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For most diners, the true marker of a great evening is an excellent meal. But for others, the experience of going out is made during the more intimate, before-and-after moments of dinner, which are often spent on bar stools or at dimly lit tables enjoying a drink.

This list is for the latter camp.

At Canada’s 100 Best, our idea of a great bar starts with an atmospheric setting and an exceptional beverage program. We think excellent cocktails are just like the best food: they should respect the past but do more than simply repeat it. And we think that any good bartender should be able to pull off that trick with a non-alcoholic mix, too.

Great bars needn’t be chic or luxurious, but they must be comfortable retreats. The service should be hospitable; the atmosphere convivial. We are also keen to celebrate excellent wine bars and craft-beer destinations, both of which we believe have only served to elevate bar culture in Canada.

In assembling our inaugural list of Canada’s 50 Best Bars, we asked our experienced panel of judges to consider all of this as they scoured the country for the finest wine, beer and cocktail lounges. But we did have a few restrictions. Mainly, we discouraged judges from voting for restaurants or bar seating therein. Our goal was, and still is, to find the greatest places to meet someone for a drink or two, and nothing more.

As we see it, a bar along one wall of a dining room is not a bar—it’s just part of a restaurant. But if a bar is in a separate room, with its own distinct atmosphere, then it qualifies as a stand-alone watering hole.

We have done our very best to adhere to these criteria, proudly bringing you the inaugural ranking of Canada’s 50 Best Bars.