I have a new favourite bar: Linwood Essentials, which opened back in August at 930 Queen St W (where A-OK used to live). It has everything that my ideal bar needs to have: Amazing, creative cocktails; an atmosphere that’s pleasant and accessible and great music played at a volume that still allows for conversation. And best of all, it’s within walking distance of my house.
Let’s start with the drinks. Linwood Essentials is all about cocktails that are complex, interesting and sometimes just weird. Take for example, Breakfast in Portland. It contains gin, Aperol, egg whites, soda and something called Froot Loops milk. The result is kind of tasty at first —you really can taste the Froot Loops milk —but after a few sips, it a bit much. It would be a fun shot but as a drink, well, let’s just say that it’s not for everyone.
Much better were the other drinks we tried: the orange-y Acadian, the boozy but tropical Mister Horse and perfect-for-a-summer-night blueberry-infused Mighty Bear Seven. I would order all of those drinks again though only after I made my way through the rest of Linwood’s dozens of options.
The drinks aren’t cheap, varying in price from $13-$15, but it’s an appropriate price what you’re getting.
Of course, amazing drinks don’t mean much if a bar makes you feel uncomfortable. Because of Linwood’s focus on creative cocktails, I was initially worried that it might be a bit snobby of clique-y but nope, it was neither of these things. The service was friendly and helpful and our server happily gave us recommendations. Unlike some bars, I never felt that my presence was an annoyance or a burden.
The music and décor also contributed a lot to the great atmosphere. The music, which was just loud enough to be fun, was a mix of indie rock/dance/pop songs that were mostly released a few years ago (think Passion Pit’s first album, Santogold circa 2008 and Miike Snow). Was it “cool” music? Yes, but it wasn’t so cool that you’d never heard the songs before.
The décor followed the same pattern. Dark wall paint, a tweaked print of Lunch atop a Skyscraper and large, lit-up letters that spelled out “Repeal” created a look that again, was cool but not too cool. This all adds up to an environment that is comfortable and accessible feeling but at the same time, a real step up from a dive bar. Linwood Essentials is the kind of place where you don’t have to dress up but you could; either way, you wouldn’t feel out of place.
I find that a lot of non-chains bars don’t have layouts that work for groups of more than four people (and some times even that is tight). This is not the case for Linwood. It somehow manages to be ideal for any size party by offering a number of seats around the bar, three large booths that could probably fit as many as eight and a communal-style table that, thanks to its unique design, works for both couples and groups.
I checked out with my husband on a Saturday night and I was surprised to find it on the quiet side. I kind of liked that, made it feel more like a secret discovery, but secret discoveries generally don’t stay open too long so I’m hoping that Linwood is a little busier the next time I’m there.
I will definitely be back, hopefully with friends, and next time, I think I might also check out Linwood’s food menu. We did take a quick look at it and it’s all small plates that are actually priced like small plates should be. There is also quite a variety including spiced nuts, fried chicken and something that combines salt cod and doughnuts. Despite my experience with the Froot Loop drink, I think I might also have to give that crazy combination a try.