Toronto’s Secret Bars: Four Hidden Gems

Whether hidden behind a dimly-lit bodega or down an unassuming alley in Kensington Market, Toronto has some secretive spots where you can grab a cocktail away from the crowds. To save you the search, here are some of the best hidden bars in the city.

Mahjong Bar
1276 Dundas St. West;

Dundas West is bustling no matter the night, so you might stumble past this hotspot if you’re not paying attention. Mahjong Bar is hidden behind a dimly-lit pink bodega that sells prepackaged snacks, wine and beer. Step into the back and you’ll find a sprawling, vibrant and thoughtfully-designed space. Savour Chinese small plates like Shrimp Wontons and Braised Beef with Shanghai Noodles while sipping on cheeky cocktails like the Hard Feelings, which combines Soju and Gin with the spicy and sweet flavours of Cynar, Sichuan Chili Cordial and orange.

Photo cred: Finn O’Hara

Cold Tea
58 Kensington Ave.;

Although Cold Tea may not be much of a secret with locals anymore, it hasn’t lost its secretive vibe. Find it tucked away behind a door in Kensington Mall, marked only by a red light above. Don’t let the spray-painted metal door fool you: behind it you’ll find a sleek, glowing space with natural wooden tables. Local brewers Left Field and Rorschach are on tap, as well as creative cocktails that pair well with food from Juanmoto, the space’s restaurant that offers Asian and South American fusion snacks. Share the ceviche, chicken wings and steak tartare, or order the The Tempura McFly fried chicken sandwich. Note: this spot is cash only.

Photo cred: Brilynn Ferguson

Vatican Gift Shop
1047 Gerrard St. East;

Looking for more than just tapas and drinks? Look no further than Vatican Gift Shop in Toronto’s east end. This gothic bar and music venue is hidden behind an equally moody storefront that carries bar-branded merchandise and religious accessories. There’s an impressive draught beer list that pairs well with the menu of Neapolitan pizzas – try the Capricciosa, topped with mortadella, artichokes, olives and fior di latte. Prefer a cocktail? Order one of the bartender’s seasonal creations.

485 King St. West

Above King Street’s Baro, you’ll find the less visible Escobar. This spot has maintained its secret status by requiring a password from anyone hoping to enter. Your best bet to gain access to sip cocktails and Instagram the infamous neon ‘Pablo loves you’ sign? Head to Baro first to grab a bite to eat and make sure you chat with the staff.