If you didn’t already know, you can thank Rumen Dimitrov for Pravda, arguably the best vodka bar in all of Toronto. So when we heard his next project was going to leave the flavourless Eastern European staple behind to concentrate on bringing the vastly undiscovered world of Caribbean rum to our fair city, we knew we had to check it out (see: drink lots of rum at 3pm on a Thursday).
Located on Richmond St. a few doors west of Bay, The Rum Exchange is filled with dark wood finishes, barrel tables, and no obvious pirate jokes. At the far end you’ll find couches and a projection screen. There are chandeliers throughout, and stools as well, but it’s clear from the moment you walk in that the experience you’re going to find here is more about the rum than the simple décor.
Just look to the bar. It’s different from others. Why? Because it’s stocked with more than 50 bottles of rum and not much else. Dimitrov says he contemplated a more ostentatious design that included several other liquors before realizing that he simply wanted to let the rum speak for itself. And it most certainly does.
Like vodka, scotch, and tequila, rum truly offers a breadth of range that could keep you sipping for years to come. There’s Cuban, Dominican, and Trinidadian just to mention a few. And just to be clear here, we’re not talking about sitting down with a rum and Coke and drowning any hint of flavour, we’re talking about really getting up close and personal with this import.
We start with the simplest white Bacardi. Dimitrov walks us through. You smell it once, then twice before sipping. The first sip is a very small amount intended to coat your mouth and get your taste buds ready for what’s about to come. Smell again and sip larger on the second go-round, let your tongue do its job this time. Starting with the white Bacardi is a harsh introduction to be sure, but it means that as we work our way up the scale toward the more premium productions we’re able to taste the subtle differences in both texture and sweetness. The Pyrat for instance, is as different from the white Bacardi as a Beau’s seasonal ale is from a Coors Light. By the time we reach the 25-year-old dark Bacardi we get it. We’re in.
The Rum Exchange is all about having an experience you haven’t been able to get in Toronto. It’s educational, fun, and yet not something everyone will immediately love. Dimitrov knows this. He understands that some people will welcome the change and others will stay away. The perfect example is The Rum Exchange’s signature cocktail, Mr. Brooker’s Eye Opener. Named for Dimitrov’s father-in-law, this divisive drink is comprised of Trinidadian rum, condensed milk, Angostura bitters, cinnamon, nutmeg, and half a pint of Guinness. It’s as intimidating as it is refreshing. And we suspect it’s the kind of cocktail that’s likely to earn a cult following rather than a mainstream uprising.
Open Tuesday to Saturday after 5pm, The Rum Exchange is currently offering a few snacks (including cheese and fresh guava) to pair with your drinks with plans for an expanded menu in the works. We suggest you stop by sometime soon to see if the world of rum is a place you wouldn’t mind living in for a night or two.