The Wickson Social

The Wickson Social (website, Twitter)
5 St. Joseph Street, Toronto ON M4Y 0B6 (on the south side, between Yonge Street and St Nicholas Street, the nearest major intersection is Yonge Street and Wellesley Street) 647-748-1501
Google Maps

Another jewel in the crown of Toronto’s pubs. 

Opened in late 2015, the Wickson Social is part of the expanding pub empire that began with the Queen and Beaver and grew with the Oxley. The three pubs have much in common, such as a focus on the menu and an upscale approach to the pub experience, however, the Wickson Social is more modern and more international with its menu than its sister pubs. The Wickson Social has mirrors on the ceiling (which can be a bit of a shock if you aren’t use to seeing yourself — or your dining companion — from that angle), a huge picture printed on fabric of wild animals in clothing, comfy seats that will probably pay for themselves with the change found between the deep seat cushions at the end of a long night, and tall ceilings that add an air of sophistication to the rooms.

The Wickson Social was named after Frank Wickson, the Toronto-based architect who designed the century-old building where the Wickson Social is located, as well as the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St Clair Avenue West and the IOOF Hall at the north-west corner of Yonge Street and College Street. The pub also offers room service to the tenants in the building (so I might be moving soon).

Number of visits by yours truly: two so far, most recently on a weekend evening in September 2016
TTC information: just a three-minute walk (a block north) of Wellesley Station
Booze selection: approximately 25 beers with Spirit Tree, Empire Hard, and West Avenue ciders (they have Pimm’s). They also have a variety of cocktails available
Food selection: very fancy end of pub grub, fortunately they have the delicious ice cream that both the Queen and Beaver and the Oxley have. The second time we were there we were given a free mini appetizer of watermelon cubes with sea salt and mint (I think), it was yummy!
Service staff: good
Prices: very expensive, with modest proportions, but worth it for the most part
Toilets: clean and very red
Patio: yes, on the north side
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Televisions: one in the party room, which called the Nest 
Live music: very unlikely not
Piped-in music: Michael Jackson, Daft Punk

Rating: five pints (out of five) 

The Grover

The Grover Pub Toronto

The Grover (website, Twitter)
676 Kingston Road, Toronto ON M4E 1R4 (on the north side, between Main Street and Walter Street, the nearest major intersection is Main Street and Kingston Road) 416-691-9200
Google Maps

I went there so you don’t have to.

My favourite drinking buddy and I first went by the Grover a number of years ago, but we were on the way to a friend’s place, so we didn’t stop. Plus, the font of the name is difficult to read, so I could not remember its name. (Petrarch, as you know, also found gothic type difficult to read.) Anyway, fast-forward a few years and in my constant search for a new pub, I read BlogTO’s “The top 10 new pubs in Toronto.” We decided to go to the closest one to home, which turned out to the Grover. We went there so you don’t have to.

The Grover has actually been around since the 1980s, so it was included on this new pub list as it is under new management and had been “rebranded”. The art on the wall is a nice mix of old newspapers and modern prints. It did indeed have that new pub scent, clean booths, fresh paint, etc. But the thing about the Grover is that it is a children’s pub (you wouldn’t know from the website). I got there and nearly every booth had a child in it. They even have multiple selections for children on the menu. We had a child standing on its hind legs staring at us the entire time we ate our meal (we had sat in an emptier part of the pub to start with,). Neither of the child’s parents/guardians did anything about it and one of the former was sitting facing us so she knew what was happening. Perhaps we should have been told we were sitting in the Chuck E. Cheese section? It resulted in an early exit for us.

Number of visits by yours truly: my first and my last on a weekday evening in June 2016
TTC information: take the Main Street bus south from Main Street Station (five minutes)
Booze selection: 20 craft brews, as well as Pommies Farmhouse and Thornbury ciders (no Pimm’s)
Food selection: decent, but rather small servings, with a number of vegetarian options, but generous with the wet wipes
Service staff: slow
Prices: okay
Toilets: clean
Patio: north
Wheelchair accessible: the toilets were downstairs
Televisions: nine, but several were off 
Live music: open mic on Fridays and Saturdays
Piped-in music: ’60s music

Rating: two and a half pints (out of five)

Originals Ale House

Originals Ale House Toronto

Originals Ale House (website, Twitter)
1660 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3C2 (on the west side, between Hillsdale Avenue East and Manor Road East, the nearest major intersection is Bayview Avenue and Eglinton Avenue East) 416-481-0371
Google Maps

The spot for sports on Bayview.

I mount my soapbox. Is it Original’s (as per the receipt and the Facebook page) or Originals sans apostrophe (as per the pub sign and the website)? The present menu also has typos. I step down from soapbox.

So, I think I went to Originals (without the apostrophe) years ago before I started this blog. All I can recall is a moment of schadenfreude with someone who I vaguely know and ran into there. I also went there last autumn to meet with a friend whose son was at Sunnybrook Hospital for a long-scheduled operation. I felt under the circumstances that I should not do a review of the pub while we ate our meal as it was my job to distract and entertain her while she took a break.

Anyway, Originals has been around since the early 1980s and as such has regulars, however, we were there late on a Saturday afternoon and the pub was pretty empty. The pub is decorated with old advertisements hung on exposed brick walls and has a variety of seating. There’s an upstairs at Originals, along with dart boards and a pool table. It’s okay, but not outstanding.

Number of visits by yours truly: my third visit, I think,, most recently on a weekend evening in May 2016
TTC information: take the Bayview bus north from Davisville Station (10 minutes) or take one of the eastbound buses from Eglinton Station (10 minutes), the pub is just a five-minute walk south from Eglinton
Booze selection: more than 30 beers, mostly craft brews, including Brickworks and Strongbow cider (no Pimm’s)
Food selection: burgers, sandwiches, pizza, along with brunch on the weekends
Service staff: good
Prices: decent
Toilets: reasonable
Patio: on the street facing east and rather small
Wheelchair accessible: nope as the toilets are downstairs
Televisions: 12 televisions!
Live music: usually on Thursdays and Saturdays (check the website for details)
Piped-in music: The Kinks, Supertramp, Frank Zappa, The Eagles

Rating: three and a half pints (out of five) 

Tall Boys

Tall Boys Toronto

Tall Boys (website, Twitter)
838 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON M6G 1M2 (on the north side, between Carling Avenue and Shaw Street, the nearest major intersection is Ossington Avenue and Bloor Street West) 416-535-7486
Google Maps

One of Toronto’s better pubs!

A familiar name to those who read “Toronto’s best pubs” articles, Tall Boys has been around since late 2012, however it taken me all this time to review it. I must admit it’s the name that has kept me away, Tall Boys sounds cheesy, like Vickie’s Diner or a strip club. (By the way, I do know what a tall boys is.) Anyway, like any decent ancient Greek tragedy, I have been punished for my snobbery and Tall Boys was well worth the visit.

Tall Boys is one of those new-fangled hipster bars with wooden tables with lots of grey and splashes of red. Tall Boys was very popular the night in question, there was a line-up for tables, but the Toronto Raptors were in the playoffs at the time. However, it might be because according to their website, Tall Boys has ‘Toronto’s Largest Selection of Ontario Craft Beer” and “at any given time, we carry over 70 of the finest Ontario Craft Beer[s]”. Unfortunately, the Raptors lost that night, but my drinking companion and I had a good time there and will be back!

Note, cash only for bill under $20.

Number of visits by yours truly: my first, but not my last, on a weekday evening in late April 2016
TTC information: closer to Ossington Station (three minutes), but it’s a prettier walk from Christie Station (six minutes) 
Booze selection: their approximately 70 beers are sorted by type, which is something all pubs should do. They also have four ciders — GLB Pompous Ass; Coffin Ridge Forbidden; Pommies Farmhouse; Shiny Apple Cider
Food selection: burgers, tacos, and sandwiches. I had the Tall Boy Burger, which is three patties, as well as a fried egg and other not-standard condiments. The burger had a skewer through it to transport it and there was a hush as it honed into view of our table. I had to eat two of the three patties separately as there was no way I could have eaten the burger at once. My late father would have been so proud of me! 
Service staff: very nice
Prices: good for food, not so much for booze
Toilets: clean, but a bit smelly
Patio: an up-and-over door onto Bloor Street West
Wheelchair accessible: no
Televisions: two
Live music: no. Comedy on some Thursdays and trivia on Mondays
Piped-in music: modern

Rating: four and a half pints (out of five)

Harbord House

Harbord House Toronto

Harbord House (website)
150 Harbord Street, Toronto ON M5S 1H2 (on the north side of Harbord Street, between Brunswick Avenue and Major Street, the nearest major intersection is Bathurst Street and Bloor Street West) 647-430-7365
Google Maps 

Here’s Your Great Canadian Cottage — In the City!

Like the nearby Victory Cafe, Harbord House is hidden away on a relatively quiet street near the bustling Bloor and Bathurst intersection. I only learned of this pub, or gastropub as it brands itself, quite recently from someone who works at the (also) nearby University of Toronto campus. Harbord House looks like it was decorated by someone pining — tastefully — for the great Canadian cottage — was that a loon I just heard cry across a misty lake in the early morning? Even the Harbord House pub sign has trees and a lake on it.

Harbord House — not be confused with the Harbord Room restaurant — appears to have two personalities, the downstairs was filled with students (and bookshelves) and was louder, while the upstairs had a quieter and older crowd, with art on the walls (we were upstairs) and a television that looked at first glance like a fireplace (it has those old chainmail curtains on either side). Apparently there is a third floor, but I saw no hint of that from my visit. Harbord House was worth the visit, so I will be back the next time I go to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, which is where I was earlier on the evening in question.

Number of visits by yours truly: my first, but not my last, on a weekday evening in April 2016
TTC information: an 11-minute walk from Bathurst Station. I see no point in taking the streetcar, unless it’s right there. I suggest instead that you walk south down Bathurst Street, then turn east (left) onto Harbord Street, then five blocks east
Booze selection: about a dozen craft beers, mostly local, and Waupoos cider (no Pimm’s)
Food selection: fancier than most pubs with offerings of pickerel for dinner and crab Benedict for brunch. My dining companion rekindled a love affair with meatloaf while I was there
Service staff: nice (we recognized the waiter from another pub that we used to go to years and years ago)
Prices: good for beer
Toilets: two unisex ones upstairs 
Patio: one raised above street level and one above that, which apparently has lovely views of downtown Toronto
Wheelchair accessible: no way
Televisions: one upstairs, one downstairs
Live music: very occasionally
Piped-in music: so low I couldn’t hear it clearly

Rating: four and a half pints (out of five) 

Local Public Eatery (Leaside)

Local Public Eatery Toronto

Local Public Eatery (Leaside) (website, Twitter)
180 Laird Drive, Toronto ON M4G 3V7 (on the southwest corner of Laird Drive and McRae Drive, the nearest major intersection is Eglinton Avenue East and Laird Drive) 416-696-6226
Google Maps

Beery goodness on Laird.

Yet another bank branch turned into a pub, what is the world coming to? (A better beery place, if you want my opinion!) Formerly a CIBC branch, the Local Public Eatery (Leaside) opened in April 2015, however, it took a while for yours truly to visit. The Local Public Eatery is at present a nine-pub chain which has locations across Canada, including one in Toronto’s Liberty Village. Given what I saw at the Leaside location, I think this is a good thing as I enjoyed my time there and will return.

The Local, as it seems to want to be called, is on two levels and the upstairs is 19+, so that’s where we headed after having suffered the company of poorly behaved children at the previous spot (The nearby Leaside Pub allows unsupervised children to play pool, seriously!). Downstairs at the Local has more of a restaurant vibe than pub with booths and high top tables. There are a variety of seats upstairs, including booths, comfy chairs in circles, and tables that can be moved along an I-beam to create seating for different size parties and an enclosed rooftop patio that has a lovely view of sunsets.

Number of visits by yours truly: twice so far, my latest in February 2016
TTC information: take the Leaside bus north from Donlands Station (13 minutes) or the same bus eastbound from Eglinton Station (20 minutes), the pub is just a six-minute walk south from Eglinton if you’ve just missed the Leaside bus
Booze selection: 27 beers including Brickworks cider and a large selection of non-beer drinks (yes, they have Pimm’s)
Food selection: all food is finger friendly (a problem for one dining companion who dislikes greasy fingers). The menu is online
Service staff: friendly
Prices: expensive, but you’re in Leaside
Toilets: decent
Patio: a large one that’s south-facing and a rooftop that’s covered with glass
Wheelchair accessible: it has an accessibility ramp, but the toilets are downstairs and it looks like you either have to sit at a booth or at a high top table on the main level and the top is not accessible, so the accessibility ramp is a bit of tease
Televisions: lots, at least a dozen, all the ones upstairs were showing hockey or Ghostbusters II 
Live music: they have a DJ sometimes
Piped-in music: Smashing Pumpkins, Mr. Bowie, Beck, Pulp

Rating: four pints (out of five)

Firkin on Bloor

Firkin on Bloor Pub

Firkin on Bloor (website, Twitter
81 Bloor Street East, Toronto ON M4W 1A9 (on the south side, between Yonge Street and Church Street) 416-962-4228
Google Maps 

Location, location, location!

From the ashes of the Spotted Dick pub has arisen the phoenix that is the Firkin on Bloor. The Spotted Dick was run down, a little tired, a little ho-hum, but its location ensured that the nearby business crowd went there at lunchtime. The reason I kept going back for more at the Spotted Dick [insert joke here] was because it was easy to get to.

Alas, with such a prime location at Yonge and Bloor you’d think that the Firkin juggernaut might tone down its brand and not try so hard given that they can hardly lose. However, that just ain’t what the Firkin brand knows or understands. During the recent rebranding of Yonge and Bloor the mediocre Spotted Dick closed and the Firkin brand took over in May 2015, literally — the Spotted Dick was in the basement and shared the building with a restaurant, while the Firkin on Bloor is now on two floors with a rooftop patio to boot. The Firkin on Bloor is very loud and more like a dance club than a pub, it’s very large, apparently the largest Firkin in Canada, and full of Union Jacks and Cool Britannia decor. Tony Blair would be so proud!

As my dining companion said of the Firkin on Bloor, “the corporate rebranding [of the Firkin brand] has taken away everything that is distinctively English about an English pub and has replaced it with over-sized portraits of Winston Churchill and a bulldog, as if this will somehow compensate.”

Number of visits by yours truly: two visits, most recently on a weeknight in late November 2015
TTC information: Bloor-Yonge Station is just a two-minute walk at the most
Booze selection: they have 30-odd beers and Brickworks and Somersby ciders (yes, they have Pimm’s)
Food selection: standard Firkin selection
Service staff: good
Prices: Firkin prices
Toilets: cramped, too few for a pub of that size. My co-diner gave up on using the men’s as the wait was too long! Yes, you read that correctly
Patio: rooftop
Wheelchair accessible: nope
Televisions: tonnes! 
Live music: nope
Piped-in music: Bee Gees

Rating: three pints and a half (out of five)