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
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) (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
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
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)
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
Wheelchair accessible: nope
Live music: nope
Piped-in music: Bee Gees
Rating: three pints and a half (out of five)
The Swan (A Firkin Pub) (website, Twitter)
2205 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON M6S 1N5 (on the south side of Bloor Street West, between Runnymede Road and Kennedy Avenue, the nearest major intersection is Bloor Street West and the Kingsway) 416-767-9222
It’s like a “Firkin Chuck E. Cheese” due to all the children.
I’ve been to the Swan (and Firkin) a number of times over the last couple of years and have taken several different sets of notes on the pub, but I’ve lacked the enthusiasm to type them up and post it. However, it’s a new year and I should clear the backlog of pub reviews weighing down my corkboard. The Swan is very much like Hemingway’s in Yorkville — without the rooftop patio, it’s just like every other (Firkin) pub, except with children everywhere!
Like more and more Firkin pubs, it’s been refurbished with the Cool Britannia theme. (Did Monty Python really have this in mind when it created the Ministry of Silly Walks?) The one time we tried to sit upstairs at the Swan (and Firkin), we were told it was full, which it was. I asked if I could have a quick look and I was shadowed the entire time. One time I was there, a child fell off one of the tall chairs and understandably screamed its head off. The pub does offer a variety of seating, but perhaps it was the only seating available for the family? Another time I was with two ladies and a single dad took over the nearby sofa area with his child and ignored the child while he played on his mobile device and drank. I wondered if he thought we were watching the child for him. We weren’t, we were judging him and feeling sorry for the kid.
If you have a choice, go to the Yellow Griffin across the street.
Number of visits by yours truly: three or four, most recently in late August 2015
TTC information: just steps south from Runnymede Station
Booze selection: typical (limited) Firkin selection of about 27 beers with Strongbow and Brickworks ciders. Yes, they have Pimm’s
Food selection: typical Firkin selection. According to one dining companion, don’t bother with the chicken as it’s more bone than chicken
Service staff: okay, but I seem to recall waiting for service
Prices: typical Firkin prices
Toilets: not bad, but not clear if vacant or not. Poorly designed
Patio: street-level facing north and rooftop, which is very popular
Wheelchair accessible: nope as the toilets aren’t accessible
Televisions: at least seven that I could see
Live music: “sometimes”
Piped-in music: early Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones, Daft Punk, Lenny Kravitz
Rating: three and a half pints (out of five)
The Friar (A Firkin Pub) (website, Twitter)
160 John Street, Toronto ON M5V 2E5 (on the west side of John Street, just south of Queen Street West, the nearest major intersection is Queen Street West and University Avenue) 416-340-9459
The Firkin’s take on a Queen Street West pub.
Way back, when I was cool (or at least tried and sometimes succeeded) I sometimes hung out on Queen Street West in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I know I went to this watering hole for drinks over the years as it’s a good central spot and I seem to recall it was never too busy, however, when this one became a Firkin, I can’t recall. This Firkin is located across the way from the iconic 299 Queen Street West building where MuchMusic (“the nation’s music station” as I remember it) broadcasts and, now in my dotage, it’s important to me today that this pub is near a Michaels (at John and Richmond).
The Friar (and Firkin) is one of the smaller Toronto Firkins, possibly even smaller than the nearby Flatiron and Firkin and the Fox and Firkin (which for some reason I have never reviewed) on Eglinton. Despite being rebranded with the whole heartless Cool Britannia look in the last couple of years, the Friar (and Firkin) still has some of that nice dark warm pub feeling, which hasn’t been surgically removed. This is probably due to the fact that this Firkin is in the basement, so the darkness and tiny windows make this difficult, thank goodness. The pub offers a variety of seating — booths, benches, tables, etc. — but large groups will have trouble finding a spot without a reservation. This pub is quiet in comparison to other Firkins, which is ironic given its location.
Number of visits by yours truly: a dozen or so, most recently on a weekend evening in September 2015
TTC information: five-minute walk west from Osgoode Station, no point in waiting for the streetcar as it will probably be full!
Booze selection: more than a dozen, including Somersby, 501 Queen Street, and Brickworks ciders (they have Pimm’s)
Food selection: standard Firkin pub grub with lots of sandwiches and wraps
Service staff: good
Toilets: not bad at all
Patio: small one on the street facing east
Wheelchair accessible: no
Televisions: at least seven
Live music: nope
Piped-in music: Selena Gomez and Blue Rodeo, together at last
Rating: four pints (out of five)
Notes on this pub crawl: the walk (1 km) takes about 12 minutes in total taking into account traffic signals. Keep in mind that all five pubs are small and you might have difficulty getting a seat. Local 1794 is a little further east than the other four pubs, but worth the walk.
Notes on pub crawls in general: consider at least 45 minutes per pub visit and let your server know that you having just one drink and then moving on into the fizzy night so she/he knows that you’ll need your bill quickly. Pay by cash so you aren’t waiting for the credit card/debit machine and tip generously as you may be back one day for longer than just one drink. Check the pub’s website/Twitter in case they have an event that night. Also keep in mind the day and time, Saturday nights with the FIFA World Cup’s final on is not the best night for said pub crawl.
PDF of this TorontoPubs’ East Danforth Pub Crawl with map
Morgans on the Danforth (TorontoPubs review)
1282 Danforth Avenue
The Borough (TorontoPubs review)
1352 Danforth Avenue
The Wren (TorontoPubs review)
1382 Danforth Avenue
Sarah’s Café and Bar (TorontoPubs review)
1426 Danforth Avenue
Local 1794 (TorontoPubs review)
1794 Danforth Avenue
Unfortunately, this pub crawl is not wheelchair accessible.
The Borough (website, Twitter)
1352 Danforth Avenue, Toronto ON M4J 1M9 (on the north side, between Linsmore Crescent and Monarch Park Avenue, the nearest major intersection is Greenwood Avenue and Danforth Avenue) 416-901-1429
Another excellent addition to the Danforth’s growing number of decent pubs!
Fittingly named after Canada’s last borough, East York (1967-1988, requiescat in pace), and location of said pub, the Borough is putting the pub into gastropub. This is a touch ironic given that the borough of East York was dry for several years. The pub does have a focus on locally sourced food and takes part in the nearby East Lynn Farmers’ Market. Like the nearby Wren, the Borough is child-friendly, but it doesn’t have a kids’ menu. It does serve Sunday brunch, but it doesn’t open until five during the week and on Saturdays. We found out twice the hard way.
The Borough has black-and-white pictures of said old borough on the walls, along with a three-dimensional miniature fairy door of 11 Downing Street, home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the sign for the pub looks very much like the street signs in London, itself full of boroughs. It’s a very bright establishment, despite the greys everywhere. Our welcome last-minute addition to the pubbing experience said that the Borough was, “Life in greyscale,” with flashes of red cushions and napkins. I should have replied with, “It’s fifty shades of grey on the Danforth,” but I didn’t and it’s not really that funny anyway.
A note on the picture, I took the picture at Christmas time last year as I had a camera with me and no-one was walking in front of the pub. They don’t usually have Christmas decorations up.
Number of visits by yours truly: my first, but not my last on a weekday evening in August 2015
TTC information: Greenwood Station, mere metres on the Danforth from the station
Booze selection: a selection local craft beers, with Thornbury and Duxsbury ciders (they don’t have Pimm’s because it’s not local)
Food selection: the food is local and organic, with a focus on British comfort food. Be warned, it’s spicy — my note says “perfumed by a manifesto”. It’s in my writing, but I’m not that poetic even after a pint or two
Service staff: great
Toilets: the ladies’ was nice, but the men’s apparently left something to be desired
Wheelchair accessible: has steps to the toilet, so no
Televisions: one over the bar
Live music: no
Piped-in music: modern and electronic, could hardly hear as the volume was low
Rating: four and a half pints (out of five)