The Embassy in Kensington Market, at 223 Augusta Ave.
A small neighbourhood bar run by 2 British ex-pats that features fresh Kensington fare. Much of the food, including spicy vegetable soup, pate de campagne and a good selection of sandwiches, are bought fresh from the market stands. There is also a selection of tasty microbrews from Ontario and Québec, with a full bar and parties every night.
The existential coffee shops by day elevated to cocktail-swigging barrooms by night were common fixtures that lured thirsty and jaded locals in droves. With The Embassy, resourceful club-kid owners, Anthony Aarts and Dave and Lucy Brandon, have revisited some of that turf.
This bright, little cafe/bar has become a big hit in Kensington Market, having stolen the heart of many locals. While the area’s latest possession may not compete with clubland or King Street West, this easygoing and multiform bar seems to have enough engaging magnetism to generate citywide interest.
A twisted pretzel of DIY-ness and a low-key location that seems on the verge of exploding into an inferno of gunfire, The Embassy strives to be the end-all, be-all of underachiever café-bars and comes so close to achieving its goal that one feels petty for registering any complaints. Instead of setting up the standard café template, the young owners have tried to turn any expectations on their head, throwing in a mix of nightly entertainment from the get-go and letting the locals create the place’s personality.
“We just wanted something fun and less mainstream,” says David Brandon. “We didn’t have a clear vision at the beginning, but as area residents, we wanted something that Kensington regulars could help create.”
“The bar is growing up very organically,” echoes Lucy, “The place took such a long time to develop, that the whole vision has been pretty erratic. Also, we were fairly naive at the beginning.”
Now, volcanic energy is kept bottled up just under the surface, as the Embassy palette is a wild mix of Day-Glo pop colours, shiny oak flooring, a row of wooden banquettes line an exposed-brick wall, and a bright, circular bar acts as mocking counterpart to the non-establishment room. The stools are rather perilous, though, so you’d be better off in one of the banquettes.
This little venue prowls the night with a coffee shop cuteness that recalls Rony Hitti’s long RIP’ed Marmalade, offering a new flavour of nightlife to an area that – other than of-the-moment, after-hours raves – is often abandoned when the sun goes down. A Sunday night jam, for example, has this little thing called “The Weights,” a group using sitar, bass and vocals to pump out trip hop, space rock and ambient beats.
Although it’s a relief that the bar makers didn’t feel the need to rely on bang-up, big-budget design, it would have been nice to see them truly wrestle with a sexier cocktail list, something that Kensington Market has deserved forever.
Nonetheless, with The Embassy rubbing our noses in Kensington Market sweetness while simultaneously offering a bit of nightlife to the area, this is a café-bar that gets its hooks into you early, with no chance is it letting go.