St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Can Beer Bars Survive North Of Bloor?

One of the things that I find irksome about living at Yonge and Davisville (aside from the inevitable late night taxi fares, which are one of the apparent hazards of being a beer writer) is the fact that otherwise intelligent people who live south of Bloor seem to think of it as being somewhere near Moosonee, geographically speaking. This is not only untrue, it’s simply hurtful. I’ve been chased off of campsites on the Moose River by black bears, whereas I might actually be the largest predator at Yonge and Davisville. If you’re in Moose Factory and something is banging on your wannigan trying to get at a loaf of bread or a jar of honey, that’s a bear. If you’re lying in bed in an urban setting and you hear someone stealing  beer from your fridge, that’s probably me. I guess there’s some overlap if you’re carrying beer on a portage, but probably only if it’s any good.

The point I’m getting at here is that life doesn’t end at Bloor Street. I didn’t realize that there are people who don’t think of Yonge as the main dividing line in Toronto. Some misguided urbanites believe that Bloor is the actual cutoff line, and they always seem a little amazed when they’re required to board a train going north.

“Hills!” they think. “My God, there are hills! This cannot be Toronto. My fixie bicycle will not ride on this terrain.”

It’s amazing because they’re somehow not being intentionally disingenuous about this. These are the fortunate people for whom the suburbs simply don’t exist. They will never shop at a centre owned by RioCan unless they do it ironically. The last time they went to Ikea, they bought enough Billy bookshelves to last a lifetime, cognizant of the fact that a constant supply of hex keys means that they’ll never have to see the 401 again.

All of this goes some way to explaining things about the way craft beer is laid out in Toronto.
Go ahead and name me five beer bars in the 905 part of the GTA. There’s The Feathers, (ed. note: People on twitter, especially @davidsunlee, have been quick to point out that Scarborough is not the 905 and that my portrayal of Scarborough as being part of the 905 is divisive and cruel and unusual and that I am a big ol’ poopyhead with no geographical understanding of the city and that probably my mom brought me up wrong and that my father very possibly has a wooden leg with a kickstand. I apologize, my family apologizes and the termites in my father’s wooden leg apologize.) although when I hear about them, mostly I hear about the selection of whiskies. They do have some very nice Cask selections. There’s West 50 in Mississauga, and from what I’ve seen of them, they have interesting events. The problem is “how do you get to it if you don’t drive?” Well, you just don’t.
It seems to me like there is not a lot of conviction that craft beer pubs can exist past the 401. The good news is that I think we’re heading in that direction. Over the Christmas break, I went to a couple of places that are trying to use beer as a draw outside of the downtown core.

First of all, there’s the newest offering from the people at the Bier Markt, who have decided to open a location at Don Mills and Lawrence. This sort of makes sense because some of the clientele that would frequent the Bier Markt’s other locations probably live somewhere near the Bridle Path. It’s a well laid out location and it offers the same variety of beers and the same quality fare that are available at the other Bier Markt locations. It’s a case of transplanting a successful model to a new location, and the location itself bears some talking about.

I hadn’t been to the mall at Don Mills and Lawrence since I was in high school. At the time, it was a down at heels mall without a lot of interesting features. I think the highlight might have been an A&W in the food court. In a stunning act of capitalist reclamation, it is now more or less an extremely upscale drive thru buytopia that features box stores for chains that I didn’t know we had in Canada. I mean, I suppose I knew that Tommy Hilfiger had their own stores, but I didn’t realize that could happen here.

The selection of beers reflects the setting. It is wide and varied and upscale and proper. All of the brands are established brands. This is clearly a corporate setting, and it shows. The correct glassware is used for everything and it seems to me like the model developed in the other locations has left nothing to chance. That may sound negative, but my feeling is that it’s right for the neighbourhood. These are professionals doing this thing. Let’s face it, if you’ve spent a long day manipulating the world of high finance or sitting comfortably as VP of a division that’s way over budget, and drive up to the Banana Republic to buy some dress chinos for the cottage and you decide to whet your whistle, you don’t want some schmuck recommending something you’re not going to like.

I kind of liked the place, since there’s a part of me that appreciates intricate attention to detail and efficiency and wants to make the trains run on time.

For a more organic feeling, there’s Coco Rogue, which is a relatively recently established place near Yonge and Eglinton. It’s not exactly a pub, since it was initially envisioned as a place specializing in Belgian chocolate. While there’s no shortage of people who are interested in chocolate, they have decided to revamp their menu in order to incorporate heavier belgian fare and European beer. Not only do they have the typical Moules Frites, but some truly interesting dishes that incorporate chocolate. I look forward to trying the vegetable mole on my next visit. Clearly, mole sauce isn’t Belgian, but I figure that it’s worth trying if only because they’re going to incorporate some of that Belgian Chocolate into it. Similarly, the chocolate fondue must be of an exceedingly high quality, although I didn’t try it.

The draft selection is going to be relatively minimal, and I heard Tilburg Dutch Brown Ale being

floated as the staple beer. There will also be a wide selection of products from Roland and Russell on hand for the bottle list.

The most interesting thing is that because it was initially a chocolate lounge, the layout is not necessarily what you would expect. The second floor contains some very comfortable group seating with low leather couches and mood lighting. While it was designed for groups to share fondue, it would be a good place to relax and enjoy some very high quality bottles with friends. The first floor has a baby grand piano and old movies projected on the wall. Not everyone is down for Bogart hovering over the room in a white dinner jacket, but I like a surreal touch, me.

The menu is solid, the beer list is solid and the decor is eclectic and slightly funky. I think it will be interesting to see how it continues to evolve. The main concept I came away with is that chocolate has its own terroir, as do wine and beer. I think that there’s a lot of room to play with that idea.

I hope that both of these places do well. As high quality imports and craft beers continue to grow in the market, it’s this kind of experimentation with new neighbourhoods that will go a long way to creating converts.

10 Thoughts on “Can Beer Bars Survive North Of Bloor?

  1. angelsil on January 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm said:

    Grief for living North of Bloor? Try living in Port Credit ;-)

    We’ve had friends tell us they wouldn’t come visit no matter what keg we tapped for a house warming party. More for us, I suppose. Fear of the GO transit system is strong in Urbanites.

    Anyway, West 50 is actually fairly accessible by GO bus. Buses from Union go direct to Square One, a 10 minute walk from West 50, on a regular basis up until 1am at least. However, their beer selection is erratic at best and the more unusual stuff just doesn’t turn over, leaving them with a reputation for dirty tap lines. Also, they turn into some kind of quasi-dance club at night which is just odd.

    Someday The ‘Saug will have good beer. Someday….

  2. I’ve lived North of Bloor my entire life…also work up there… I do wish there were some better beer bars… at least it looks like it is getting better.

    Also, my Fixie rides up the hills just fine :)

  3. Chris Schryer on January 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm said:

    Damn you Jordan, Feathers is 416. It’s just north of my house in the beach. Other than that, good points.

  4. Entertainingly enough, I’m sitting in a beer bar in Barrie reading this.

    If any of you are up this way, the Local Gastropub is a nice, friendly spot.

    • Speaking as a blogger, I’m really just talking about the GTA as a whole. clearly areas smaller than the GTA without the suburban sprawl that makes local drinking establishments a difficulty are not only capable of having good beer, but capable of driving innovation. Look at what milos has done in London.

      On the other hand, speaking as a columnist for the Toronto Sun, I feel confident in informing you that any location that exists outside the GTA is figment of Rob Ford’s imagination and you exist by dint of the will of our great and powerful leader and his brother Doug.

  5. Jordan – I am your father and the termites in my wooden leg do not apologize!

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