A new spin on an old tavern.
The Mix is Torontoist‘s monthly cocktail column.
Opened more than a century ago at 955 Gerrard Street East, Maple Leaf Tavern was once a thriving hotel. By the 80s, it developed something of a reputation. It’s been described as “a crazy dive where we went to sing karaoke without fear of embarrassment,” “the sort of place at which a stabbing might occur,” and “hella rough”.
Eventually, it closed. But after a few bumps in the road, it’s ready to start again.
The man attempting to breathe new life into the old tavern is Todd Morgan, owner of Pickering’s Port Restaurant. He originally hoped to reopen the space in 2015, but the extensive construction work required to fix structural issues caused delays. But once all concerns were taken care of and Morgan had a kitchen team in place, it was time to craft a drinks menu.
For the cocktail programme, Morgan teamed up with Naren Young—a famed food and drink writer, mixologist, and cocktail enthusiast. Young was involved with Port, but at Maple Leaf, he really expresses himself: his love of freshness, culinary techniques, and savoury flavours drive the menu. A juicer sits proudly with the other bar tools, so all juice that goes into the cocktails is made to order.
In March, the team put together a tasting event, with four cocktails from the proposed menu available to try. Even with a limited selection, there was a nice diversity of flavours, styles, and aesthetic.
The Salty Dog hits every region of the tongue simultaneously, with its lava salt, grapefruit juice, salted rosemary syrup, and Aylesbury vodka. The freshly squeezed grapefruit juice creates a froth similar to an Orange Julius. It’s an aptly named cocktail, given the Pavlovian cravings it evokes.
The Jasmine—garnished with an edible flower—is possibly the prettiest cocktail on the menu. Ford’s gin, Cointreau, Campari, and lemon juice make for a fragrant and rather potent drink. The citrus flavour cuts through the Campari, making for a very refreshing drink.
The Hotel Nacionál 2.0—possibly the most fun to say—is a classic Havana rum cocktail, with a tiki twist. CB rum, apricot liqueur, pineapple juice, lime, and Maldon salt combine in a sweet-salty-acid trifecta.
A taste of the Cesar Mexicana revealed savoury and slightly bitter flavours more often found in a Michelada. Based around fresh clam stock and Cabeza tequila, the rest of the recipe remains a mystery. No bacon, fruit skewers, or sliders here, but the customary celery garnish is included.
As the team at Maple Leaf try to do something new, they hope they will be embraced by the neighbourhood. This is reflected in both the food and drink menus, which will be family-friendly—a range of freshly prepared non-alcoholic drinks are also on offer. There will be six cocktails on the menu to begin, priced from $12.