he Gist: The Cloak is a fascinating cocktail bar located underneath Marben Restaurant. Entry is through a door out front off to the side – simple text to announce your arrival – but don’t call it a speakeasy.
The deeply warm and cozy bar makes seriously crafted cocktails unlike anything else in the city. But don’t worry, you don’t have to wait 20 minutes for them to arrive. Husband and wife team Tao Zrafi and Stephanie Lamb stagger tables so that people get attentive service and the bar doesn’t become overcrowded.
Despite having made over 4500 cocktails since opening, the duo, alongside alongside the rest of the passionate team, want to deliver an experience that you’ll remember and come back for. It’s as much about the service as the carefully selected ingredients.
Bringing influences from all over – The Mediterranean, Quebec, NYC, London, and Toronto – and ingredients (from across the globe) under one roof, the drinks are completely unique. "We are always working on the back bar," Zrafi says. "We want to have the best things in every category." Currently stocked at around 300 bottles, the collection includes "a lot of private imports as the LCBO doesn't offer enough."
Libations: Cocktails are offered at the affordable $11-$14, with only one at $16 - the Ooskavah, made with a homemade resurrected liquor recipe.
Each page of the menu has a theme with each drink on the page, it’s own story. Choose from Famous Brits (Owner Simon Benstead is from the UK), Stonham’s Liquor Store (Stonham Aspal, home to the original Marben), IndoChine & The Trade Route, Communal Drinking: Bottled Cocktails & Punches, Resurrected Liquors, Europe’s Rejects, and an entire page dedicated to just Gin cocktails.
Taking it back to as far as the 1500’s, things are definitely old school here – techniques come from the 1700’s, sailor’s recipes from the 1800’s and punches spanning that entire period. "We’re taking the globetrotter approach to cocktails," Zrafi says. "We’re using ingredients from 400 years ago and a lot from the kitchen pantry and history books."
The 40+ cocktails on the current menu? Just half of what the passionate couple want to offer. Lamb says, "We’re doing a lot of things now that we’ve saved over the years." One of her creations? The Churchill, that came about from the couple eating popcorn with coconut oil and chocolate at the same time. She says, "We had to make a drink with those amazing flavours together."
Grub: The snack bar menu, focuses on 8 to 10 great bites with substance, made with local Ontario ingredients when possible. Great pairings alongside these serious cocktails.
Fixtures & Fittings: The room feels like it’s been here for decades, yet it was just recently outfitted. Benstead & partner Niamh Maher share a passion for design and with the help of friend Bradley Denton (of Pencil Design) this shared affection for a curated interior is reflected in the many antiques and rugs throughout the room. Glassware comes from all over – Hong King, Mexico and South America. And those stunning punch bowls? From the UK. There’s only six at the bar, so no you can’t buy one.
Off the Menu Drinks:
21st Century Punch ($12) mace & nutmeg, Absolut, Beefeater 24, Campari, elderflower, sugar, citrus, and clarified milk. The recipe from the 1600’s features the captivating experience of silky goat’s milk on the palate despite coming from a clear concoction.
Port Flip ($14) tawny port, cognac, duck egg, foie gras bitters, sugar, and nutmeg. Like a sexy, decadent, boozy chocolate milk. ‘Nuff said.
Australian Outlaws ($14) blended malt whisky, rum, coconut, kalamansi lime, sugar, and eucalyptus. Part of the Europe's Rejects section and one of the cocktails made as an "homage to the travelers, the unwanted, the desperate who had to take a chance in the 'new world' and made it what it is today," the cold refresher arrives in a tall terracotta tumbler made in Mexico. The flavours are bold and enticing, intriguing and completely inviting. How will you have just one?
And be sure to experience the luxurious Cognac & Foie Gras Shot for a mere $5.
Off the Menu Food: (note - the menu changes often so some items may no longer be available)
Shepherds Pie Croquette ($4) The comfort food classic gets breaded deep fried and served with housemade HP mayo. Brilliant.
Shishito Peppers ($10) One of Chef Wilke’s favourite bar snacks, here the blistered peppers get a daub of miso butter folded in for added depth. You can’t eat just one.
Boudin noir ($14) Since Zrafi uses such bold flavours in the drinks, chef aims to match that with this dish using local pork with black garlic fermented in house, topped with quail eggs. Mission accomplished.
Baby octopus ($17) Tiny whole bulbous baby octopus is sous vide and served with seasoned rice and nori. Simple, but oh-so-stunning.
How Cool is This?! 1. All the servers are bartenders. 2. Applewood is burned every half an hour to "make you feel like you're in the cottage of your dreams," says Zrafi. Just watch, you’ll start the ritual back at home after this.
At the Bar: Tao Zrafi, Stephanie Lamb, Shawn Defabre, Jody Donnelly and Marina Hardy
At the Stove: Executive Chef Cody Philip Wilkes and Sous Chef Adam Wisniewski
FOH: GM Clare Maher
Head Honcho: Owners Simon Benstead and Niamh Maher
Visiting Hours: Monday to Saturday: 6pm to late
Map It: 488 Wellington St. W. (near Portland)
Phone It In: 416-710-7697
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