Toronto’s Best Beer Bar Closed — Will Relocate Next Year

In travel, sometimes timing is everything. This is the case in my quest to find the best craft beer bar in Toronto. My research turned up the name Bar Volo several times, thus I had to visit.

As it turns out, they were closing up shop for good at the location downtown. The bar’s landlords decided to sell after 28 years to make room for condos. It’s a common refrain. Once crappy area gets revitalized with hip restaurants and eateries. They get priced out to make room for upscale condos. Residents complain, but then move on.

Since it was its last days, all the kegs had to be kicked. As a result, everything was half off. I was up for the task in helping them liquidate their inventory.

As you see on their tap list, everything was craft and Canadian. Pretty much everything listed I had never heard of, which made deciding hard. The bartenders knew their stuff, and geared me towards the rare and respected breweries from outside of the city.

Here’s what I had:

  • Gaslight Helles by Muddy York Brewing Co.
  • No Chance with Miranda Saison by Great Lakes Brewery
  • Peach, Don’t Kill My Vibe (Sour Weiss) by  Stone City Ales
  • Dulcis Succubus (Sour/Wild Ale) by Brassin Special Le Trou du Diable

It’s a shame the bar had to go, but I thought it was a comfortable space — great for large groups outside and couples inside. Inside was dark and cozy and outside was a good spot to people watch along Church and Yonge St. I met a few blokes where we cracked wise about Canadians and Americas.

Do not fret, Bar Volo has a sister location in Little Italy called Birreria Volo that serves Italian small plates and Canadian beer that will tide you over. Bar Volo’s new space will actually be a mansion that’s one block away with an opening TBA.

Craft Beer in Toronto — Left Field Brewery and Granite Brewery

Continuing my tour of the craft beer spots in Toronto, if you want to go to Left Field Brewery, you’ll have to head east.

Left Field is not easily accessible from downtown being that’s a 20 minute ride into the residential Greenwood neighborhood. I opted to take the 506 trolley to see the neighborhood transform. Along the way, I had an exciting moment when one of the stops was named Degrassi. WOW! Technically, there is no Degrassi Junior High, but the school used in the show is Vincent Massey Public School in Etobicoke.

For non-North American visitors, Degrassi Junior High was a teen drama show that aired on Canadian and American public television in the afternoon in the 80s. Rapper Drake acted on a Degrassi remake.

In any event, Left Field is situated on a small side street of warehouses. There neighbor is Pilot Coffee Roasters, which I’m sure comes in handy for collaboration brews.

The tap room offers their line-up of baseball-inspired beer and merchandise. You can purchase their one-off specialty release bottles or six packs of their most-popular beer, Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale. Eephus is a rare baseball pitch style.

Here’s what I had:

  • Sunlight Park Saison
  • Maris* Pale Ale (the * in honor of his 61 home runs in one season)
  • Grandstand Wheat Pale Ale
  • Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale
  • Wrigley Oat Pale Ale
  • Laser Show Double IPA

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The brewery that was closest to my AirBnB was Granite in the Davisville neighborhood. Situated along a row of stores on the corner of Mt. Pleasant and Eglington, I headed there after my debacle over at the CN Tower.

The brewpub has a cozy feel with a library/game room style front room and larger dining space in the back with a view of the tanks. Most of the beers are brewed off-site.

Food-wise is your basic TGIFriday/Appleby’s menu — sandwiches, pizza, steak, etc.

The brewery has been around for 25 years, so I think they have a handle on what they make. Their tap list was pretty extensive, about 20 deep, so a couple of flights were in order. Here’s what I had:

  • Hazy Daze Hefeweizen
  • Galactic Pale Ale
  • IPA
  • Peculiar Strong Ale
  • Stout
  • Best English Bitter
  • Summer Pale Ale
  • Ringwood Pale Ale

 

 

Inside Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame

Canadians love their hockey. The cliche is similar to how Brazilians or Argentinians view football — it’s a religion.

Kids are raised on hockey, it’s ingrained in their culture and they revere names like Wayne Gretsky, Bobby Orr and  Mario Lemieux. It’s why donut king and hockey legend Tim Horton is so beloved.

The irony being that hockey is not Canada’s nation sport. It’s lacrosse. Credit the nation’s indigenous people for that honor.

In any event, the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto is a must for hockey and sports fan in general. For those who are not … ehhhh, you might be a little bored.

As a passive hockey fan, it was an re-introduction to the names that define the sport. You get a sense of the sport’s popularity, pride and history in North America. You can’t help but have that stereotypical Canadian accent in your head as you walk though the museum.

The hall is basically in the basement of a mall, Brookfield Place. The actual hall itself is on street level. This where you see the plaques of all the players, coaches, owners and broadcasters who make up the Hall of Fame. Just this week, Flyers legend Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov and Rogie Vachon made it onto the wall. In the center of the hall is the greatest trophy in all of sports, the Lord Stanley’s Cup. If it’s there, you can have your photo taken with it free of charge.

Plan out two hours for your visit, three if you’re a hockey fan. There are interactive exhibits where you can play goalie or go on offense, do a radio call of a hockey game and view a sappy 3D movie.

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Toronto Brew Pubs — Batch and Mill Street Brewery

Continuing on a boozy tour of Toronto’s finest brew pub establishments, these two places are centrally so you don’t need to go too out of your way.

The Batch location on 75 Victoria St. in downtown has been several brewing establishments. The current owners are from Creemore Springs Brewery, who’ve classied up the joint. Now, the bright, quasi-Industrial Revolution decor with Scandinavian touches is frequented by business people and creative types looking for some local, upscale pub fare made with inhouse made beers. Downstairs has a ping pong table because that’s what you want to do when you drink beer.

The menu is mostly sandwiches, burgers, meat and cheese plates, salads and small plates with a Sunday brunch options. I skipped the food and went for the beers.

More than anything I like the space — classy and open without being pretentious.  The tap system does look like it’s from a cosplayers steampunk wet dream.

The six taps are seasonal, so you can get a flight of 4 but I charmed my way to get all six. Here’s what they have for the fall:

  • Cream Ale — this was my favorite beer during my visit. Just the right balance of sweetness and hop bite. I took home a few bottles from the bottle shop in the restaurant.
  • Pale Ale
  • Wet Hop Harvest Ale
  • Witbier
  • Porter
  • India Pale Lager

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On the opposite end of the craft beer spectrum is Mill St. Brewery, which is a small Canadian chain of six locations. While Batch focuses on small and simple, Mill St. has a dizzying area of styles and varieties for all beer tastes.

The location to check out is in the Distillery District, which is Toronto’s high end shopping and entertainment area. It’s actually a neat area with some good shopping if you’re in the mood for great chocolate (SOMA), pastries (Brick Street Bakery)  or food stuffs (Wildly Delicious).

Mill Street has more a TGIFriday/Appleby’s family friendly menu, which is fine by me since I was getting mac n’ cheese on for lunch. There are two dining areas — one that’s more wood and old timey, the other more bright, festive and  diner like. In-between are the brew tanks for some of their pilot beers. Most of the locations share the same beer menu.

It’s perfectly serviceable beer that will won’t freak out your non-beer snob friends. Here’s what I had:

  • Cobblestone Stout
  • Stock Ale (Blonde)
  • Belgian Wit
  • West Coast Style IPA

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Toronto Craft Beer: Bellwoods and Burdock

If you’re craving more than Molson or Labatt in the Great White North, Toronto provides plenty of craft beer options for the thirsty visitor. Luckily for me, I’m always thirsty and a locally made beverage in a tap room was never too far away.

The Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhood and Ossington Ave. proved to be my favorite area for the city for eats and drinks. You can walk along the street without a plan and let your eyes and stomach to the choosing for you.

My researched showed that Bellwoods Brewery is one of the most respected micro-brewers in town. The taproom is a dimly lit and cozy space that served light bites or small plates to go with their beers. When you have this sort of set up, it’s designed for small groups to order a lot of plates. Next thing you know, you just spent $60 on food and had a few nibbles.

In any event, they keep the beers to 4 to 6 choices so you can have easy enjoy a flight. I took mine to the upstairs seating area where I can overlook the proceedings below and admire their shark wearing a sweater riding a broomstick mascot. Next door is the bottom shop where you can take home a bottle.

The aim for the brewery is to keep the brews simple, but fresh — nothing elaborate or complicated. It was most pale ales, single hop IPAs, sours and saisons. Here’s what I had:

  • Jelly King (Wild Ale)
  • Wizard Wolf (Pale Ale)
  • Jutsu (Pale Ale)
  • Monogamy (Single Hop Pale Ale — Chinook)

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Identical in look, feel and philosophy, Burdock Brewery near the Landowne station (and a few block away from the Monkey Paw book store) is another perfect spot for dates and small group. Like Bellwoods, it’s a chill spot filled with chill people.

The taproom and eatery has a lovely marble bar top. If I wasn’t in a rush, I would have taken my beer outside to enjoy the happy hour sunset.

Their menu is a little more elaborate with meat and pasta dishes. As a good taproom does, they can pair your beer with your dinner.

Here’s what I drank:

  • Vermont Blond Ale
  • Oat Pale Ale
  • Brett Farmhouse Ale
  • West Coast Pilsner

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Beer Voyage — Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto

I’m going to dangle this little info nugget in front of you to start off this post. I learned during my tour of Steam Whistle Brewing that it’s the mostly popular wedding venue in Toronto. It’s booked up every weekend for the next year and half. That’s probably the most Canadian thing I learned on my visit.

Steam Whistle is one of the largest craft brewers in the country. They are known for one thing — the only beer they make, a pilsner. No lite version, no dark, no gluten free varieties. A pilsner — that’s it. Well, that certain cuts down on your choices. Talk about freedom from choice.

As far as I know, you can’t get it in America, so I tasted it for the first time, and I was pleasantly unimpressed. It’s not something I would crave, but I understand why Canadians love it. Its the PBR of Canada, without the hipster irony.

In any case, the brewery is located in the shadow of the CN Tower and next to the Toronto Railroad Museum. With the steam locomotion outside, you can figure out how the brewery gets its name.

For $10CAD, you get a 45-minute tour of the facility along with plenty of samples of the beer in the beginning, during and end. Don’t worry, it’s only 5%ABV, so you’re not going to sloshed. If you pay attention and answer a question, you can work the steam whistle.

The gift shop, which has all sort of branded material, was staffed by the most excited Canadian lady I met. Think of the accent, turn it up for 10 and add in sheer happiness and you have this woman. Forget a promotion, make her a VP.

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For Hamburgers in Toronto, I Endorse Burger Priest

Go to any city in the U.S. and Canada and you’ll find a great selection of hamburgers to choose from. There’s plenty of research and Instagram photos to supplement your burger decision making.

With my research, I use a conscientious algorithm, similar to how Nate Silver determines the electoral map on FiveThirtyEight.com. I read the top travel and food websites and blogs and if a name is repeated, I’ll add that to my itinerary. I avoid TripAdvisor, Yelp and FourSquare ratings because they’re just ridiculously inaccurate. Their good for facts and inside information, but not helping you decide.

When it gets to feeding time, I’ll see which place is closest or convenient and head over there. It’s impossible to complete everything  on my to-do list, which I way I get bonkers reading food/travel material. There’s only so much eating you can do on a visit.

Which brings me to the one burger place I ate at in Toronto, The Burger Priest. The name alone sold me, even though there were no religious iconography at the joints.

The Burger Priest is a high-end fast food style burger in the mold of In-n-Out or Shake Shack. With 13 locations in Ontario and Alberta (I went to the one on Yonge Street near The Rolling Pin), the small chain relays on a simple menu with high-quality ingredients. No fancy toppings, it’s what you expect in a respected chain. Like In-in-Out, there’s a secret menu.

I housed my Low Priest (Beef patty, secret sauce, cheese, pickles, chopped lettuce, diced onions on a non-sesame seed bun). At the end I said to myself, “Well, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that.”

My other places I picked out to try, but didn’t have time to visit included Holy Chuck and P&L Burger. I’ll will hit them up next time.

 

 

Tourist Hell — CN Tower in Toronto

While you’ll often see Toronto substitute for major American cities in movies and TV, the CN Tower is what makes Toronto recognizable. At 1,815 feet, it looms over the skyline as a beacon for visitors. Going to the top will make you want to jump off it.

Until 2010, it was the tallest freestanding structure in the world until the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea opened, but it held onto that title for three decades. It continues to be the one thing most visitors want to do.

I knew I had to check the CN Tower off my to-do list, and my plan was to get to the top for sunset. To make a long story short, I started from the bottom at 5:15. Three hours and 15 minutes later, I was done and the time I spent enjoying the view was 10 minutes. When Drake rapped “Started from the bottom now we’re here”, I don’t think he meant a visit to the Tower.

Here’s the long story, starting with my only time-shaving advice besides not to go — buy your ticket via the CN Tower app. It saves you 20-30 minutes in the first snaking line. The only drawback is once you buy your ticket and download the PDF, it’s only good for that day.

I walked into the main hall at 5:15 and saw a rather lengthy line. Obviously, it’s off season so it could have been way worse. The end of the line started where you take those dopey green screen photos, which I skipped. I asked the photographer how long the wait is at this point. “Oh, it’s 30 minutes, it moves quickly.”

That was a lie. The line snakes through a round room with TVs that all play the same video. It’s a 10-minute promo on how great Toronto is using the view from the trolley. I watched this fucking video nine times on repeat.

This could be the worst constructed line in all of tourism. There’s no place to sit, nothing to look at, bathrooms aren’t nearby, it’s stuffy and because it snakes around, people move up, shuffle around and before you know it, the guy behind you is now in front of you. There was a couple with two toddlers in front of me whom moving forward was a big production number.

After an hour of this nonsense where not even listening to comedy podcast was making it easier, I still was nowhere near the elevator. There’s one point where the line never moved for 20 minutes. By 6:45 and past sunset, I finally got to the point where my ticket was scanned. It took another 30 minutes to get to the elevator.

Now, the way to bypass this line is to get dinner reservations for the top restaurant. That’s bullshit because I’m not eating at some over-priced, shitty restaurant. So there’s one elevator for the restaurant, the other for the observation deck. At this point, I want this crap to be over with. This bloody line is separating me from dinner and beer.

I get crammed into the elevator for the one-minute ride where you rise above Toronto. It kept on going and going. FINALLY, I was at the observation deck at 7:15, two hours after getting on line.

Look at that view.

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It’s sunset-ish. I was in a fowl mood, cranky and with a headache. I wondered around to see darkness all around me. I wasn’t in the mood to stare upon nothingness. I’m sure it’s wonderful in the day time. The outdoor deck was closed, so it prevented me from parachuting off of it.

Then it hit me, if it took two hours to get up, how long will it take to get down?

I look for the exit, and wouldn’t you know it? A fucking huge overflowing snaking line to get down. At least with this one, you get a different video on repeat that explains the history of the tower.

This line was only an hour to get to the bottom. I resorted to some deep, meditative breathing to help me deal this nonsense. When I got down to the gift shop, I want to overthrow a display of snowglobes.

There’s nothing that’s worth three hours of waiting, which is why I don’t like roller coasters and theme park rides. They’ve got to switch to a timed ticket system to cut down on the ridiculous lines. For a city filled with nice people, the CN Tower experience doesn’t make you feel so happy-go-lucky.

Monkey Paw — The Toronto Bookstore with a Used Book Vending Machine

In the many oddball curio shops that I’ve encountered in my travels, Monkey Paw in Toronto is one of the coolest. It’s claim to fame is the Biblio-Mat, a $2CAD used book vending machine in the back of the store.

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The machine says it all: “Every book is a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 Million Titles” Well then, I need to get $224 million Canadian dollars.

As my little video shows, all you need is a toonie coin, which they can make change for you in case you don’t have one. Put that bad boy in and watch the excitement:

The infamous used book vending machine. #vintage #usedbooks #bookstore #vendingmachine #superfun #toronto

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Alien Baptism and the Baptists by W.M. Nevins is what I got, which sounds like a lost Smiths B-side album. It’s filled with scripture and poems that leaved me befuddled. It’s from 1951 and here’s what Amazon says about itArguments presented in this book: 1. We have a God-given pattern for baptism. 2. The Baptists, called Anabaptists, have alone preserved this pattern through the ages. 3. The division in Christendom has come through a failure to keep the pattern. 4. Alien baptism is a modern innovation among Baptists. 5. It cost our fathers to keep the pattern. 6. Shall we be true to the Scripture and the faith of our fathers?

My thoughts exactly.

Located on Bloor Street West opposite the Landsdown metro stop, the book shop has load of antique books spanning every subject you can think of, but be prepared to pay a hefty price for that rare Penguin Book softcover. I was eyeballing a yoga book from 1961 that would have set me back $20.

If you’re curious of how the machine works, there’s a video that shows you the mechanics. It’s basically a pulley system:

Toronto Coffee — Odin vs. Quantum

Looking at the other side of the style spectrum, I patronized two of the modern designed coffee joints in Toronto. Previously, I looked at Balzac and Dineen, which featured old timey classic architecture, marble counters and brass fixtures.

Reflective of the strong Asian culture found in Toronto (or Canasian as my co-worker says), Odin and Quantum borrow from minimalist designed you’d find in Japan. In turn, they were inspired by the rich wood interiors of Scandinavian coffee houses.

Located northeast of the revamped and trendy Distillery District on King Street in the Corktown hood, Odin‘s ceiling will remind you of the Metropol Parasol in Sevilla. The white countertops you’ll also find in the Blue Bottle coffee chain. When you see the clean lines, the modern art, natural light and fancy espresso machine that costs more than my car, you know you’re going to get a fine cup flat white.

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The cafe also services sandwiches and local beer because sometimes you can’t decide between coffee and beer to drink. There’s also a connected outdoor space for the warmer months.

They put some serious thought into this space. I didn’t know if I should drink my coffee or study the design plans. Architecture Daily has a lengthy look at the thinking behind the concept.

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Similar in color tone, Quantum roasts their own single origin beans. This is a more traditionally coffee shop with baked goods and light bites. For their pour overs, they use a state-of-the art Pour Steady machine. I’ve seen one before and it’s basically a robot pouring water. Yet, another barista looses his or her job.

Located on the corner of Spadina and King Street but on the west end in Downtown, Quantum is connected to a high-end backpacker hostel. Not to get off topic, but if you’re staying in a high-end backpacker hostel, just stay in a damn hotel or AirBnb.

Anyway, since the cafe is popular for college students and a nearby tech co-working space, the backroom seating area is filled with dudes and gals on their laptop working on the next big tech start-up that will ultimately fail.

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For this coffee bottle, I’m going with Quantum for the coffee and more centralized location, but Odin for the design.