We all like to get drunk right? But let's be honest (in our brief moment of sobriety), downing shots of Jameson and screaming into someone's ear over the thump, thump of heavy bass gets old - fast. Good thing Toronto has the antidote for the craft cocktail, $20-glass-of-wine ennui.
Say hello to the game-themed bar. Sure, it's not a brand spanking new trend, but with some big openings over the last few years throwing a ball around while sipping your favourite cocktail is here to stay. So limber up and get your game face on.
1. Track & Field
With it's proximity to the Ossington strip and its novel approach to 'bringing the outdoors in,' it's no surprise this newcomer to the bar scene is already a hipster and industry mainstay. Lawn games in a basement? Why not. There are two bocce ball and two shuffleboard lanes as well as crokinole, and a board game developed in 19th century rural Ontario. Bocce and shuffleboard lanes can be reserved for $40 an hour through the Track & Field website, but if you're a walk-in you play for free. The lanes tend to police themselves during the week (you don't play ten games in a row when people are waiting), if you're visiting on the weekend check in with the games host to get your crew in the queue. Every Monday there's a bar vs. bar bocce tournament, teams need to show up before 10pm to register and then it's a two hour fight to the death (er, victory). There are plans to initiate tournaments open to everyone in the near future. With lots of beer to drink - including 4 local drafts - and a snack menu to munch on, Track and Field is clearly the place to be.
2. SPiN Toronto
This is the exotic foreigner of the Toronto game-bar scene. This ping-pong bar empire originated in New York and there are SPiN locations across the U.S. as well as Dubai and a pop-up spot in Belgium. With it's tony King West address this 12,000 square foot space is slick and full on with a rotating lineup of DJs rocking the 1's and 2's Wednesday through Sunday. Reserving one of the 12 ping-pong tables will set you back $62 for an hour, walk-in rates are much lower (and vary depending on time of day) but this place gets busy so it might be worth it if you have the scratch. SPiN runs lots of promotions and events including industry Sundays and a student night on Wednesdays. Die hard ping-pong-ers can become SPiN members and get discounts on play. 'King of the Court' tournaments are held weekly and are open to everyone; you get a chip when you walk in the door, play a stranger and win, collect their chip, when you've amassed a four chip fortune you can trade them in for a free drink.
The draught menu here is a mix of local craft brews and commercial big brands. But since this is King West you can also order a bottle of Veuve with your can of PBR, SPiN has the best wine selection of all the bars on this list. There's a short but intriguing list of cocktails and 9oz punch bowls. The menu items here are designed for sharing; tater tots, pizza pockets and mushroom poppers, to name a few. There's also five different kinds of slider on offer, from chicken bahn mi to battered cod (all seafood is Ocean Wise).
3. Snakes & Lagers
With a selection of 318 games to choose from, Snakes & Lagers has something for everyone; from old school card games like Uno to Cards Against Humanity, from classics like Battleship to the decidedly more modern, Zombie Dice. Combine the game collection of Snakes & Lagers with that of it's sister spot, Snakes & Lattes, along with their extensive game archive and you've got the largest publicly available board game library in North America. For $5 per person you get unlimited access to the games, play as many you like for as long as you like. The unlimited play means that sometimes it can take a while to get a table; no reservations, no wait list. There's a serene 30 seat backyard patio with plenty of foliage surrounding it to block out downtown. It's a cosy spot, and with fixed booths inside it's best for groups of six people max. If you look around you'll probably see some first dates using the games as a way to get past the awkward get-to-know-you phase.
There are 19 beers on tap, all craft brews whose breweries are all within a one day drive from Toronto, the farthest flung being Montreal's Unibroue and St-Ambroise. A small cocktail list rebuilds classics from the ground up, like the 1653, a reimagined negroni that uses the Dutch spirit (and original gin) genever and a cocoa-infused Campari. The full kitchen serves a selection of sandwiches, burgers, salads and sides, cheese and charcuterie, perfect for sharing over a long night. And if you end up being on the losing side of an epic game of Clue you can eat your feelings of loss away with a slice of deep-fried, puff pastry-wrapped cheesecake.
4. Get Well
Yoda would say, "the nostalgia is strong with this one." This cool, spacious Dundas West bar has ten vintage arcade games whose provenance spans from the 70s through the early 90s and that are sure to induce a trip down memory lane. The cabinet games are free to play and include classics like Tetris, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man. The two pinball machines, Dolly Parton and Pin Bot, are a quarter per play but considering the price hasn't gone up in 40 years, that's not bad. The vintage aesthetic extends to the decor, the result of constant and discerning antiquing by the owners, which sees formica tables mix with tufted leather sofas and an eclectic collection of framed art.
This is a beer bar and their collection of taps and bottles is truly impressive. There are 12 taps and a rotating cask selection available which feature well-chosen local craft brews, American IPAs and Belgian ales. Available by the bottle is the famed Westvleteren XII, one of the rarest and most coveted beers in the world, when a limited release came to the LCBO a few years ago there was practically a stampede. There's also a back bar for mixed drinks, not so much cocktails, and a small selection of wine. Get Well doesn't have a kitchen but North of Brooklyn Pizza has opened a small counter inside the bar where slices or whole pies can be bought for dine in or takeout. Beer, pizza and pinball - what could be better?
Photo cred - The Dock Ellis
5. The Dock Ellis
Whatever you do, don't call it a hipster sports bar...though with the Dundas West locale and wall of flat screens showing uniformed athletes, that's kind of what it is... But there's more, in addition to the usual bar staples of darts and pool, The Dock Ellis has ping-pong, foosball and a shuffleboard table. The foosball, shuffleboard table and pool are $1 per play and are located in the main upstairs room. But if you've got a hankering for a game of ping-pong to take away the sting of another Leaf's loss you'll have to wait 'til Friday or Saturday night when Dock Ellis opens it's 50 person capacity downstairs room. The lower level has its own bar, ping-pong and darts are free to play.
This is another beer-centric place serving only Ontario craft brew, though there's a full bar and a couple token wine selections. Tall cans of Amsterdam (416) Local Lager and Nickle Brook Cause & Effect Lager are only $5. When the sports games are over for the night the TVs get turned down, the music turned up and dance parties are known to break out. There's a full kitchen, serving sandwiches, wings and snacks (the nachos are a particular point of pride), as well as a limited brunch menu on the weekends.