A Visit to LCBO's Bar Zero
On a dark and chilly Thursday night, the LCBO hosted Bar Zero, a pop-up bar that only served non-alcoholic drinks—all as a part of one of the most stylish responsible drinking campaigns I’ve seen yet. The bar made a home out of the Church Aperitivo Bar, a former church down on Queen Street West.
I thought, finally, a bar for me and my friends. I wish it would have stayed around for more than just one night. All the fun of a bar without the ~drinking~, which is a thing we do not do. That would be haram—not that we hadn’t ever wondered what it was like.
I mean, I was the kid who bought three cases of Barbican (a non-alcoholic malt drink that’s supposed to taste like beer) to have as unhalal of a 19th birthday as Muslimly possible. We lived out our high school fantasies, playing highly technical rounds of Flip Cup and the tamest game of Never Have I Ever imaginable with a startling amount of glee.
Needless to say, I was pretty psyched about Bar Zero. My roommate was ever-so-lovely as to accompany me on the streetcar over. We got there while a newscaster was filming an interview with a patron outside the front doors. To avoid being noticed by my competition, I ducked behind them to get in and tripped to a halt when I saw two bouncers.
My hand twitched over my bag, the phantoms of cardings past whispering, “Stop and show your ID! You look 14! They will definitely want to see your adult-as-fuck G1!”
Instead, the two bounders just smiled and waved us in. Disconcerted, I remembered that it’s Bar Zero—so like, what were they going to card me for being too young for?
Illustration by Samuel Peters
Let me tell you what: the vibe. The place screamed aging-out young working professional, being a little hipster and plenty city slick. It was Toronto as fuck. We were probably eight years younger than the next person, which was kind of awkward, but the place was gorgeous. The bar top was black and covered in lush, mossy greenery dotted by mushrooms with lines of candles crowning the tops of the shelves. Whoever the DJ was, she was great, going from Drake to Rihanna to Drake and Rihanna with a confidence that I appreciated. Again, Toronto as fuck.
My roommate and I went up to the bar to buy some drinks and the attractive bartender told us everything was free. I heard my inner brown aunty gasp with wonder and ordered a Cranberry Sour. The bartender made a show out of mixing drinks, placing a glass on a tree stump-turned-plate and pouring juice out like it was a martini. When she handed it to me I took a sip and nodded. Just as I suspected. It tasted like juice. Fancy juice.
I also had a Rosemary Orange, which in theory sounds great but was not good. Not good at all. The execution was lovely—the bartender squished an orange peel over my glass and then set it on fire with a—pop!—before handing it to me with a proud look in his eye. I took a sip and nodded. Just as I suspected. It tasted like burnt orange peel. Fancy burnt orange peel.
We took our drinks to a pair of plush chairs and taste-tested some pickled jalapenos and high-brow potato chips, but the best food of the night was the breadsticks. These were some fancy breadsticks, all long, slender and hardy. I munched on maybe six of them while eyeing the people around me. My heart went out for a girl third-wheeling her friend and her sugar daddy.
After finishing our drinks, we looked around once, trying to figure out if we had missed anything. It was hard to take my eyes away from the place, LCBO had done such a good job. It wasn’t a miss by any means, but it wasn’t exactly a hit either. There was just something a little off about Bar Zero. Maybe we were just a little too out of place. I had fun people-watching with my roommate and sipping from a martini glass, but we found the vibe too networky for our tastes.
After soaking in all we could of the aesthetic of the place, we decided to leave. And yes, I did happen to discreetly pocket five more breadsticks on the way out.
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