Behind the bar at the Maple Leaf Tavern with world-class mixologist Naren Young
Naren Young (Dante) will be introducing Maple Leaf Tavern’s cocktail program in early May
It’s been two years since Maple Leaf Tavern took the historic Maple Leaf Tavern building at Gerrard and Pape and turned it from a pile of great bones to a true destination for brunch-goers and happy hour imbibers. But while the outside of the space beckons upscale casual beer-swillers to the yard, it’s their cocktail programme that has always been this place’s best-kept secret.
World-class mixologist Naren Young, whose bar in New York, Danté, ranked 16th on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, finds himself in Toronto every season to create, train staff and help introduce Maple Leaf Tavern’s cocktail program. These go beyond just your better-than-average martinis or twee garnishes––his cocktail philosophy takes your favourite drink and flips it on its head with academic precision and unorthodox flavour combinations.
“I do want people to know that they can come here and get a very simple sidecar or an old-fashioned or a great Manhattan,” says Young. “[But] we really think about the basics of what goes into each of those and we recreate it in our own interpretation of those.”
This spring and summer, what that translates into are perfectly pairable and inventive flips on summer’s drinkable hits. For example, the Bell Pepper Margarita packs the savoury punch of a caesar, with the freshness of a traditional margarita in its combination of Altos Blanco tequila, red bell pepper juice, fresh lime and house-made jalapeño tincture, finished off with some chili salt.
“We use a lot of savoury ingredients, stuff you might find in your kitchen. Fresh herbs, fresh spices, fresh vegetables. We use a lot of salt, a lot of vinegar in our drinks,” says Young. “It’s a nice synergy between what’s coming out of the kitchen and what’s coming out of the bar. The drinks are very compatible with food.”
For a sweet escape, the new Rhubarb Daiquiri doesn’t take to the beach but rather a summer garden party, with earthy notes of rhubarb compote and salted strawberry cordial, the freshness of pressed lime and the headiness of Havana Club.
We loved the Lemon and Basil Fix-Up, an endlessly sip-able spritz of freshness combining gin, limoncello, Bianco Vermouth, fresh basil and lemon finished off with a healthy pour of cava.
The Maple Leaf Tavern unveils its full cocktail line-up in early May.