Flavour of the Week: The Senator Winebar

One of the city’s oldest restaurants breathes new life into its second floor with a stylish French bistro menu and acoustic jazz acts.

What’s the vibe
For decades, the second floor above the Senator, one of the city’s oldest dining institutions, operated as a private office. This winter it was revamped into a tiny 24-seat restaurant and live music venue – the Senator Winebar.

Paying homage to the building’s long history (it was constructed in 1836), the Senator Winebar has been thoughtfully decorated from end-to-end with vintage pieces to create the feeling of a classic European bistro – barbershop stations that double as bar-style seating, floral frosted windows from France and a 1920s Heintzman piano.

There, a rotating roster of acoustic musicians play intimate sets of blues and jazz on weekends – a nod to the Senator’s former sister outlet, the jazz bar Top of the Senator, which operated from 1990 to 2005. The Winebar fills up after sets begin at 9pm, so come early for dinner or a cocktail to nab a spot before the music begins (not like we needed the excuse for an additional beverage).

What to drink
The brains behind Senator Winebar’s cocktail program is Lorenzo Offidani, who mans a bar built in the Prohibition era, which was sourced from Cleveland. He used to work the bar carriage of the Orient Express so you know you can trust this man with a shaker.

Offidani puts a similarly historic spin to the cocktail menu and budding mixologists will appreciate how each beverage comes with a short origin story (dating from the 1800s to 1958) while the newest are Offidani’s signature cocktails. We tried the Top O’ the Senator – a smooth and well-balanced mix of Famous Grouse whisky and Amaro Averna with a foamy egg white top.

True to its name, the eatery has a decent wine program focused mostly on old world grapes with a few Californian and local Ontario pours in the mix. The wine list is written out by hand in a “wine journal”, which the bar will cross-out and update as offerings rotate in and out.

What to eat

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Hopping onto the Gallic food trend that has taken over the city, the Senator Winebar’s menu sticks to French classics. The Jerusalem artichoke soup was a flavourful start to our meal, served in a mini cocotte with artistic dollops of house-made creme fraiche and a pesto-like parsley drizzle. We’re already planning our return for the duck liver pâté, served with port-pickled sour cherries, concord grape mustard and house-made brioche slices.

True to French cuisine, the Senator Winebar’s mains are rich, indulgent and delicious. The rainbow trout, perfectly cooked with a slightly crispy base, was finished with healthy pilings of pistachio and dungeness crab. It’s all drizzled with a generous serving of crab-infused melted butter (because, French cooking) which makes us wish we carried pocket spatulas with us to clear off our plates. But the lentils and asparagus, which the trout is served with, do a decent job of mopping up the good stuff.

Dinner and drinks for two: about $120

249 Victoria St., 416-364-7517,