Our Favourite Canadian Sake Bars


On October 1, a day that marks the beginning of sake brewing season in Japan, sake lovers around the world will gather to kanpai — or raise a toast — to their favourite brewed beverage. Nancy Matsumoto, co–author of the book Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth, shares five spots across Canada to join the celebration.

Japanese sake exports have almost tripled in the past decade, while the number of sake breweries in North America has expanded to over two dozen. While there’s no shortage of spots to enjoy this trending beverage across the country, here are five recommendations, from west to east.

Dachi, East Vancouver

This laid–back sake, natural wine and small plates restaurant in East Van is all about easy hospitality and community building. Knowledgeable servers passionate about sake convey the stories behind the craft bottles on offer, while chef Ben Berwick’s Japanese–Jewish background and the restaurant’s relationships with local producers make for creative food and beverage pairings that change frequently. Co–owner Miki Ellis’ 13–year–history in the sake business enables her to source new surprises for regulars, “badass sakes that might be too small for a larger market like Toronto and that only a few sake bars in Tokyo can get,” she explains. One of Ellis’ goals is to show how well sake pairs with non–Asian food. Her team's fave combo: Lomo Saltado (wok–fried bavette with local organic onions, tomatoes and fried potatoes) paired with an 11–year–old aged Kozaemon Honjozo Kimoto sake from Gifu prefecture. The richness of the sake plays off the fermented soy and “takes the pairing to another level,” Ellis says.

September 28, 2022
Shrimp tempura and noodles from Lonely Mouth in Calgary
The interior of Lonely Mouth in Calgary
Lonely Mouth.

Lonely Mouth, Calgary

In Japanese “lonely mouth” or kuchisabishii refers to those times when you’re not really hungry, but you eat because your mouth is lonely. If it’s lonely for sake, you’ve come to the right place, a gorgeously lit, blond wood–lined room where you will find over 40 sakes on the menu and 20 offered by the glass. Regional manager and sake sommelier Amanda Jansen pitched the idea for a dedicated sake bar to her employer, the influential Concorde Group, which went all in on her passion project, featuring an udon noodle–making machine from Kagawa prefecture and a Suntory Toki Highball Machine. Jansen’s collaborator and sake sommelier Mai Takahashi sourced a customized yuzu–ginger scented essential oil to perfume the oshibori towels (hot in winter, cold in summer) that are offered to customers. Jansen recommends the rounded and fruity Kawatsuru Oseto Tokubetsu Junmai to go with the udon noodles, but don’t miss the unusual bottle from the same maker that’s brewed with local olive yeast. It’s complex and layered with an edge of salinity that, Takahashi says, “makes it drink like a martini.”

An assortment of plates served at Sakai Bar in Toronto
Sakai Bar.

Sakai Bar, Toronto

The DNA of owner Stuart Sakai’s bar’s — a cozy 22–seater lined with cedar and warmly lit with shoji lanterns — is homegrown Toronto all the way. This is where he came up in the business, spending a decade working at the Jenn Agg–owned The Black Hoof before striking out on his own in 2018. “Working there, I learned that a successful restaurant needs to have not just great food but thoughtful service, good lighting and music that cultivates a pleasurable dining experience,” he explains. Offering a well–curated list of sakes (with nine by–the–glass options) and a menu of creative riff on Japanese classicsby chef Eric McDonald, Sakai likes to engage with guests personally, turning sake newbies into “confident sake drinkers” over the course of many repeat visits.

Staff at work behind the bar at ki modern Japanese + bar in Toronto
ki modern Japanese + bar.

ki modern Japanese + bar, Toronto

As both sake sommelier and a sake educator, Michael Tremblay has seen interest in sake grow on both the consumer and beverage professional sides of the business. Many of his customers at ki, the sprawling, nearly 300–seat Financial District institution, have travelled and dined in Japan, and want to learn more about sake. At ki, he carries over 50 sake labels at a time and tries to represent as many different Japanese sake–making regions as possible. Staff favourites include Masumi, Tedorigawa and Oomuraya (makers of the Wakatake label) breweries, while off–list cult favourites like Jikon from Kiyashou Sake Brewery will occasionally find their way to tables. One great way for customers to learn more about sake is to partake in the restaurant’s bargain weekly sake flights, three tastings for $25. Almost everything on the large menu, from sushi to skewered grilled dishes and hot plates is sake–friendly, but Tremblay is partial to the cold plate dish of hamachi and jalapeño paired with a Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo sake.

Three sake bottles from Fleurs et Cadeaux in Montreal
Fleurs et Cadeaux.

Fleurs et Cadeaux, Montreal

From the retro Chinese signage fronting this restaurant and bar, you might think it’s still the Chinese flower shop it once was. Inside, though, the white oak and wood panelled room is a cross between a Canadian diner, Japanese dining hall and DJ bar. The menu, too, is a blend of sashimi, sushi and other Japanese staples, plus natural wines and craft sake; a nice match for its multicultural Chinatown/entertainment district location. Wine and sake director and partner Sébastien Donahoe–Langlois fell in love with sake at a natural wine fair in Italy in 2018 when he encountered a Dutch sake agent whose preferences skewed to unpasteurized, unfiltered and undiluted sakes, organic where possible. Donahoe–Langlois and his partners saw how this subset of the sake world might resonate with Montreal’s natural wine loving community. So you will see all–natural bottles from Terada Honke or Kinoshita breweries, and the savoury, deeply aged Biden 1999 from Mii No Kotobuki Brewery, along with modern and classic styles. Donahoe–Langlois’ dream: adding a bottle shop on the second floor and a tasting room for small groups in the basement.