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The idea for Secrette came about during the owner’s -- Mary Aitken, Founder and CEO of the Verity Group -- travels through Paris. One evening, Aitken and her husband found themselves in a Parisian speakeasy and fell in love with the vibe and atmosphere. Back in Toronto, Aitken decided to make use of a spare room on the upper level of GEORGE Restaurant, a classic fine dining restaurant in the heart of downtown Toronto and one of the Verity Group's establishments. Calling on her memories of the French speakeasy concept, Aitken moved forward with turning the room into a Toronto-based speakeasy with a Parisian twist. Renovations were stalled during the deep freeze of COVID but ramped up again in time for the launch of Secrette this year. After being directed up a flight of stairs by a stylish host, I’m met by the speakeasy vibe “en Francais.”
This is not a bar to get “turnt” up. This is grown and sexy territory. Dimly lit in quiet corners and casting a soft glow exactly where it needs to, this is perfect for a romantic night out with your belle or beau, or an after work chill out session.
The menu design and the large framed prints on the walls incorporate the artwork of French painter Joseph Ducreux, an artist popular in France around the time of the French revolution. An entire wall is also dedicated to the work of Hunt Slonem, who, while not French, still manages to instill a Parisian feel to the “environnement.”
I met Matthieu Rajchman, the Director of Beverages and curator of Secrettes varied cocktail list. Rajchman is a sommelier, who also comes by way of France, and has over 15 years of experience in hospitality. In other words, he is the perfect person for this role and, aside from his professional but affable manner, the drinks selection is further proof. Inspired by traditional French cocktails, including some New Orleans-inspired drinks, the menu is broken up into four categories: Light & Fresh, Citrusy & Smooth, Spirit Forward, and for the alcohol abstaining, Mocktails – which we skipped this time around.
Starting with the Light and Fresh category, we start with Rajchman’s suggestions. The aptly named Green Mule offers a refreshing jolt of gingery mint and the citrusy inflection of lime and pineapple. The anise in the drink drops a hint of licorice that’s balanced by the aforementioned ingredients. Le Beau Regard is so fresh and light that the alcohol is almost indetectable. This is a summery lavender lemonade that hits the spot.
Moving on to the Citrusy & Smooth list, the Solstice is inspired by Rajchman’s recollections of barbeques in France where rosemary and pine needles are often used in the fire to flavour the food. Smokey and woodsy with citrus, saffron and cool menthol, this herbaceous cocktail is a heady trip to Marseille with just the right amount of sweetness to make it a winner. The Picaflores also wants all the smoke with help of high end mezcal and spicy salt coating the rim of the glass. A beautiful dried rose garnishes the drink and just elevates the whole experience of imbibing it.
Finally, we entered the final frontier of Spirit Forward cocktails. These cocktails are for the adventurous and experienced who don’t mind tasting the alcohol in their drinks taking the lead role. The Rose Negroni is obviously based on the classic negroni, but rosewater adds an unexpected floral element that makes this more unique than what you may be used to. It’s intense, perfumed with rosewater, and both sweet and sour. This one made my face warm. The Golden Ticket is inspired by Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and calls back to the building’s history as an actual chocolate factory. Bourbon forward with chocolate bitters lending to a hint of mocha, the drink is also fabulously garnished with gold leaf wrapped blueberries. If the Rose Negroni warms your face, The Golden Ticket warms your chest. These are slow sippers to savour slowly.
While I understand the need for restaurants to flip tables as quickly as possible, I also enjoy a bar that implores you to take your time. Secrette on Queen East demands you chill out and take in the feel of a Parisian speakeasy. After a few drinks, you may find you’re not in that much of a hurry to go anywhere because you’re already where you actually want to be.