Sometimes spaghetti and meatballs goes best with a Galliano-spiked Screwdriver served in a Tiki mug. BarToni's gets that. Roosting in the formerly dark and dingy back room of Little Toni's, an old-school Italian joint straight out of The Godfather, the bar is a suburban cocktail oasis. There's no sugar-coating it: Parking is a nightmare, crossing the street can get a little dicey and there are, give-or-take, 10 available stools at the bar on any given night (no standing and no reservations). But for those desperately seeking quality swills with a side of hospitality, BarToni’s is the real deal. Of course, we expected nothing less from Aidan Demarest, the mastermind behind BarToni’s program, which is being carried out by the chummy crew from his shuttered Glendale post, Neat. Inside the small and lean watering hole, everyone is family. Over slices of thin-crust pizza and inconspicuously strong Grasshoppers (a Fernet-Branca milkshake "stolen" from Portland's legendary Jeffrey Morganthaler), phone numbers are exchanged, plans are made and friendships are cemented. It’s everything you would hope for in a neighborhood bar.
Good for: A casual, affable spot to wash down huge servings of Italian-American fare with top-notch 'tails. The ambience is dive meets dapper, thanks to a gentle facelift from the folks who doctored up The Normandie Club, including a snazzy marble-top bar and spanking-new appliances. Come dinner time, this place is buzzing. Swoop in and snag a stool if and when one becomes available. Bring a date and reenact the Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene, or cozy up to the bar and have a long heart-to-heart with your server. Then again, you could avoid the crowd altogether by making this the last stop of the night. Stiff swills and made-to-order brick oven pizzas don’t stop until 2am.
The scene: Generations of North Hollywood and Toluca Lake residents have been coming to Little Toni's since it opened over 45 years ago, so expect a staunch neighborhood crowd: casual, unpretentious and hungry. While the dining room is dominated by local families, the bar leans toward younger couples. Jeans and a t-shirt is the dress code; heels are a red flag.
Drink this: We weren’t too sure what to expect from craft cocktails in the back of a throwback Italian joint, but Demarest once again raises the bar. He reforms the concoctions still haunting you from your 21st birthday—Mojito ($10), Margarita ($10) and the infamous Lemon Drop Martini ($10)—with fresh ingredients and upgraded spirits that will make you forget why you stopped drinking them in the first place. His classics, ranging from the sweet and smoky Penicillin ($10) to the crisp and tangy Northside ($10)—are executed with finesse and a bit of whim. For something boozy, opt for Toni’s Daiquiri ($14), made with two types of rum, house-made passion fruit syrup, honey, fresh lime and pineapple juices, then lit on fire—a great conversation starter. Make the last drink of the night the Grasshopper ($14), which borrows Portlander Jeffrey Morganthaler's not-so-secret recipe for a very boozy mint milkshake. You'll be feeling the gin and Fernet-Branca a few sips in.
Our tip: Don’t come here on a diet. The entire Little Toni's menu is available at the bar: we're talking mozzarella cheese oozing from a single serving of lasagna that could feed a family. On that note, take advantage of BarToni's happy hour Monday through Friday, 5-7pm, when hungry imbibers can get free 6-inch brick-oven pizzas with every specialty cocktail.