FOOD AND DRINK
Toronto's 7 Best Irish Bars, Ranked
We don't necessarily recommend visiting an Irish bar on St. Patrick's Day, but we certainly endorse these Toronto Irish bars at any time of year
It’s hard to recommend an Irish bar for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Toronto, since people start lining up outside the city’s most popular pubs right after breakfast. The good news is that the city’s excellent Irish pubs and saloons are also open on days other than March 17 – all of which are probably better days to enjoy them.
Here’s our choice for the city’s seven best Irish watering holes, ranked from good to our favourite.
7. Brazen Head Irish Pub and Restaurant
Named after Ireland’s oldest bar – Dublin’s 12th-century Brazen Head Inn – the Liberty Village Brazen Head is, obviously, significantly different. For one thing, it’s a massive, sprawling pub with a giant rooftop patio. As such, it’s not going to be to everybody’s taste, since it’s really more of a sports venue/party bar than it is homage to Irish drinking culture. That said, it has good drink specials, solid food and often live music. Did we mention the great patio?
165 East Liberty St., 416-535-8787
The Brazen Head
Homey and earnest, the highlight of this friendly little Cabbagetown bar is definitely the front parlour, outfitted with leather club chairs, fireplace and the one thing every good pub should have – a piano. Although the menu could be a little more Irish and a little less all things to all people, the food is solid and the craft beer selection is impressive, particularly when it comes to cider, a category so often neglected in beer bars.
221 Carlton St., 647-344-7676
5. Whelan’s Gate
No hike through High Park is complete without a well-deserved, post-exercise pint at Whelan’s Gate, a west-end institution that has evolved over the years into a gastropub that takes craft beer and food – meaty Irish staples – very seriously. It’s an intimate, little two-storey space, outfitted with rustic décor and a shady little back-garden patio.
1663 Bloor St. W., 647-478-6388
4. P.J. O’Brien Irish Pub and Restaurant
We’ll forgive the presence of fish tacos at P.J. O’Brien – a bar that advertises “authentic” Irish food – since it more than makes up for it with house-made Irish sausages and curry chips. Tucked away on a small downtown street, it’s also to be recommended for being a bit of a hidden gem in the St. Lawrence area, a neighbourhood where it can be tough to find a spot for a quiet drink, especially on a Saturday. Even more hidden is the tavern’s best feature, the second-floor fireplace lounge and bar. Also worth noting: P.J. O’Brien is home to some of the friendliest whiskey prices in the downtown core.
39 Colborne St., 416-815-7562
Despite a relatively recent renovation that removed some of the old-school grit and 1970s bar design, McVeigh’s wins a lot of points for conforming to our idea of what a no-nonsense classic Irish tavern is – a long bar in a big, open room, filled with the perfect mix of suits, students and locals. This 50-year-old tavern is still family-owned and, if you could pluck it from its Church Street location and drop it, intact, into a working-class Irish neighbourhood in Baltimore, Boston or Detroit, it would fit right in. Irish bar bands play the joint a couple of nights per week and the rest of the time, salty characters at the bar provide the entertainment. Voted “most likely place to find green beer.”
124 Church St., 416 364-9698
2. Dora Keogh (and Allen’s)
Dora Keogh is known for three things: perfectly poured stout, lively Celtic folk music and “snugs” – private booths, a nod to an era when wealthy folks, women or city officials didn’t want to be seen drinking at the pub but wanted a little refreshment. A hit when the bar first opened 20 years ago, the snugs are still a popular feature, along with its family-friendly weekend afternoon jam sessions, excellent food and quaint country pub atmosphere. As an added bonus, if you can’t get into the Dora, you might be able to squeeze in at Allen’s next door, an excellent classic Irish-American-style saloon with one of the city’s best whisky selections.
141 Danforth Ave., 416-778-1804
1. Céilí Cottage
Walking into the ramshackle, cobbled-together, quirky little structure that houses the Céilí Cottage, you might think you’re walking into an elaborate man-shed/converted garage, as opposed to Toronto’s best Irish bar. Once seated at the cluttered little space, though, the magic starts to unfold. Patrick McMurray, owner, world champion oyster shucker and Guinness Book of World Records holder (38 shucked in one minute), mans the bar with almost impossibly charming grace and hospitality.
Other than the oysters, the emphasis is on local food and beer, sourced from farms with whom McMurray has a close relationship. Totally worth the trip to Leslieville, since it’s not just the city’s best Irish bar, it’s one of Toronto’s best bars, period.
1301 Queen St. E., 416-406-1301