What’s on the menu at Paradise Grotto, a new tiki-inspired cocktail bar in the Entertainment District
Name: Paradise Grotto
Contact: 270 Adelaide St. W., unit 101, paradisegrotto.com, @paradise.grotto
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owners: Brian Donnelly, Jennifer Ly, Phil Allain, Rachel Dannenfeldt and Oren Williamson (Warm Welcome Management Group)
Chefs: Head chef Mark Owen, culinary director Phil Allain
Accessibility: Not fully accessible (down a flight of stairs)
Five years ago, John Street resident and long-time hospitality vet Brian Donnelly opened a Mediterranean-inspired cocktail bar called Melrose on Adelaide. He and his partners followed up with wine bar Piccolo Cafe and then a big British pub called St. John’s Tavern. Paradise Grotto, a tiki bar–inspired spot, is his latest contribution to the neighbourhood.
Donnelly and his partners now effectively own and manage a big chunk of John St., but his ambition isn’t infinite expansion. “I’m committed to this neighbourhood. I want to fill it with unique stand-alone spaces that champion the community as a whole,” he says. “We’re a small team, and the community element is our primary driver.”
Part of the inspiration for Paradise Grotto was the under-representation of rum in the city’s bar scene. “We wanted to showcase spirits the city doesn’t talk about much—and of course celebrate the classics,” says Donnelly. Accordingly, there’s a rum-centric cocktail program accompanying the free-wheeling island-themed menu (with no allegiance to any particular island). And with seats for 100, standing room for more and a DJ booth, it’s also a budding event space with a beachy, urban-oasis vibe.
Head chef Mark Owen’s Filipino roots strongly influence his menu, which also takes cues from Polynesian and occasionally Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Think big flavours and vibrant presentation heavy on colour and general pizzazz. The best way to sample Owen’s offerings is with the pu pu platter, which includes bao stuffed with tender cola-braised pork, crisp coconut shrimp and pork sliders, among other shareable snacks. With a liberal (but still very approachable) use of spice, sugar and zippy accoutrements, everything on the menu pairs nicely with rum-based tipples.
This being a bona fide rum bar, there’s a list of more than 40 bottles (and counting) from countries including Jamaica, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Barbados and Guyana. There’s even a bottle of Island Diaz from Toronto’s own Nickel 9 Distillery. As for the cocktail list, it’s split between rum-based classics like zombies and dark and stormys, modern twists made using spirits other than rum, and boozy large-format cocktails for sharing. There’s also a short wine list, a selection of beers and more than a few non-alcoholic options, including a killer virgin colada.
The lower level of 270 Adelaide Street, which now houses Paradise Grotto, used to be a club called Parlour. With low lighting, big booths and a DJ set-up, there are remnants of its moody lounge history that contrast nicely with the new sunny beach bar vibe, complete with tiki thatch at the door. There’s a bar to the right of the entrance, green with a yellow backdrop lighting up its impressive (and, fun fact, geographically organized) display of rum bottles. Coffered ceilings outfitted with LEDs give off dim, cascading light that highlights pops of greenery and organic shapes carved into the finishes. Between the banquettes, four-tops and bar seating, there’s room to mill around or dance. Outside, there’s a spacious patio with another bar; the outdoor area also connects to St. John’s Tavern and Melrose on Adelaide, forming a sweet little venue village.