Sweetness: The Lockhart, Toronto (AKA The Harry Potter Bar)

The downsides to being one of the last people in the western world to read the Harry Potter books are numerous—I knew how the books ended long before I’d started reading them, I spent years of my life confused by Halloween costumes that featured people drawing lightning bolts on their heads, and I just genuinely did not understand cultural references that seemed to be in a different language. The one upside is that by the time I’d finally read all the books (at the ripe age of 25), I was old enough to appreciate that butterbeer likely had some sort of alcohol in it, and it would be one of my life’s missions to find butterbeer in real life. And drink it.

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So, last fall, when I saw a number of articles about the “Harry Potter Bar” in Toronto, a city that had started to really fascinate me, I knew I’d need to book a trip. The Internet warned me that there would be an insanely long line for this tiny, intimate bar, but on the night my companion and I ventured into The Lockhart on a Sunday evening, we were among the first customers.

At first glance, The Lockhart seems like another small, hip bar with a somewhat obscure sounding name and a list of achingly trendy cocktails. But when you pass through the thick, velvet curtains (presumably there to block the draft from the very, very cold Toronto nights, but which lend an air of magic to your entrance into the bar), a closer look reveals a series of Harry Potter references that true fans/series devotees will catch, including, but not limited to: the words “Potions and Elxirs” are painted on the exposed brick wall above the bar, on one side of the bar is “Platform 9 ¾” sign, and the the name itself is a reference to a character from the books, the stag’s head bar logo, and cocktails like “The Befuddlement Draft” hint at the books (as well as what will happen to you once you’ve finished the drink). And the greatest touch of all–the words “All Was Well” hang on the wall in the form of a fluorescent lit sign (a reference to the last words of the last book in the series).

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Butterbeer (Left) and a Befuddlement Draft (Right)

We ordered the Befuddlement Draft, which includes a flaming shot and though it says it’s for 2 people, could easily serve 3-4. It was very strong. And very good. Though not listed on the menu, you can order butterbeer as an off menu item, and I have to say that this is exactly the butterbeer I’d imagined when reading J.K. Rowling’s words (we have an adequate option in Seattle, but still, The Lockhart’s is the best I’ve had). The bartenders are friendly, if slightly bemused by the presence of adults who (myself included) spend inordinate amounts of time photographing every aspect of their visit to The Lockhart. And even if you’re not a huge fan of the books, the drinks are strong and the atmosphere and music are a perfect place for a drink or two with someone special.

We visited the bar just a few days after the death of Alan Rickman (who played Severus Snape in the film adaptations of the series), and touching tributes to Snape/Alan Rickman were written all across the chalkboard walls that line the hallway to the bathroom (the bathrooms themselves are also worth a visit).

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On the blisteringly cold walk back from the bar to my hotel, along crooked streets lined with tidy, two-story brick homes, I was reminded of 4 Privet Drive and all the magic that started there for a young Harry. And even though I’m neither young nor a wizard, an evening spent in a place with such a playful spirit (combined with a healthy dose of butterbeer) lent a little bit of magic to my ordinary muggle life.

The Lockhart
http://www.thelockhart.ca
1479 DUNDAS STREET WEST, TORONTO, ON, M6J 1Y8, CANADA

Snark: Storming the Bastille

On Sunday afternoon, I joined two friends at Ballard’s Bastille Cafe and Bar. It is a restaurant I’ve wanted to try for a while, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to swing it. The brunch menu is the sort of deal that sets my Francophile in Seattle heart a flutter–French Toast and French 75s.

An image of the menu at Bastille
Wise Words from Julia Child

When we arrived, it was like we’d walked into the episode of Portlandia where a new brunch spot has opened and all the local Portlandians have set up beach chairs outside the doors in order to score a table. As we joined the long line of quietly impatient yuppies, I wondered if maybe the beach chair idea might not have been half bad. And as much as I love brunch, I’m always somewhat leery of places where the lines are crazy long. There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood called Toulouse Petit, and while I love, love, love their happy hour and dinner, Toulouse Petit doesn’t take brunch reservations and you have to wait in almost comically long lines to nab a seat. I love mimosas as much as the next person, but at the end of the day, it’s just brunch, right? What on earth could be so special about it?

Turns out–everything, quite a lot.

French Toast at Bastille
The Holy Grail of French Toast

For reasons I don’t really understand, I cannot make French Toast on my own. It turns out burnt or underdone, and almost always totally hideous and slightly inedible. I can make souffles, gumbo, madeleines…almost anything else. Just not French Toast. And I order it any time I am given the option to do so. I’ve had every version possible–cinnamon bread, brioche, baguettes, etc. Bastille’s version was Baklava stuffed Challah French Toast served with a Cherry and Cognac syrup and dusted with cocoa nib powdered sugar. I also ordered a side of bacon because, why not. It was sinfully good, the kind of dish you wish you could make at home but know that it would only be a sad ghost of the original. I washed the decadent breakfast dish down with not one, but two French 75s. If you know me, you know that my love for French 75s is almost as boundless as my love for French Toast. On the occasion that I find a restaurant or bar that has one on the menu, they’re either too Gin-y or too Champers-y. Bastille’s was neither. It was perfect. It didn’t taste like booze at all and was light and refreshing and basically perfect.

Bastille itself pays quiet but not too kitschy homage to all things Parisian–it’s got dark wood, frosted glass panels between booths, subway tiles, and exposed iron beams like the ones you see inside the Metro in Paris. Though we had brunch, I took a peak at the whole menu online when I got home–it’s a delightful mixture of French standbys (moules-frites) made with locally sourced ingredients (Taylor Shellfish Farms). It was very, very good. The crowd was a mixture of yuppies, hipsters, families, and original Ballard residents. Despite my initial snark about yuppies in line, it was one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen in Seattle.

So next time someone suggests brunch, maybe I won’t frown so hard and will instead get my beach chair (and checkbook) ready.
Bastille Seattle
5307 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107
206-453-5014

French 75 (Gin, Sparkling Wine, Lemon)
French 75 (Gin, Sparkling Wine, Lemon)