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 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) 


Pauper’s Pub

Pauper's Pub Toronto

Pauper’s Pub (website, Twitter)
539 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON M5S 1Y5 (on the south side, between Lippincott Avenue and Loretto Avenue, the nearest major intersection is Bloor Street West and Bathurst Street) 416-530-1331
Google Maps

I have an uneasy relationship with Pauper’s and it’s not just because they can’t decide if they have an apostrophe in the name. I first heard of Pauper’s (I choose the apostrophe) back in the late ’90s, as it was the destination of choice for my better half’s colleagues. Over the years, I had my own invitations as the pub is centrally located, has darts, lots of space (but fixed seating), and a decent enough selection of beers. The pub is quite large with two floors, a rooftop patio, as well as a ground-floor patio. Like many pubs in Toronto, it used to be a bank, so it has high ceilings and the vault is now actually a snug. However, I have twice received poor, or, to be more accurate, no service at Pauper’s. Both times, the couples to the north and south of us were served, but we appeared to be in a no-man’s land. The first time this happened we left after nearly passing out due to dehydration. The second time I walked up to the bar and ordered a drink for myself and my companion, which I paid for there and took back to my seat, consumed, and then left immediately afterwards.

Having reviewed more than 100 pubs, I went back to Pauper’s recently to see if we could break the curse and review somewhere new for the blog. We were surprised to be served and also served well. However, the only reason we went was to give it a third chance. Ironically, we also went to the Only Cafe that same day to see if their service had improved and it was just as bad (see my Sarah’s review for details). That said, I would recommend the nearby Victory Cafe instead as I don’t know if it was a glitch in Pauper’s system.

Number of visits by yours truly: half a dozen visits, most recently on a weekend in September 2013
TTC information: about three minutes from Bathurst Station
Booze selection: 40 beers including Somersby, Strongbow, and Magners ciders (no Pimm’s)
Food selection: very standard pub grub
Service staff: good, for once (see above)
Prices: cheap for beer
Toilets: cramped and downstairs. The stairs are very steep, so watch yourself after a couple of drinks
Patio: east-facing and a rooftop patio
Wheelchair accessible: nope
Televisions: at least four in our section
Live music: open mike and live music on some night. See the website for details
Piped-in music: all ’80s including the Spoons’ “Nova Heart” and Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”

Rating: three pints (out of five) 

Victory Cafe

Victory Cafe (website, Twitter)
581 Markham Street, Toronto ON M6G 2L7 (at the corner of Markham Street and Lennox Street, the nearest major intersection is Bathurst Street and Bloor Street West) 416-516-5787
Google Maps 

Decent pub in Toronto’s Mirvish Village.

Tucked away on a cool little street, the Victory Cafe is one of those pubs that you have to know is there as it’s off the beaten track. I like the Victory Cafe’s painted walls and the cozy feel of the pub, but there’s a bit of a problem with the service, one can feel that one is sitting in a dead zone or that one should be doing secret signs to get the waiter’s attention. The toilets also leave much to be desired, my beloved grandmother would have likely walked out after her inspection of the toilets — in her opinion: if the toilets are bad, then what is the kitchen like? — they always look like no one has been in there with a cleaning agent for a few days, see below for my personal horror story on my most recent trip.

However, in the Victory Cafe’s defence, it does offer a number of yummy beers and three different types of cider, and the menu is a refreshing change from the standard pub grub one gets. Once again, the Victory Cafe was chosen as one of Now Magazine‘s top pubs for 2012 and I have to disagree. It’s not bad, but the Victory Cafe is not great.

Number of visits by yours truly: four or five, most recently on a Saturday night in June 2012
TTC information: a three-minute walk from Bathurst Station, just walk to Bloor, then two blocks west and south to the first intersection
Booze selection: about 30 beers, mostly local, and Strongbow, Thornberry, and Williams ciders (no Pimm’s)
Food selection: hamburgers, lots of local and ethical offerings
Service staff: all male and friendly, however, we had trouble getting their attention several times
Prices: good
Toilets: terrible. I came downstairs from my second visit to the ladies that evening and discovered to my horror as I was sliding into my seat that I had toilet paper stuck to both of my shoes. Now I knew why a fellow smiled at me on his way up the stairs
Patio: west and south
Wheelchair accessible: no way
Televisions: two showing hockey 
Live music: sometimes
Piped-in music: loud

Rating: four pints (out of five)