Top 10 Patios of Toronto as selected by PubClub.com, which knows a thing or two about what makes a good patio. The criteria is based primarily on the most popular patios and zeros in on the best spots for singles.
Patios, you see, are ideal settings for singles, for they lend themselves to casual start-up conversations, be it to inquire about a plate of food someone has ordered, to ask about a particular cocktail or just to comment about the weather. Sometimes, social success is just a table away.
In Toronto, the patios are this and more, and here is PubClub.com’s Top 10 Patios of Toronto.
1.) OASIS, WAYNE GRETZKY’S ROOFTOP BAR
It’s not #99, but #1.
Aa long climb up steep stairs reveals a scene similar not to Toronto, but…Las Vegas!
They call this part of the bar the Oasis for a reason, and that’s because it’s like an escape from the city below. High up, eyeball level with the mid-level decks of the surrounding condos, it’s the rooftop of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s sports lounge and restaurant.
Vegas comes to Toronto on the roof of Wayne Gretzky’s bar.
This is not so much a patio as a sun deck. It’s huge and looks like a Vegas pool-side lounge, minus the actual pool and VIP cabanas. And that’s just fine, because it has couches for lounging, tiered benches for relaxing and a waterfall over rocks suffices for water. Wading is okay, but the staff frowns heavily on anything more (which is tempting because there’s no breeze and it can get pretty warm up here).
Yet the true test of any winning patio is not the decor but the crowd and the scene. And it is here that the Oasis scores big. This is where to find the young and thirsty gathered in groups or people on the party prowl. On Thursdays, they pour in here the way draft beer pours into pitchers, causing a line to form by 9. There’s a DJ turning the tunes and The Oasis goes from casual to suddenly hip.
When it comes to Toronto patios, this is The Great One.
The sunny deck brings in a hip, stylish Toronto crowd.
One knock on the place has been answered, and that is the full menu is now available on the patio. Gretzky’s has some of the best food in all of Toronto.
The only downer here is that it can get so hot on top that the beers warm up fairly quickly. So down those beers frequently and keep the cold ones coming.
Location: 99 Blue Jays Way. 348-0099.
2.) JACK ASTOR’S, DUNDAS SQUARE
What happens when you put a happening bar in a happening area of Toronto? Things can happen.
And that’s exactly what happens at Jack Astor’s in Dundas Square, the liveliest corner in the entire city. From a third-story perch high above the street, people on the patio of Jack Astor’s can look down on the action below while at the same time looking to make some of their own.
This is a bar scene first and foremost, where people come either for a few cocktails or to make it a drinking destination.
During big Dundas happenings or major sporting events, the place explodes with popularity. Canada’s Gold Medal win in the 2010 Winter Olympics comes immediately to mind.
If possible, go for a table along the railing or one over from it. The high tables against the wall are great for observing but not so spectacular for creating new conversations.
The hostesses and female servers here are hotter than the garlic wings and typically Toronto friendly, making it an ideal place to toss out the anchor for anyone whose ship has just come into this port of call.
The draft beer is poured from a climate-controlled tap and arrives so cold it’s tempting to down the entire glass in a single swallow on a hot day. But, like the surrounding scenery, it’s best to savor it slowly, at least at first.
All Jack Astor’s locations have free wireless internet; just get the code and password from the server.
Jack Astor’s patio is of a decent size but it’s far from huge. So if it’s really busy find a spot at the inside bar and hope for the best; it can be good in there, as well. But if a patio pursuit is one’s pleasure, go next door to the “spillover spot” at Milestone’s. The food is better there but it’s a quieter perch, more restaurant than bar. It’s also $6.80 for a mildly cool Canadian as opposed to $6 for an ice-cold one at Jack Astor’s.
Location: 10 Dundas Street East, 4th Floor. 263-9800.
3.) BLACK BULL TAVERN, QUEEN WEST
One of the most popular afternoons patios in Toronto is the Black Bull. There is certainly nothing fancy about it; this is simply a place to hang out and drink beer on a nice day. But that’s quite enough for many.
On weekends, the demand to be here is so high there is a velvet rope and a line to get in as if it were a hot nightclub.
The Black Bull patio is attached to a dive bar with TVs, an old pool table and a bartender that looks like a mean biker type but in reality is as harmless as the Maple Leafs in May.
The highly-touted burgers are good enough, though the too-large top bun conceals too much of its flavor. Pizza is the most popular menu item.
Location: 298 Queen Street West. 593-2766.
4.) THE KEG, YORK STREET DOWNTOWN
There are more Keg restaurants – a semi-upscale steakhouse – in Canada than, well, kegs.
Okay, not hardly but sometimes it seems that way. And in Toronto, this is the one where the local businessmen and women gather to conduct a little post-business business.
Located at the rear of the restaurant, this is the Most Beautiful Patio in Toronto, a large, classy and clean space with a lounge area in the rear so comfortable that by the time one decides to finally get up, it could well be last call.
The back patio is like a VIP area without being a VIP area.
There are tables on either side of the main patio, a U-shaped bar and standing room for those who like to be quick on their feet to take advantage of any developing socializing opportunities.
The food here is outstanding, though of course it’s all at “Keg prices.”
Like Gretzky’s, it is most popular on Thursdays. Somehow, PubClub gets the feeling that work productivity is not at its peak on Fridays in T.O.
Location: 165 York Street. 703-1773.
5.) HEMINGWAY’S RESTAURANT, YORKVILLE
The famous namesake would approve.
While there’s more Kiwi than Key West here, less bullfighting than beer drinking, the one-time Toronto Star correspondent would have been as content here as he was at Sloppy Joe’s in the Conch Republic.
Hemingway’s is a patio paradise. The back deck – there are actually three of them – is large and as inviting as a hot dog vender after closing time. The main patio is the prime place to be, for it has the most tables and thusly, the greatest potential for mingling. The crowd is primarily – though hardly exclusively – from the surrounding affluent Yorkville area, meaning it squeaks with sophistication.
This patio is ideal because, just like the writing style of Hemingway himself, it possesses the “iceberg theory.” That is to say, what is currently on the surface is not all there is to the place.
Stay a while and the changeover of tables can turn a casual couple of drinks into a lengthy affair. And that is the true quality of an outstanding patio. Hemingway’s can make it difficult to say “Farewell to Drinks” after scoring a prime table on a sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
The food looks better than it tastes, but for those who are more interested in pints than pasta, it is more than palatable.
Hemingway’s is a non-smoker’s delight; to light up, patrons must step inside what the staff calls the “penalty box,” an area set aside specifically for puffers.
The patios are covered by a roll-back roof and are open all year round.
Hemingway, by the way, once lived in Toronto and his first son, John Hadle Nicanor, was born here in 1923. That’s good table trivia talk.
If Hemingway’s is too full or too slow, try Remy’s Restaurant across the alley. It has a very large patio that is the length of an entire block.
Location: 142 Cumberland Street. 968-2828.
6.) ALICE FAZOOLI’S
UPDATE: Yes, I know it’s closed now. Darned condo developments. They are shutting down my favorite downtown bars, one by one. I’ll be updating this article. For now, suffice to say I love all the patios on King Street, tho they are for meals and not really partying.
One of Toronto’s long-standing fine restaurants, the funky named Alice Fazooli’s, has survived the changing face of the downtown Adelaide/John Street area due in large part to its popular patio. Well, until the start of 2012 when it was shut down to make room for – surprise! – condos.
PubClub.com is currently searching for a new spot. Any suggestions!?
Alice’s is scheduled to relocate to Yonge & Gerard, just north of Dundas Square, so we’ll continue with the review:
From the hostesses to the waitresses, the service is emblematic of what makes Toronto patios so special. The staff is well-heeled but also projects an aura of fun, adding to the experience like a garnish on a fine cocktail. They help make Alice’s a true patio wonderland.
Wednesdays can be crowded because Alice’s has $4 Stellas all night. Stella! Fridays are $4 Heinekens.
Looking to break bread with any new friends? The bruschetta appetizer is, without question, the call. The rest of the items on the menu are tasty, as well; Alice’s has some of the best food of all the patios on this list which is, of course, a big plus.
Location: To be confirmed.
7.) BIER MARKET, KING WEST
Now we are getting more into the restaurant/bar patios as opposed to the bar/social patios.
This Bier Market (there is another one on the Esplanade) brings in diners day and night. It’s patio is long and narrow so many tables are not side-by-side. This makes it hard to start conversations with other patio patrons, but this patio is really just a starter for singles seekers anyway. The large bar area inside is where most of the mingling opportunities exist.
There’s a live band on weekends and no cover. Plus, it’s in a good area with two other bars – the hang-out KiWe Kitchen and the loud and busy (and potentially mind-numbing) 2 Cats Cocktail Lounge – directly across King Street.
Bier Market boasts 100 brands of beer from 24 countries. But no Molson Canadian, which is brewed but a half-hour away.
Location: 600 King Street West. 862-1175.
8.) DUKE OF YORK, YORKVILLE
Pick your patio. The small one on Prince Arthur Ave., that is bathed in sunshine on bright days, or the larger mostly shaded one in the back.
It’s location – right around the corner from the University of Toronto and casual atmosphere – means it gets a number of college students who come here to blow off the pressures of working toward achieving academic excellence and teachers. Oh wait, there are teachers here, too.
One cool element to this patio is that the doors to the adjacent bar open to the deck, so if the patio is full then grabbing one of these “indoor/outdoor” tables is nearly as good as being outside. Perhaps better, in fact, for those who want to catch what sports are on the telly.
This is a very cool, creaky wood floor English pub. Which means it’s big for soccer and watching Toronto FC, the city’s MLS team.
The Duke serves bunch on weekends until 4 p.m. and if PubClub.com had any influence over the management, perhaps it will soon include free champagne and mimosas for a couple of hours.
Downstairs, there is a comedy club that’s open at night.
Location:, 29 Prince Arthur Ave. 964-2441.
9.) FOGGY DEW, KING WEST
Perhaps the name – Foggy Dew – doesn’t lend itself to catching rays on a patio. But finding a table at this Irish pub at King & Niagara can be difficult on nice days and nights.
The Foggy Dew’s patio is L-shaped with two tables side by side and a kicked-back crowd enjoying their pints. Inside, small locals bands play after 9 p.m.
Specials – $5 appetizers on Mondays, 50-cent wings on Tuesdays, “Pie & Pie” night Wednesdays ($14.99) – help keep the patio popular during the week. For breakfast (10:30-3 on weekends), the Dew does it right with a pretty awesome egg-and-bacon sandwich.
The Foggy Dew also has free wireless Internet (ask the server for the password).
Location: 803 King Street West. 703-4042.
10.) BRAZEN HEAD, LIBERTY VILLAGE
The food is just so-so, there are only two types of Canadian beers on draught (Keith’s and, for some reason, Labatt 50) and the service can be as slow and lethargic as the TTC street cars.
Yet the Brazen Head makes the Top 10 Patios because of, well, its patios. There are three of them, one large one on the ground floor and two on upper levels. It’s location is a big boost too. While it has views only of a gym and a shopping mall, it is in robust Liberty Village, the hot new spot for Toronto ‘s singles and young couples. Groups like to gather here for things such as $5 Happy Hour appetizers on Tuesdays from 4-7 p.m.
It’s also the home pub of sorts when the Toronto FC soccer team plays at nearby BMO Field.
Location: 165 East Liberty Street. 535-8787.
• MORE PATIO LOCATIONS FOR LUNCH, DINNER & NIGHTLIFE
The restaurant patios along King Street are popular for lunch and dinner.
For lunch, dinner and late-night meals, it’s hard to beat the row of cafes on King Street by the Theater District. There are several choices; PubClub favors the French restaurant, Saint Tropez.
For dynamite dinners, College Street is one cafe after another. This area, between Bathhurst and Ossington, is also known as Little Italy. After dinner, these restaurants become bars as people continue to hang out well after the last bite. A PubClub favorite is actually just off College Street, on Clinton. It’s Langolino Wine Bar & Grill, a small family-run Italian place with a great menu and live jazz on the weekends. The larger patio across the street at Cafe Diplomatico is much more popular but Langolino a real find, especially for a small group of friends or a date.
For nightlife, the top spot is the Drake Hotel. This is a mingling paradise and in the summer there’s even a tiki bar. It’s worth the wait to get up there (and the downstairs bar is rocking, too). Get there early for dinner; we hear the burgers are outstanding.
One of PubClub’s favorite watering holes in all of Toronto is the Adelaide Pub (at Peter). This is kicked-back casual with a hip Toronto staff and crowd. Causal but semi-clubby, too, for those who don’t want to go to a club. Great place.
Around the corner, on Queen Street, Ultra is a supper club-becomes-nightclub that’s big on weekends.
AND FINALLY, A NOD TO A PAST TORONTO LEGEND
There are times when other patios are better than the ones listed her. For instance, Jack Astor’s on Front Street is the place between 5-7:30 or so when there is a concert at the Air Canada Centre, which is across the street.
It may be a bit dated – and some may even say a bit cheesy – but the third-floor patio at the Crocodile Rock can still rock, especially on Wednesday nights (midnight-2 a.m.). And hey, if it’s a nice Sunday afternoon, this is a good place to go for a couple of cold Canadian brews.
It’s always a good idea to check out the Jack Astor’s on John Street. When this location was Al Frisco’s there was no need for a list such as this one, for it was the runaway leader for Best Patio; today it still gets a bit of a crowd but it’s glory days have, for the moment, gone the way of Maple Leaf Stanley Cups.