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On the Pass: Library Bar at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel

Pop in for a cocktail at the venerable Library Bar at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel these days and you’re in for a sensorial immersion.

Drinks that glow, smoke and, in the odd case, send out a lick or two of flame (fire marshal be damned). Every time the smouldering Sacred Beast moves though the room, wafting sweet spice, heads turn to follow the glowing orb to its destination. Inevitably, says James Grant, director of mixology, FOMO sets in and everybody wants one. It’s not all about showboating, either — Grant’s designs deliver more than pyrotechnics and perfume, as one would expect from the Diageo World Class Global Bartender of the Year 2021. “I’m trying to push past what people might think a cocktail can do,” he says.

Let’s start with a story that’s important to you and tell it through a drink.

Fairmont made a shrewd move in luring Grant from his home in Edmonton, where he operated the Little Hong Kong speakeasy. He landed in Toronto in January with a mandate to make the hotel a destination for cocktail-savvy global travellers and thirsty locals alike. He set up a lab in the former Benihana space downstairs, staging cocktail-service rehearsals for staff and management to ensure real-world replicability upstairs. In early summer, he introduced a new menu for the Clockwork lobby bar, with refreshingly value-packed options designed to draw the after-work set. In late summer, he launched a series of collaborations with alumni of the World’s Top 50 Best Bars rankings, hosting teams from the likes of London’s American Bar at The Savoy (World’s Best Bar 2017) and Mexico City’s Handshake Bar (#3, 2023) for one- or two-night showcases. Grant then takes a night out to lead his guests to bars around the city, determined to spread the good word about great cocktails, with an eye to seeing some local bars represented on the illustrious global list. Perhaps the Library Bar’s turn is coming up. After all, it’s about the company you keep.— DICK SNYDER
Photography by Rick O’Brien

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