The first impression when you step in the door of Bar Stray is that Ted’s Collision has gotten a makeover and grown up a little. It’s dark and rock and roll without being gloomy or stale, more Post Malone than Metallica. Neon signs and license plates reflect in the burnished gas tank of the massive motorcycle perched in the window. The pool table is a fresh geometry of endless possibilities and long nights of drinking cocktails.
Owner and Barkeep, Irina Rotar, has made the small, welcoming space a labour of love. Centred around the pool table, a neon blue glow settles on the hand-stained concrete floors and catches on the well-stocked and beautifully lit bar. The cocktail program is stacked with tongue-in-cheek drink names that are as approachable as they are sessionable.
There’s something for everybody who likes a drink in a laidback watering hole and enjoys the nuances of a properly made cocktail. The ‘Sid Vicious’ ($13) is an easy drinking garnet-hued vodka drink with hibiscus and rose petal, garnished with an orange curl; it’s as easy to drink as it is potent. While the ‘Four Seasons’ ($12) , a poke at the smarmy upscale brand, is a summer-ready seasonal cocktail with a delicious strawberry-basil shrub that bubbles in the sunlight spilling in from College Street.
But my favourite drink on the menu is the ‘No Ray Jose’ ($13), a crushed ice wunderkind of Wray and Nephew rum and plum wine, sparkling with ginger ale and bittered with Campari. It’s a grown up kid’s summer treat, like a spiked snow cone that goes down faster than it’ll melt in muggy Toronto summer. After all the drinks, I order a pulled pork sandwich ($11.50) off the small menu of comfort food classics. Think grilled cheese or charcuterie, hummus or edamame.
The food is a delightful shock: tender, juicy meat braised in Lost Craft Lager served with house roasted red peppers that would belong on the menu of any of Toronto’s upscale gastropubs. I’m less surprised after Irena tells me she makes everything herself, all in house and by hand. She has tailored her menu to the kind of finger foods and share plates she likes to snack on when she hosts her own friends and the hospitality shows in the flavour.
Overall, Bar Stray Biker bar was a great experience, a fantastic midweek spot for an after work cocktail when you don’t feel like eating a full meal at Woodlot or a perfect place to drink on Friday night when you’re over lining at Bar Raval, or have moved on from headbanging at Ted’s Collision. Hop across College Street to the north side at Euclid.
Bar Stray is at 532 College Street, Toronto.
Bar Stray will have an extended patio and liquor license open for the entire weekend during Taste of Little Italy 2019, June 14-16.
Check out my video from last year’s Taste of Little Italy for a sneak peak of this year’s event.
All illustrations in this post were based on the photography of Kyrsten Galang.