Mannerly Bartenders, BBQ pork buns, and School-Desk Chairs: Cold Tea in Kensington Market is where we like to hang

Times, they are a-changin’ in the market. You can see it in the Last Temptation’s recent chic makeover, including shiny new tables, chairs, art, and revamped mural on the back wall. It looks like a million bucks (well, maybe a crisp 50). Empanada counters and crepe places either came out or shaped up at record speed along Augusta this past summer, and they’re pushing forth into winter like the party’s just getting started. We reckon it probably is, especially now that the once foreboding Kensington mall has added a charming new haunt in its back room: Have you been to Cold Tea yet?

Cold Tea quickly became a staple on party hit lists across the city after it opened this past fall. It pays homage to the Chinatown institution: the dubious ritual of selling beer from tea pots long after tabs are paid. Like the tradition it’s named after, Cold Tea has all the ingredients of a party – an air of mystery, an unassuming location, and cheap and cheerful grog. But Cold Tea is more than an easy party spot. It’s a pretty exceptional bar that’s bringing originality to the city’s night life scene with its polite bartenders, fresh style, and fun, simple drinks and food. What could be better?

The owners, three long time residents of the market, signed the lease for the back room of the Kensington mall and spent a year transforming it into a minimal interior with maximum character. If you haven’t been yet, it looks something like this: a small dim sum cart and knocking cat welcomes you to the bar as you come in, there are hand built tables made of salvaged wood with grade school desk chairs with book baskets at the bottom. White bathrooms have a big communal hand wash station, so you can make friends easily.

Cold tea is almost elegant – almost, because it’s at once a total market-style dive but it’s also so curiously fetching, kind of like stepping through an inconspicuous but enchanted wardrobe and emerging into a dreamy new world. There’s no Turkish delight in this particular world, but there are cheap dumplings (shrimp, pork, or veggie, or BBQ pork buns served till the wee hours) and fun sake cocktails.

By far the most unique aspect of this spot is its astonishingly nice bartenders, which make this place a gem. Some bars use surly bartenders as a defining part of their ambiance and for some, it works marvelously (like Bistro 422, where the gruff bartender has served 10 dollar pitchers with the same comical grumpiness for the last 20 years. But when he smiles, it’s like the heavens open and a ray of sunshine washes away all your sins). But for others, surliness fails. I personally can’t help but feel like being a douchebag shows a lack of style, and it’s just not very fun. At Cold Tea, the bartenders are the kind of people that make you think “damn, I want to give this man a tip for cracking me a tall can”. One of them closed the patio door for me because he noticed from the bar that I looked cold. (And we all thought chivalry was dead.)

It may no longer be the clandestine new place that everyone was scolding reviewers for spoiling, but why keep a good thing to yourself, we say. It’s clear by the community-embracing set up at Cold Tea that they want you to come join the party.

Cold Tea
60 Kensignton Ave

~ Kait Fowlie | Photo credit: tvangoethem via Flickr.

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