We’ll see you in there.
Connect to customize your food & drink discovery.
James Grant has some stories to tell. There’s the one about his past life as a funeral director. Another, illustrates the time he stirred up cocktails inspired by the four classical elements — Earthtini, anyone? The newest tale is about how, as the newly appointed Director of Mixology at Fairmont Royal York, he plans to use his love of hospitality and esoteric approach to mixology to transform Toronto’s most iconic hotel into the city’s most interesting place to drink. An award-winning mixologist who has shaped a career out of turning guest’s notions and preferences into ravishing sippers, Grant is currently in the process of revamping the historic hotel’s entire cocktail program. Now told sip by sip, through more than 40 novel cocktails, Grant’s newest narrative is one that’s steeped in history and personal experience, is meant to engage guests’ five senses and — perhaps most of all — is intended to ensure that every visitor to Fairmont Royal York feels exceptionally-well looked after.
“We don’t serve drinks,” states James Grant, simply. “We make drinks and serve guests.” Beyond his considerable skills, his numerous accolades (Grant was named World Class Global Bartender of the Year 2021 and Best Bartender 2022 by Canada’s 100 Best), his polished demeanour and his creativity, it’s his extreme dedication to hospitality that makes Grant such a seamless fit for the Fairmont brand. Through every cocktail — from the time it takes to prepare, to the visual, the taste, and the feeling it imparts — Grant simply hopes to make people happy. It’s a desire that has shaped his approach in all his roles, from his work in PR, communications, even as an undertaker, to his time behind the bar at Edmonton’s Little Hong Kong speakeasy. “It’s all hospitality,” he explains, “talking to a guest to figure out what they need to feel seen, heard, etc., and delivering it on a short turn-around.”
Worlds away from any funeral home, CLOCKWORK is an elegant, animated space at the heart of Fairmont Royal York. A Champagne and cocktail bar, it’s also the first spot on property to debut a menu created by Grant. “I wanted to pivot the new menu to the aspect of clockwork which is right in the name — the passage of time,” he says. “What is a clock? Why did we create it? A clock is our attempt to measure life, in a way, the way we perceive the passage of time. Each drink is meant to draw your attention to a different way that time might be passing for you.”
Abstract as it may initially sound, Grant creates drinks based on notions, not flavours. With Ketel One Vodka, passion fruit, vanilla, lemon, jasmine, turmeric and Blanc de Blanc, Tick Tock captures the intangible sparkle of kinship in a fruit-forward, easy-drinking sipper. It’s chatty hours that seem to speedily tick by in minutes distilled into cocktail form. Meant to evoke the way that time can disappear in a daydream, the Reverie is a languid tropical getaway in a glass. With a coconut smoke bubble topper that vanishes as swiftly as the clarity of a dream, the drink hints at a desert island — there’s Haitian rhum Agricole, lemon grass and pandan — in lulling tones, without ever being pushy. Named for the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, Kintsugi is a rich, smooth combo of Power’s Gold Label Irish Whiskey, plum wine, spiced tea, lemon, and frothed egg white. Delivered in a ceramic cup, the vessel, its contents and their meticulous gilded garnish celebrate “the idea that the effects of time, or the passage of time, shouldn’t be hidden behind seamless repairs. They are really beautiful and should be celebrated,” says Grant.
Beyond Grant’s engaging menu, CLOCKWORK is also the spot to find an abundance of bubbles, small bites, and seafood towers. To celebrate the 94th year of the hotel, there are now 94 options on CLOCKWORK’s bubbly menu, making it one of the most diverse Champagne lists in the country. "A lot of people only think of Champagne as something you enjoy on a special occasion,” says Grant. “But why not make every occasion special by opening Champagne?” he muses, convincingly. “How else are you ever going to recognize what you like in a Champagne — a category that’s as diverse as every other wine — if you don’t try them?”
Next up? This month, the hotel’s legendary Library Bar also launched a new menu shaped by Grant’s thoughtful approach. “We started with the question, ‘What is a library?’” he says. “It’s not a storage room for paper. It’s a house of stories.” As you can imagine, the end result is a marvellous journey across genres, with inspiration drawn from a world of words. Here, guests will find masterpieces alongside showy, sci-fi sippers that boast avant-garde techniques and ingredients, and hint at what the team gets up to in the Royal York’s covert prep lab. Before you panic, the signature Birdbath Martini — now à la Grant — is still part of the catalog. The team will reveal a new menu at REIGN Restaurant & Bar later this summer.
Among the dozens of cocktails Grant and his team are creating bi-annually for Fairmont Royal York, there are hints of tradition mixed with glimpses of modernity. Some are Insta-worthy (despite Grant’s aversion to the term) while others are as simple as a liquid in a glass (carefully curated and hand-picked, sure, yet simple nonetheless). “Context is everything. There’s a time and a place for everything,” he explains. “It’s important to add the right element to the right drink, and to have a reason for everything.” As for Grant’s reason to relocate and join the team at Fairmont Royal York? “I had certain goals that I really wanted to achieve professionally, and it was elevating a bar to the very top of the industry in Canada and North America, gaining attention globally,” he says. “The Royal York’s goals aligned with that.” As he writes his own, and the hotel’s, next chapter, you’ll want to be among those lucky enough to experience every plot twist, meet every character, enjoy every sip, and ultimately, become part of story.