Every bar has regulars but it takes a special kind of person to be a regular at many bars. In Toronto there is a man named Andrew Toplack that is that special kind of person. Andrew is the kind of guy who walks into a room and everyone (or so it seems) recognises his face. He sits at the bar and throughout his time there everyone working at the establishment from the servers to the hostess to the chef come out to say hi. He is the kind of guy who asks questions and is genuinely interested in the answers. He is generous with his time and knowledge. And he is kind. He is one of the kindest souls out there. There is a reason that Andrew is considered a friend of many.
Andrew is also a man of mystery. And what better way to unravel a mystery than to ease it out slowly with a night of quality time (and cocktails)? So we spent a night with “the Doctor”. We visited bars of his choosing and consumed drinks and food of his suggestion and throughout the way, we learned a thing or two about him. Here are some things that we knew about Andrew before approaching him about this piece: He is an MD and Psychotherapist, he used to import Tequila, he has a time-share in New Orleans and he was born and raised in Chatham, Ontario. By the end of the night, we were privy to so much more. Below is a timeline of the night. Where we went, who was working, what we ate and what Andrew drank. Anything you see in quotation marks was something that Andrew said, unless otherwise noted.
Bartender: Robin Kaufman
Drink: Sherry Collins (“I like that it’s low octane but high flavour”)
Food: Lamb ribs, Shrimp, Brussels Sprouts
“The Cocktail list is entirely based on The Little Prince.”
“Wine is a wonderful thing.”
“I don’t much like pairing cocktails with food. The cocktail is competing for attention with food and it just doesn’t work.”
Drink: Railway Switchman (Bulleit Rye, Cucumber, Peychaud’s and Boker’s Bitters, Arak Rinse, Lemon twist garnish)
“Its like an updated Sazerac.”
Depart for second location.
“Robin is one of Toronto’s best.”
Bartender: Brendan Schatti
Drink: Hourglass Cocktail (a take on a Longines Cocktail, made from Scotch Whisky, Anisette and Black Tea)
Food: Lamb Belly Salad, Scallop Ceviche
Upon arrival the hostess greets us with an excited “Hi Andrew!”
“The De La Louisiane here is the best in the world. The blend of vermouths they use is diluted properly. A lot of people stir to chill but it’s not often that the dilution is right.”
“When I bought my house, I met this African drummer at the same time. We got along well and so I started playing with his band. I played with them for ten years and ran the band for the last 5.”
“You know, nothing I’ve done in my life has been planned.”
Around this time Andrew tells about how he got into importing agave spirits. He was in Scotland in the 70’s and noticed the interest in single malt scotches growing in Ontario. He decided to start bringing in Tequila. Then he became interested in Mezcal through tasting some with a restauranteur friend. He tells us that he had a message left on his answering machine from Ron Cooper. It turns that Andrew was the first person to import Del Maguey Mezcal to Canada. He laments that unfortunately it was probably 12 years too early.
We ask why he chose New Orleans for his time share…
“I didn’t! It chose me.”
“You say yes to one thing and that leads to other things, and that’s life.”
Deliberations begin on where to go next.
The Bartender pours us a little Gamay to sip while we contemplate.
“Shortly west, west west, Dundas west, Kensington Market, College Street west” are the options that he gives us.
“Anywhere David Greig is, is a wonderful place to be.”
A decision has been made.
Arrive at Grey Gardens, leave our names on the waitlist, walk around the corner.
“Bartenders are one of the last groups of rebels”
“Background music is background music, but I grew up 15 miles from Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s, so yeah, the beat is important.”
“The Hawaiian Pizza was invented in Chatham.”
“I dated a girl who got sent home from school for wearing fishnets. It was Catholic School in 1968.”
“The ability to laugh at ourself is so important. We are all so pompous sometimes that you have to balance.”
Depart El Rey with a small sample of Espadin care of Jullian.
“God resides in Oaxaca.”
Bar: Grey Gardens
Bartender: David Greig
Food: Lobster and hand-torn pasta
When Andrew’s drink menu is dropped off, the wine list has been stolen but the cocktails page is still there. He reacts by saying “There’s no point in guilding the lily”.
“In New Orleans, getting drunk isn’t a bad thing.”
Evelyn Chick shows up.
“For me, the Foo Fighters are like….who?”
“Moms are always wrong about what they assume.”
“People don’t realize that Chatham was the end of the Underground Railroad.”
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin was just outside Chatham.”
“We probably only have one more place…probably.”
Depart Grey Gardens
Bar: Civil Liberties
Bartender: Marshall Seyler and Casey Ryan
Drink: “Something with Bourbon or Rye”
Andrew begins talking with Marshall about his life and is genuinely interested.
“You’ve been working five days a week and going to school full time? That’s fucked up!”
Drink: Bottle of Modelo
“If you look like you are from New Orleans, you will get treated like you are from New Orleans.”
“The new Tiki is on Baffin Island”
“I was born in 1952 and I have Netflix, get it together!”
Marshall tells a story about a woman named Emily Murphy who was all for prohibition and was also a terrible racist, that also had shares in Gooderham and Worts Whisky in the 1890s. the details here are a little fuzzy as it was almost 1am and we had been out for 6 full hours.
Evelyn Chick shows up, again!
Charlie and Travis take few minutes to explain Simulation Theory to us.
Andrew gives himself the most glorious facepalm and then with a very serious look on his face says “This is a wonderful industry.”
Travis responds with “Pyramids, bro!”
“That’s good enough. We did a good job.”
“I am going to start working my senior’s discount. Unfortunately bars don’t offer seniors discounts.”
Sam Grundy-Glynn shows up.
“I like this bar, the way they make me feel. They have gotten so much better as time has gone by.”
“We all hope to matter to someone.”
Depart Civil Liberties and we go our separate ways.
You can find Andrew at The Drake Hotel on Tuesdays at 8pm where he hosts Toplack Tuesdays, a series professionals working in the industry tell their story. You can also (likely) find his face at any given cocktail bar in Toronto or New Orleans (especially around Tales).