Whether it’s sipping on a Blood Simple at the Belljar Café deep in the west end or savouring a smoked habanero caesar at Aft Kitchen & Bar on Queen Street East, the options for living it up on a patio have never been better for queer folks in Toronto. The range and diversity of spaces across this great city is staggering and seemingly limitless. So find the tightest shorts you own, call your friends and raise a glass on any one of these fabulous patios. It’s good to be gay.
The Black Eagle
457 Church St
The massive patio at the Black Eagle is often drenched with sun and the sweat of the hirsute men who populate it. Size does indeed matter, and the expanse of the Eagle’s patio is notable in a city where real estate has become borderline impossible to afford. It’s the type of place you can show up to alone and still feel completely at home. One of the factors that distinguishes the Black Eagle from the rest of the main Church Street drag — a veritable Toontown — is the music they play. If you’re not the sort of queen who mainlines nine-minute Kylie remixes, you’ll be glad bars like the Black Eagle exist. The staff pride themselves on their taste in music, and you’re more likely to hear Nine Inch Nails than Nicki Minaj. The boardwalk-themed patio has a staggering capacity of 132, with long benches lining each side and a 15-metre mural designed by J Dampf that depicts a nocturnal forest. Six overhead beams are fitted with custom-designed light fixtures that are quite forgiving when the sun sets. Each Sunday afternoon, there’s a barbecue on the deck that’s become wildly popular. Service is refreshingly swift and friendly with zero pretenses. If you’re looking to impress out-of-towners or just hoping to get laid, the Black Eagle should be your first and only option.
Beverley Hotel rooftop patio
335 Queen St W
Boutique hotels in Toronto have become as ubiquitous as jockstrap shots from the bearded boys of Grindr, but the Beverley Hotel is one worth writing home about, particularly because of its gorgeous rooftop patio. The deck seats a maximum of 70 and offers a beautiful view of the old warehouses that define the entertainment district in which it’s situated. The atmosphere and service are as casual as it comes, despite being a coveted destination for queer citizens all over the city. Similar to the rooftop patio of the Park Hyatt, gays sporting their shopping bags from Queen Street and knocking back one cocktail after the next are not an uncommon sight. The menu, very reasonably priced, includes lobster banh mi and steak tartare with black olive miso compote. As the hotel is a popular spot for gay travellers, it’s an ideal venue for indiscretions. Who needs Grindr?
The Three Speed
1163 Bloor St W
On an unseasonably cool Monday night in July the chatter and laughter from the back patio at Three Speed is clearly audible from Bloor Street. The patio seats a maximum of 50 and has a combination of individual tables and harvest-style seating along picnic tables. A canopy of trees and wooden beams covers the deck, making the infernal rays of Toronto summers just a little more bearable. Peppered with fairy lights and some of the most attentive, genuine service this city has to offer, the patio is a mixed affair, with people of all persuasions enjoying such cocktails as Tits on a Turkey and reimagined staples like the five-cheese mac and cheese. “Treat this place like it’s your own and host your own party every night,” says bartender Deborah Armstrong. Duly noted.
Aft Kitchen & Bar
686 Queen St E
Queen East has a stellar new addition with Aft Kitchen & Bar. A favourite of local queers, this chic patio is romantic, beautifully designed and the perfect venue to enjoy cocktails, including the potent and flowery gin fizz, a summery elixir made with smoked pineapple purée, or the volcanic smoked habanero caesar — a quick fix for a Sunday hangover. Opened amidst the bourbon and barbecue craze that’s overrun the food scene on this continent, Aft Kitchen & Bar succeeds in its execution where many others have failed. The patio, which seats up to 30 people, is composed of long benches and individual tables with a giant wall of exposed brick. A weekend barbecue menu offers slow-cooked pork ribs, Texas-style brisket and cowboy beans. The joint also has a whole shelf of fanciful bourbon. Notable are the Trybox Series New Make Rye, a moonshine made from corn mash, and Buffalo Trace, from one of the oldest distilleries in North America.
House on Parliament
454 Parliament St
House on Parliament, a mainstay for Cabbagetown queers, boasts two patios — a modest and adorable deck in the front that hugs the street and an impressive rooftop patio that is the main attraction. The intimate rooftop is impeccably designed, with polished wooden walls, floors, tables and chairs, and is a dream of a venue for those hopeful first few dates. The menu expertly balances quality of food and drink with some of the best nachos in Toronto. Craft beers flow on tap and the wine list is thoughtfully curated — the rosé from Niagara’s Tawse Winery is a fun, fruity standout. The HoP has also made whiskey a priority; the 16-year-old Lagavulin is a single malt that’s the perfect poison and a gorgeous accompaniment to any of the locally brewed draft. Either of House on Parliament’s dapper patios are ideal venues to enjoy a hair of the dog or savour a whiskey with dinner before heading out to the Village or home with a girl or boy after all that liquid courage.
The Blake House
449 Jarvis St
This well-appointed patio at Jarvis and Wellesley is a reprieve from the mania of Church Street. The stunning terrace occupies the front of the building, which was built in 1891 and has housed some famous Canadians over the years, including Ontario’s second premier, Edward Blake, for which the building is named. The sleek patio, all glass and black metal bars, is a sharp juxtaposition to the giant tree that juts up from the centre of the deck and to the Victorian structure of the building itself. The spacious patio seats 80, and unlike many restaurants that try to flip tables and maximize profit, there’s no time limit on this patio, allowing for a leisurely experience whether you’re dining or just there to have drinks. The Blake House is a favourite of gay sports teams in Toronto, many of which the company proudly sponsors — something to keep in mind if you enjoy beefy men in nylon shorts.
Julie’s Cuban Café
202 Dovercourt Rd
A treasure to residents of the west end, Julie’s Cuban Café, just a few blocks from Queer Street West, has been in business since 1996. The versatile, endearing front patio seats roughly 30 and is a perfect venue to host birthday parties or impress a first date. Amid the current explosion in cocktail culture, Julie’s Cuban makes arguably the best mojito in the city with fresh mint grown right in the backyard. The menu offers both tapas and entrées with authentic, traditional Cuban fare — the chorizo plate is phenomenal and one of the best items on the menu. Service is outstanding, and freshly blended cocktails like the banana, lime and strawberry daiquiris are made with expert precision.
2072 Dundas St W
Located off the beaten path deep in the west end, Belljar Café’s intimate patio has a modest capacity of 20 but has charm to spare. A favourite of west-enders, the café focuses on espresso and pastries by day but serves innovative twists on classic cocktails by night. Presented in an elegant coupe glass, the Blood Simple is a riff on the margarita using Tanqueray gin, house-made hibiscus syrup, triple sec and lime juice — having just one proves to be a challenge. Belljar Café recently launched a screening program whereby films are projected on a giant screen on the patio. Weekend brunch is excellent, with savoury offerings like the smoked-salmon Benny and sweet items like house-made waffles that are drizzled with syrup and generously garnished with fresh fruit.
Hair of the Dog
425 Church St
This Church Street institution, located at the foot of the Village, has one of the most popular patios in the city. It has a capacity of 100 and is fenced in by lush foliage, allowing for an intimate, private dining experience. “There is no patio like ours,” says server James Fletcher. “Lots of greenery, water fountains in a gorgeous old building and away from the traffic. It’s almost like home — best place for a first date.” The two-storey patio is an ideal spot to drink away a summer day with craft beers like Hops & Robbers and the ever-popular So Good It’s Got To Be Gay cocktail, a queer mix of raspberry vodka, Alizé Red Passion, banana liqueur, and orange and pineapple juice.
13 Ossington Ave
Before the über gentrification of Ossington Avenue and when Will Munro was still among us, there was Sweaty Betty’s. The first bar to open on the now famous Ossington strip, Sweaty Betty’s has been proactively queer-friendly right from the start. The secluded back patio is a major draw for west-end queer folks. Accented by twirling vines, the patio seats up to 30 people and can be full on any given day of the week. The bar offers nine beers on tap, including Junction Conductor’s Ale and Beau’s Lug-Tread; the most popular shot is the pickleback. Bartender May Brand, a Sweaty Betty’s veteran and a west-end institution in her own right, says the queer presence at the bar has been important to everyone involved over the years. “Sweaty Betty’s has always had a strong queer presence. We have queer staff, DJs and clientele, and although it’s a mixed space, it’s been a huge part of the queer-west scene since we opened.”
Churchmouse & Firkin
475 Church St
The recently renovated space, part of the larger Firkin Group of Pubs, now resembles that of a London Tube station. The side patio has some of the most coveted seats in the Village. If you’re lucky enough to score a table, the friendly servers, like the bearded MacKenzie, serve up potent cocktails, including the party-in-a-pint-glass watermelon crush. The cozy patio seats up to 59 people and is awash in sun during long summer days. Cornering Church and Maitland streets, the patio is a voyeur’s paradise, as it allows for splendid people-watching and cruising. Cocktails are available by the pitcher and are delicious and effective primers before heading out into the Village.
(Cover photo and The Black Eagle photos by Inked Kenny. All other photos by Adam Coish.)
(Editor’s note: House Maison, Screen Lounge and The Flying Beaver Pubaret were both featured in an earlier version of this article, but have since closed and have been removed.)