Before you judge a whole town on the basis of a single person—Mayor Rob Ford—meet a second one: The Drake Hotel bartender Sandy de Almeida sheds light on what Toronto is really like.

So how long have you called Toronto your home? About 17 years, and I’ve been bartending for 15 of those.

Where do you grab a drink after work if you want to unwind? Midfield, a low-key wine bar with wonderful terrines and ceviche. The bar specializes in underappreciated wines from such places as Hungary. And I love to drink at Ursa. On Mondays, they hire guest bartenders and DJs, and it feels so intimate—like a party in someone’s living room.

You serve a lot of locals. What are they drinking right now? I’ve never seen so many people so thirsty for Dark and Stormies. It’s as if they just discovered Gosling’s and dark rum!

Is that true of bartenders, too? No, right now we’re obsessed with cedar infusions. At least five bars here are serving cocktails with them, and one of the city’s best restaurants, The Grove, is making desserts with spruce trimmings.

How are bars here different from ones in other cities? Sexuality is more fluid here. Locals really loathe labels of any kind, so it’s difficult to say “Oh, that’s a gay bar” these days. Those lines have blurred, more so than in other places.

What else is changing? The neighborhood of Bloordale. A decade ago, you would see prostitutes and crack deals on the streets there. Now it’s the place everyone is talking about. I love Holy Oak Cafe’s provocative coffeehouse events. Then there’s Bike Pirates, a DIY bike shop where they don’t repair your gears; they teach you how to fix them instead.

On the topic of crack, Mayor Ford: What is your read? [sigh] He’s just been a total embarrassment. You couldn’t throw a stone in the city and hit someone who is voting for him in October’s election, so don’t let Ford influence your opinion of us! It really is quite nice here.

ursa interior

SANDY’S FAVORITE LOCAL SPOTS

MIDFIELD:1434 Dundas St. W, (647) 345-7005, midfieldwinebar.com

URSA (pictured above): 924 Queen St. W, (416) 536-8963

THE GROVE: 1214 Dundas St. W, (416) 588-2299, thegroveto.com

HOLY OAK: CAFE 1241 Bloor St. W, holyoakcafe.com

BIKE PIRATES 1292 Bloor St. W