Literary cocktail classes at Toronto’s Famous Last Words

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If you’re a fan of the recommended refreshments section in my book reviews, you will like Famous Last Words, a newish bar in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood.

This book-themed bar is cozy and adorable and has a full menu of cocktails made with a literary twist. It’s the perfect place to read or write. But my recent trip there wasn’t to do either of these things. I was there to take a literary cocktail class.

A couple of friends and I signed up for a class called The Roaring ’20s. We learned how to make cocktails that appear in The Great Gatsby (Gin Rickey, Mint Julep) as well as a couple of others from the era (The Last Word, Between the Sheets).

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A Between the Sheets sitting on the Scrabble-tiled bar.

The class wasn’t all about the cocktails, though. We talked about the connection the drinks have to The Great Gatsby and about the characters in the book. We also talked about prohibition–an interesting discussion about history.

Sometimes the recommended refreshments in my book reviews are simply what I think would create a nice reading experience for a particular book. But, where it’s suitable, I try to connect the refreshments to food or drink that appears in the stories. So I absolutely love that Famous Last Words does this by serving drinks that are featured in books. They aren’t limited to this, though. They also create drinks that are inspired by stories and authors.

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Can you spot the copy of Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words amongst all these bottles?

There are still three classes left in this series of literary cocktail classes. Check out Famous Last Words’ event page to see what’s coming up. And even if you don’t feel like taking a class (but it really is a lot of fun), you can always head over to the bar with a book. You’ll definitely find a refreshment to complement whatever it is you’re reading.

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Five of Toronto’s best literary events in 2014

This post is specifically about Toronto events, but if you’d like to read about the literary aspects of my trip to England earlier this year, visit my posts Lured back to London and Following the path of a poet.

Toronto hosts a lot of literary events. I don’t attend them all, of course, but I do get out to a few. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite literary events that I attended in 2014 in this city.

The Poem/The Song

To me, nothing goes better with a fall evening than listening to poetry being recited. This harkens back to my university days, when I spent some of my evenings inside classrooms studying poetry. One of the friends I attended many of those classes with invited me to The Poem/The Song held in Harbourfront Centre Theatre back in November. I don’t think I would have heard about it if she hadn’t mentioned it, as I hadn’t seen or read anything about it before or after. But I’m so glad we went. It wasn’t solely a literary event. As the title suggests, the evening largely focused on music. The Art of Time Ensemble performed musical works that are inspired by poems or poetry. There were pieces inspired by T. S. Eliot, Leonard Cohen, Walt Whitman and Petrarch. Margaret Atwood was also there to recite some of her own work. It was a unique way to honour two of my favourite art forms.

45 Books in 45 Minutes at Ben McNally Books

Ben McNally and Lynn Thomson host this event twice a year in their store in the financial district. The first for 2014 was held in the summer, and the second was in December, a few weeks before Christmas. During these evenings, Ben and Lynn provide a brief overview of 45 books that are new for the season (they also provide some delicious refreshments). They discuss some titles that are getting a lot of buzz, but one of the best reasons to go is that Ben and Lynn also discuss books you wouldn’t hear about it unless they told you about them. What’s better than partaking in some wine and cheese and hearing your favourite booksellers talk about books?

Tom Rachman reading at IFOA Weekly

This year, I went to many of the readings that were part of IFOA’s Weekly Series at Harbourfront Centre. But I’ve specifically included Tom Rachman in this list because of all of the readings I went to, his stands out the most in my mind. That’s partly because I was in the middle of reading Rachman’s latest book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, which he’d be reading from that June evening. Rachman began by talking a bit about his process of writing the book, discussing the various drafts he went through until he finally got the story right. He also inserted a sense of humour into his reading. When he signed my book afterwards, we had a short conversation about our affinity for independent bookstores…and also about the never-ending construction in this city.

It was raining that night. I remember the rain because it had started to fall so heavily by the time I left, that even though I had a bag to put my book in and an umbrella to hold above me, I had to tuck the book under my arm, and hug it close to my body, in an effort to protect it. (The book remained dry, but 85-90% of my body did not.)

Open Book Toronto literary salon: Advice for Myself

On a freezing cold February evening, I headed over to the Spoke Club for Open Book Toronto‘s literary salon, Advice for Myself. A panel of three writers—Stacey May Fowles, Brian Francis and Michael Winter—offered advice for both emerging and established writers, and there was the opportunity to mingle before and after. Becky Toyne moderated the event, but in the spirit of a true literary salon, there was also interaction from the audience. It was interesting to hear the different approaches and opinions that Stacey, Brian and Michael have, and I left feeling encouraged about my writing and with a few ideas that helped me improve my work.

The Word on the Street

This might be the most obvious choice on this list. The Word on the Street book festival happens every year and in cities across Canada, not just Toronto. If you’re reading my blog, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it or have attended yourself. But I couldn’t leave it out. The Word on the Street is like Christmas for me, and I don’t mean that in the sense that I come home with an armload of books (I’ve scaled it down over the years). But I get pretty excited in the anticipation in the weeks leading up to that last Sunday in September. Sure, there’s the chance to browse some great books, and maybe even score some deals. But there’s also the opportunity to learn more about some wonderful organizations. This year, I had some nice chats with people from PEN Canada and Literature for Life, among others. There was also some interesting programming offered in many of the tents, including the Humber School for WritersWordshop Marquee, which I spent some time in.

Those are just a few examples of some of the wonderful events I and other Toronto-area readers and writers enjoyed in 2014. Wherever you live (or wherever you visit), there will be more to experience in 2015. I, for one, am looking forward to it.