Londoners love to drink, there’s no doubt about that. Whether you’re a college kid or a parent, going for a drink is a favourite pastime in the Forest City.
While there’s definitely a time for beer and wine, sometimes a mixed drink is what you’re craving. Cocktails are endlessly versatile, each with their own flavour profile as you mix liquor, liqueurs, and various other ingredients.
Sure, anyone can pour rum and coke into a glass with some accuracy and make a decent drink, but that’s just the first step into mixed drinks. Cocktails can be elevated with quality ingredients and professional crafting, just like with any fine dining. The restaurants and bars on this list employ bartenders that are masters of their craft, giving the world some of the best cocktails that you’ve ever tasted!
449 Wharncliffe Rd. S (map)
Craft Farmacy is one of London’s latest and greatest additions to the food industry. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with the owners, Jess Jazey Spoelstra and Andrew Wolwowicz, in our Business of the Week series, so we can say with total assurance that these guys are the real deal.
Craft Farmacy is currently London’s only Feast On certified restaurant, meaning that at least 80% of the products they serve are sourced locally, and that includes the spirits mixed into your cocktails. With 28 different brands of craft liquor available, over three quarters are distilled in Ontario, and the rest in Canada except for one – Black Cow Pure Milk Spirit, a vodka distilled from fresh whole milk.
One of their biggest liquor suppliers is Dillon’s, a distillery in Beamsville, Ontario. Craft Farmacy carries eight different Dillon’s products, including five different gins, vodka, whisky, and absinthe.
Craft Farmacy’s drink menu shifts with the seasons, as they use local ingredients. For instance, in the summer, you’ll find drinks like the “new fashion,” a modern take on the old fashioned, made of Dillon’s whisky, wild cherry vanilla bitters, and locally grown berries. With the fall comes drinks like the “strawberry sour,” a delicate and delicious blend of Dillon’s strawberry gin, Cointreau, and grapefruit soda – an excellent way to stay in the summer vibe even without the weather.
Craft Farmacy also carries a plethora of craft beers and local wines to go along with your incredible meal if mixed drinks aren’t exactly your thing.
As we said in our Business of the Week, Craft Farmacy is doing everything right. They take fantastic, local, and artisanal ingredients and somehow manage to elevate them even more when they’re put together at the expert hands of head chef/owner Andrew. Craft Farmacy should definitely be on the top of your list if you’re looking to grab a great drink alongside some great food.
Wolfe of Wortley
Neighbourhood: Old South
147 Wortley Rd. (map)
The Wolfe of Wortley is a restaurant and bar in the heart of Wortley Village that has made a big splash since its opening in 2016. Its appearance boosted the modern and trendy feel of the quaint neighbourhood, pulling ever more Londoners to the stretch of Wortley Road.
Wolfe of Wortley offers small plates and craft cocktails, priding themselves on quality and originality in everything they serve. Their menus, both food and drink, change with some regularity, always offering something fresh and delicious to its patrons.
Cleverly named and just as cleverly designed, their signature cocktails range in price from #13-16, and for the quality you’re receiving in your beverage, it’s a steal. Their drinks are crafted to balance the strength of the liquor with sweet and acidic flavours to make the perfect cocktail.
The menu consists of a mix of cocktails everyone knows and loves, like the bee’s knees and the Manhattan – although their Manhattan adds the extra element of smoke to give it extra depth of flavour, however there are also drinks that only a seasoned cocktail veteran would be familiar with. For instance, the “goombay smash,” a cocktail originating in the Bahamas, gives you a tropical feel while you’re sitting in southwestern Ontario, blending spiced and coconut rums with pineapple, orange, lime, and apricot brandy. Or perhaps you would enjoy a “mountain jam,” which includes two types of whisky – both scotch and bourbon – alongside yellow chartreuse (a French herbal liqueur), lemon, chamomile, and peach. And that’s only two of their cocktails! There are so many more to choose from.
Or if you’re leaning away from mixed drinks and towards straight liquor, the Wolfe offers three different flights of whisky. For $20, you can sample three whiskies, totaling 2.25 ounces of liquor between the three glasses. It’s technically not a “cocktail” per se since there’s no mixing involved, but it’s definitely worth a mention.
If you’re going to Wolfe of Wortley, the only issue will be picking one drink off the menu. It can’t be recommended to try all of them in one sitting as that would be incredibly irresponsible, but that just means you’ll have to make a few trips down to the Wolfe, which isn’t the worst way to spend your time.
NiteOwl Cocktail Lounge
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
580 Talbot St. (map)
You may not have heard of the NiteOwl before, or maybe you thought it closed a while ago and was replaced by Rock Au Taco on Talbot Street (which was then replaced by an expansion of the Early Bird). You aren’t wrong in that case, but it didn’t disappear – it’s only hidden.
Like the speakeasies of yesteryear, the entrance to NiteOwl hides down an alley, in this case, off of Albert Street, around the back of Los Lobos. If you see the glowing owl, you know you’re in the right spot. Do be warned, the owl is only lit on Fridays and Saturdays, meaning they are closed the other five days of the week.
Once you’ve managed to find your way into NiteOwl, you’ll be treated with a large menu of cocktails, ranging from classic to unique, each handcrafted with the finest of ingredients.
NiteOwl has all the cocktails you know and love. The old fashioned, the undeniable combination of whiskey and bitters. The bee’s knees, a floral and sweet concoction. Of course, no bar is complete without a martini, both gin and vodka, you can pick your poison.
Their menu isn’t just the old familiars though, there are some incredible flavours that you’ll find at the NiteOwl that are likely unfamiliar and maybe even impossible to find elsewhere. The “ashes to ashes” balances sweet, tart, and smoke with a mixture of mezcal, lemon, and maple. Or take a chance with the “violet gentleman” a drink comprised of single malt scotch, lemon, honey, and crème de violet.
You may notice some similarities with the Wolfe of Wortley menu, in which case you have a keen eye. Both the Wolfe and NiteOwl are part of the “Wolfe Pack,” a series of restaurants run by the Wolfe brothers, Justin and Gregg, who both have a serious passion for great food, awesome drinks, and stellar music.
The bartender will be able to help with your choice if you need it, as their menu is large and most of the cocktails are potentially unfamiliar.
The drinks at NiteOwl are refreshing, delicious, and strong (none are poured with less than two ounces of liquor). If you can find your way there, it’s definitely worth the adventure.
Hunter & Co.
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
349 Talbot St. (map)
Hunter & Co. is yet another newer restaurant that has popped into the London scene with an emphasis on great drinks to accompany equally delicious food. This downtown bar and restaurant offers small plates, oysters, and craft cocktails that will absolutely blow your mind. Whether it’s a classic cocktail you’re after or something with a modern twist, there’s absolutely no way to go wrong at Hunter & Co.
With their dedication to fresh and local ingredients, their food and drink menu is constantly changing to keep with the harvesting seasons in surrounding areas. Your repeat trips to Hunter & Co. will never be dull as there’s almost always going to be something new on the menus for you to try out and definitely enjoy.
One of the favourites at Hunter & Co. is the classic “dark and stormy,” a gorgeous blend of spiced rum and spicy ginger beer with a squeeze of lime juice just for good measure. The drink may be served over ice, but the ginger will warm your core so it’s great even on the chilly days of autumn.
Hunter & Co. even has their own cocktail invented by their head bartender, Derek Estabro, called the “coups velo,” a red, foamy cocktail served in a coupe glass. The secrets of this mysterious drink are kept with its inventor, but he’s happy to share its story and ingredients if you ask, so we will leave it up to you to investigate for yourself on your next visit!
If you host a private event at Hunter & Co., you can even have them create a custom cocktail for it! Give them as much input as you want and the expert bartenders will craft you something truly spectacular that hasn’t ever been on the menu. Whether it’s a personal twist on a classic cocktail or something entirely new, you and your guests are bound to be satisfied with the result.
Gnosh Dining + Cocktails
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
125 Dundas St. (map)
Gnosh Dining + Cocktails is the reinvention of the downtown London classic Blu Duby. Run by Joe Duby, the namesake of the former iteration of the restaurant, Gnosh promises the best in food and drink that you’ll be able to find downtown. Their new menu, an altered and updated version of Blu Duby’s, is a perfect balance of classy and casual.
Their premium cocktail menu is tantalizing, offering a variety of delicious drinks that will definitely require a few trips to taste each and every one of them. With twists on classic cocktails, they breathe new life into the recipes you know and love.
For instance, the cinnamon boulevardier adds the spice of cinnamon to the classic whisky, vermouth, and Campari cocktail. Another classic is the New York sour, which is a whiskey sour with a floater of red wine laid atop, creating a gradient the colours of sunset that is appealing to both the taste buds and the eyes.
Gnosh may have a brand new face, but the team behind it has plenty of experience. When you put cocktail in the name, they’re staking their claim on having impeccable mixed drinks, and they don’t disappoint. Trust Gnosh with your dinner and drinks and you’re guaranteed to be satisfied by the end of your meal.
The Church Key Bistro-Pub
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
476 Richmond St. (map)
The Church Key is your destination if you’re in the mood for some premium pub grub and a great cocktail or a craft beer. The combination of great food and great drinks is undeniable, elevating both to an incredible degree. The Church Key’s casual style and top-quality food and drink make it perfect for any occasion as it feels both high class and relaxed simultaneously.
The Church Key’s drink menu offers two twists on the Tom Collins, a classic gin beverage. Their Blueberry Collins switches out the gin for blueberry vodka, a splash of lime mix, soda, and a blueberry garnish. Meanwhile, the Lavender Collins is closer to the original, with the addition of a lavender syrup in lieu of sugar to add the sweetness element as well as a floral note to complement the gin.
They’ve even got a winter sangria in the cold months, a drink typically relegated to the summer months. Their winter version uses autumnal flavours like star anise, apple, and cranberry with some usual sangria ingredients in a base of white wine.
And if that’s not enough, there’s also a cocktail menu that accompanies their Sunday brunch. Accompany your duck confit or steak and eggs with your choice of five “breakfast bevies” as their menu calls them. The usual brunch drinks are present, like the mimosa, sangria and the Caesar, which are all excellent choices to be sure. They also offer the Pimm’s cup, an ounce of Pimm’s No. 1, ginger ale, lemon juice, and a slice of cucumber, and the “key royale,” a mixture of Spanish sparkling wine and Chambord, a raspberry liqueur. Your brunch will never be dull with any one of these drinks in your hand as you eat.