Bars to read at in Toronto are a special breed. And while drinking alone, especially in our hyper-connected lives, carries a huge stigma for lots of people, the reality is, going to a bar alone and ordering a drink doesn’t have to reek of sad, lonely cowboy syndrome. It can be a nice way to steal a little bit of time for yourself while still being around others’ energy (and a great chance for people watching). It’s also a nice way to pass the time if you’re waiting for somebody, or, to be honest, an exercise in bravery. You might want to forgo the drinks altogether and just have a snack or a coffee, too, which are also offered by most of these spots.
And don’t get upset, no one is going to steal your solo watering hole and crowd it up. These places are already well-marked on the map, and for the most part, they’re packed with people and loud tunes on the weekends. What I’m talking about here is a weekday afternoon or evening, or a Sunday night type of personal hangout. Here’s a list of bars in Toronto that are great for curling up in a corner with a book and a bourbon.
Some barkeeps would get bristly about their bar being called a good spot to read a book. Not so, clearly, with Tequila Bookworm. You could just grab a book from their shelves if you happened to arrive without one, in fact. There are board games, too: it’s a bit of a geek’s haven, and I mean that in a good way. And the servers don’t rush you, either; you’re largely left to your own devices in here during the day, and not hustled to order by any means. The Bookworm has ever-changing taps, but they serve local brews like Amsterdam and Oast House. You’ll also find a great selection of ciders in here.
Wallflower has to be one of the coziest little bars in Toronto. Located on Dundas West just east of Lansdowne, it fits in perfectly with the galleries and little specialty shops dotted along the stretch. It’s wallpapered in vintage florals, and serves a variety of nibbleable treats like deviled eggs and cheese plates. They also make a marvelous Manhattan, dahling, and they have beers on tap like Mill St. Cobblestone stout and Duggan’s, if that’s more your jam.
No One Writes to the Colonel
This gem in the easternmost edge of Little Italy is a comfy, unpretentious bar with lots of space to spread out. The name comes from a novella by Gabriel García Márquez, so I doubt anyone would bat an eye at a patron with a good book. You’ll find a selection of beers by St. Ambroise on tap, and their signature drink is a mojito shot. There are plain but serviceable snacks for grabs, too, like nachos and salsa. And they make a decent Negroni, too, if I remember correctly.
Northwood is one of my favourite spots in the city. One of those places where you can feel comfortable working or drinking (or both), the dark-but-not-too-dark room is a great spot to read. They mix up their cocktail menu according to season, and each cocktail ($10) is strong, artful and inventive. At the top of the list for me is Dark as Night, Sweet as Sin, which is concocted from Pimm’s, gin, grapefruit, agave, sage, basil, cucumber, and cava. But if that doesn’t do it for you, their menu is extensive. They also have snacks, including a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and muffins, and their coffee, that greatest of friends, is derived from Pig Iron Coffee Roasters beans.
There are reading-friendly bars in the east end too, guys — and this one might be the best. Hitch is designed for the serious drinker (and named after one, too). Each cocktail contains a double shot, with the star of the menu dubbed The Hitch. Spoiler alert. It’s a whiskey soda with lemon. There’s a list of other classics on offer, as well, all waiting to be consumed under the creepy shadows of animal busts cast by the glow of candlelight.
If you’re in the Queen and Broadview area, The Comrade’s a good place to settle in for a quite drink and a book during the week. They offer a strong wine list, and they aren’t lacking in the beer department, either. Decor includes lush daybeds to either stretch out and read upon if the place is dead, or (maybe) makeout on the edge of if it’s busy. The crowning glory here, though, is the bourbon sour. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you hate bourbon, in which case, I retract.
The Yukon is one of those deep, dark, Toronto bars with the requisite exposed brick and shelves full of LPs. Located in Parkdale, The Yukon has an easygoing nature, chill vibes, and it’s easy to feel friendly with the folks sitting next to you. (As we all know, the same cannot be said for all cramped establishments in the city). They mix up their drink specials depending on the day, but, for example, you might find something like a pint of Beaus and a shot of whiskey for $10. (You can find the same deal deep in the bowels of Brooklyn for $4, but that’s okay). For cocktails, you’ll find all the classics for $10-$13.
Many a grad student can be found with their nose in a book at Victory. You could camp out here for ages during the week, and their menu supports that assertion. Victory serves what amounts to classic pub food, with burgs, salads, and fish and chips all making an appearance. Their mac and cheese, though, is truly phenomenal. For drinks, you’ll find local brews from Amsterdam and Flying Monkey ($3.95-$5.09), as well as a decent selection of scotch, whiskey and bourbon.
You probably want to save this one for a day drink, as it tends to get pretty crammed in the evening hours. During the early evening hours on a week day, though, and definitely in the afternoon, it’s possible to find seating and make a corner of the space your own. Embassy has a full bar, but the focus is on craft beers. Chances are you’ll find McAuslan Apricot Wheat Ale, Black Oak Pale Ale, and Blanche de Chambly on tap.
This little bar on Dundas St. W. just west of Dufferin is a bit of a nameless hole in the wall, open to interpretation. That in itself makes it an ideal spot to let your imagination roam. That, and the 19 or so different varieties of scotch waiting to warm your belly. Aside from the scotch list, specialties include the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. Like many spots on this list, be warned that if you pop by on the weekend, you shouldn’t expect to get any reading done whatsoever. But during the early part of the week, this is a great choice for nabbing some time to yourself.
Photo of Wallflower