by Christine Sismondo for the Toronto Temperance Society, a Certified Good Food Fighter
Hi, my name is Christine Sismondo. You may remember me from the occasional article I’ve written for that other food site Malcolm Jolley used to edit or, perhaps, from my salad days as the main food and drink book reviewer for The Toronto Star or, perhaps from my book, Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History .
Or, at this point, you may not remember me at all. Cause, in truth, I’ve been laying low for the past couple of years, working on big projects that are going to be unleashed on the public over the next twelve months.
When I first dropped out of society, it was to write a book about the history of American bars, the first of its kind. It’s called America Walks Into a Bar and, publishing gods willing, should be released by Oxford University Press next St. Patrick’s Day. It’s all written, well, save for the numerous inevitable revisions…
In the midst of all this, however, I somehow got the bright idea that, at some point, I would open a bar, mostly to put an end to the dearth of decent cocktails in this city but also because over the last decade I have learned that writing, unlike crime, doesn’t pay. And, with this in mind, I looked at a lot of spaces. Some were too big, others too small; some had small animals living in crawl spaces and others had black mold worthy of a National Geographic piece. All pretty much had super-shady landlords.
Anyhow, one night I was at a party and, as it was breaking up, a friend suggested those of us still up for more head out for cocktails. I shut that right down: “There are no good cocktails in Toronto. Let’s just go out for beer and jager – there are a few bartenders in Toronto who do that well.”
Eventually, I relented – I’d heard good things about two places and called both to see if they were open at that late hour. The first bartender, at a place which shall remain nameless, sounded pretty unenthused about our imminent arrival. At the other, however, the friendly voice made us feel welcome.
When we got there, I was blown away. Our bartender, who would turn out to be Bill Sweete, the owner of Sidecar, was a skilled craftsman, a generous host and a man with a vast knowledge about spirits and cocktails. (I hear he knows a thing or two about wines, too, but I find it hard to care.) He was, in short, everything I’d come to expect from the best cocktail bars I have the habit of frequenting – elsewhere.
And then he invited me to his inspired “drink tank,” at which bartenders from all over the city got together and made drinks for each other. There, I learned that there are many talented bartenders in this city – it’s just that few in the community really know each other all that well and many of them inhabit finer dining venues which I generally can’t afford to go to.
Well, one thing led to another, and after many El Presidentes, Bill and I decided we’d pool our efforts and try to create a space that, we hope, will wind up being something of a clubhouse for wayward bartenders, cocktail aficionados, home enthusiasts, spirits fans and, well, even a few beer and wine folks.
We’re calling it the Toronto Temperance Society. It opens July 1. (I’d knock wood but our bar is granite.) And the reason you’re reading about this here is that we’re proud to call ourselves the most recent addition to the Good Food Fighters portfolio. (Good Food Revolution was kind enough to loosely define food to allow us to fit into his own amazing community of people working to raise the bar in Toronto.)
I’m going to do my best to blog regularly about the challenges of opening a cocktail club in Toronto. Bear with me. I’ll get here as often as I can – in between designing cocktails, experimenting with them and, of course, drinking them.