My City: Toronto Bartender Aja Sax's Favourite Things
If you’re ever sipping a cocktail in Toronto, there’s a good chance Aja Sax, one of the city’s most-loved and respected bartenders, had a hand in it. Between her drinks consulting and stints as bar manager, Sax has helped launch several of the better-known bar programs in the city, having worked for the County General, the Beverley Hotel and The Emerson, among other places.
Although she’s a California native who sorely misses the sun and surf, Sax fell in love with Toronto when she moved here with her family as a teenager and can’t even imagine leaving her adopted home now. She’s fond of saying that, even though the winters are still hard, the awesome people make it all worthwhile. We asked her for some insight into what makes this city so great.
Q: Is there a good cinq-à-sept place in Toronto?
Sax: Tons, but my favourite place to go at that time of day is a hotel bar, so I would suggest the bar at the Park Hyatt. In the summer, the view is to die for; in the winter, it’s the perfect place to cozy up next to the fire in a big leather club chair.
What’s the most interesting strip for a stroll?
Toronto is awesome because of all the little pockets. I really like Dundas West because of the contrast of old and new – both buildings and businesses. It’s still a neighbourhood in transition, so that’s neat to see.
Where’s the best view of the city?
From the island, hands down. By taking the ferry from the Harbourfront you can get a real feel for what Torontonians do to feel like they’ve escaped the city heat in the summertime.
What should every visitor know about the TTC?
Always take buses! Subways are good, too, of course, but any chance you have to take subways and buses over the streetcar, do it.
Do you have a go-to shopping spot?
If I have money to burn, the shops at Queen near Spadina do the trick. They’re mainly chains, yes, but shopping on that strip reminds me of the outdoor shopping back home, rather than being trapped in a mall.
Where’s the best place to have a glass of wine?
Midfield Wine Bar. Giuseppe Anile (one of the owners) is the shit. That place practically re-invented the way we think about wine in the city.
Best downtown lunch?
One of the Mercattos. (There are five, including one near the Air Canada Centre and one in the Eaton Centre.)
Best late-night eats?
The steak tartare at 416 Snack Bar. That is all.
What’s totally over-rated?
I'm afraid to answer this; I would get in trouble. But maybe the Yorkville restaurant strip?
Is there one really super-touristy thing that’s totally worth it?
Going to a baseball game. The tall cans of Bud Lite are the main draw, but I like that a baseball game is as much about socializing with the people you’re with as it is about the game. And when the SkyDome (as it will forever and always be called) roof is open, it is summer in a (pea)nutshell.
Do you have a perfect day-off routine?
Days off are the best! I hit up a yoga class, then have a latte at Dark Horse. In the summer, I walk to Trinity Bellwoods with my coffee and sit outside. If it's really perfect, I cap it off with dinner with a pal at the Harbord Room or THR & Co.
County General, 936 Queen St. W., 416-531-4447
The Beverley Hotel, 335 Queen St. W., 416-493-2786
The Emerson, 1279 Bloor St. W., 416-532-1717
Park Hyatt Toronto, Rooftop, 4 Avenue Rd., 416-924-5471
Midfield Wine Bar, 1434 Dundas St. W., 647-375-7005
416 Snack Bar, 181 Bathurst St., 416-364-9320
The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord St., 416-962-8989
THR&Co, 97 Harbord St., 647-748-7199