Down an alleyway and then into another, there existed a bar that was the stuff of legend.
Yes, it had mice. Yes, someone might puke in a corner and the staff would blithely ignore it. And yes, the ashtrays in the grotto would build up into cancerous little pyramids without anyone emptying them. A thousand times yes!
All the stories are true — go ahead and make up your own. Although if you’ve been at U of T for more than two months you probably don’t have to. The thing was, though, none of these damning tales mattered. Like Owen Wilson’s broken nose or the Tower of Pisa’s drunken lean, these imperfections only added to the Green Room’s charm.
And really, what did you expect? There were hardly any food or drink options on the menu that cost more than four dollars. The place was dimly yet cheerily lit with beer bottle candles and coloured lights, and there was always indie rock on the sound system, frequently a classic album playing in its entirety.
The walls were covered in eclectic art, the staff were great when not overwhelmed, and the meatheads and jocks that plague other Annex locations mostly stayed away. Truly, it was God’s country — just without the whole cleanliness-being-next-to-godliness thing.
Unfortunately, The Man didn’t find the Green Room’s grunginess so endearing, and after repeated health violations the place was shut down. On September 22, an angry red DineSafe “CLOSED” notice shuttered our incorrigible little dive bar, perhaps for good, and The Varsity’s motley collection of drunken journalists have been at a loss ever since.
Sean and Joe were inconsolable about the loss.
Where are we supposed to go after production? Where will we celebrate victories and lament defeats? After a month of crying another tear into our beer at sanitary yet soulless pubs like The Pump, we decided to take action. We would find the new Green Room, or die of alcohol poisoning trying.
So on a dreary Tuesday night, in the middle of a “weather bomb” that was difficult not to turn into pathetic fallacy in the wake of Ford’s mayoral win, I assembled a few of this paper’s more notorious lushes: Sean, who’s been known to enjoy a snifter of port at Christmas; Tom, who likes to shoot photos and drinks with silly names; and Andrew, the famous Ten-dollar Wine Snob, who bailed when he discovered the plonk-tasting I’d lured him out with was a ruse.
The three of us set out for Bloor Street. Our mission: visit as many Annex bars as humanly possible, and see if we couldn’t find a watering hole that would fill the hole in our hearts left by the health inspector.
The Regal Beagle
The first stop on our tour was the flavourless Beagle. From the outset we could tell this pub, sparsely populated with as many TVs as lonely-looking dudes, wasn’t for us. But since it’s geographically closest to our corner of campus, we figured we’d give it a try.
Not to give this dog a bad name, but it suffers from a real identity crisis. We heard the Beatles, Bob Marley, and Lykke Li in the 15 or so minutes we spent there, and the drink list was stuffed with vile-sounding teenage concoctions like “Killer Kool-Aid” and the “Dirty Monkey,” even though the clientele was mostly middle-aged. And the lights! It was so bright in there. We like places were people won’t realize how homely we are. That being said, the bartender was extremely friendly.
Sean MacKay: This bar has potential but it lacks focus. They’re going in too many directions at once and not doing a good job with any of them (friendly staff excluded). And what’s going on with the music in this place? There’s no harm in being eclectic, but this sounds like they’ve put someone’s iPod on shuffle and didn’t bother to filter out the missteps that are inevitable when you let a machine choose the songs.
Tom Cardoso: This place has no personality. It’s not trying to be anything, and because of that, it doesn’t really cater to anyone in particular. I get a feeling that the only people that come here are accidental passers-by who aren’t familiar with the area and don’t know any better. I guess there’s a reason I’ve only ever been here twice.
Next up was the infamous super-bar, the Maddy. I once spent a summer boarding at a frat house, and the entire pan-Hellenic community would congregate here every Monday to discuss the origins of Greek democracy, debate foreign policy, and get their mack on. Having neglected to GTL before leaving the office, I was skeptical we’d fit in here, but Sean figured we could order Jägerbombs at one of the Maddy’s nine bars, and blend right in.
SM: After a long day of work, I’m feeling a bit exhausted as we climb to the second floor of the Maddy. Luckily, inhaling half a can of Red Bull along with a shot of delicious Jägermeister gives you a great buzz. These frat dudes are on to something.
TC: As maligned as the Maddy might be, I actually don’t mind it. Heck, I might even like it. It’s nice and big, looks pretty clean, and the service is good. It’s also mildly entertaining that you can sit on the patio for a while with a bunch of fratty 20-somethings, then go down to the basement and watch a bunch of drunk 50-year-olds play darts (it can get surprisingly competitive). Still, the fratty vibes I get from this place don’t really float my boat.
This bar makes about as much sense as Finnegans Wake. At the front door, we’re into the green lights and sign promising cheap drinks, but confused by the karaoke cover of Pearl Jam’s break-up classic “Black” drifting into the streets. Inside, blue-collar pub types cohabit uneasily with twenty-somethings who look like they got lost on their way to Parkdale. TVs play “the game” while girls on stage wail their way through Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp,” and when I go to visit the WC, I find two Slavic gangsters plotting the murder of their enemy. I decide it can wait until the next bar.
That being said, this is the best bet so far: it promises live music 365 days a year, and they deliver. It’s got enough character to justify not just drinking at home, and the drinks are cheap enough to keep you from dropping another class for the ROSI refund.
SM: While the two girls screeching their way through a karaoke version of “You Oughta Know” is a bit unsettling, the place has a much better vibe that the Madison and the Regal Beagle. It’s also the most lively bar we’ve been to yet. With pool, karaoke, cheap pints, and Halloween decorations, the Joyce is trying to accommodate a diverse array of tastes and it seems to be doing a pretty good job.
TC: Joe disagrees, but I find the James Joyce to be way too dark. And the couches are too soft and actually kind of uncomfortable to sit in. But aside from that, it’s got a nice, divey atmosphere. There was a guy sitting next to us with hair like a lion’s mane, so the JJ gets extra points for that, too.
Before now, I’ve always encountered the Tranzac peripherally. Between intending to and then failing to visit the Toronto Zine Library, or hanging in the parking lot after intending to and then failing to see a Fringe play, I’ve always meant to hang out here. Now, I don’t know why I waited so long. The Toronto Australia New Zealand Club is a strange but intriguing place, full of interesting people and music. We had such a good time, we’ll even forgive the bartender for trying to make our whisky sour with Apple Sourz. Just be careful if you want to chat over the freaky live jazz.
SM: Not so much a place to hang out as it is somewhere to see talented performers from diverse backgrounds while enjoying a vast selection of beer. I once saw a burlesque show here.
TC: I’d never been here before, and now I kind of regret it. This place is awesome! Considering the sweet live jazz going, the microbrews on tap, and the Zine Library on the second floor, it’s a bit troubling to find out that they’re not doing so well financially.
We agree to stop by the Futures back room for a quick one before girding our loins with some food. Luckily, we have our I.D. — you’ll always get carded here, even if you’re in your late-early twenties. The drink specials and candles on the tables put this locale miles above crapholes like the Beer Station, but the emeretic teeny martinis and amateur-hour DJs never fail to make this place feel like a bush-league Czehoski.
SM: Though a quintessential pre-drink location in my second year, I wouldn’t want to spend more than half an hour at the Lab. It’s just as grimy as the Green Room, but is completely devoid of charm.
TC: Lightning round! With shots of Jameson, no less! (God, I hate Jameson.) The Lab has always sort of weirded me out. It’s not bad, but it just feels off for some reason. If I stay here for more than 30 minutes, I start to get depressed thanks to the shitty atmosphere. Not my choicest hang-out, to be honest.
Man, were we ever glad that Pauper’s Pub was closed by midnight on a Tuesday. We ended up getting actually edible eats in a place that was worth hanging out in. This place was almost too nice, giving our meal an oddly bromantic vibe, but we all agreed it was great. Just don’t mistake it for its crummy psychosomatic rival Amnesia.
SM: If it weren’t for Insomnia’s kitchen that is conveniently open until last call, I’d be in serious danger of crashing before completing our mission. I must admit, their avocado and brie sandwich is far superior to the Green Room’s. Great selection of beer too! And four dollar pints of Mill St. Lemon Tea beer on Wednesdays — I think I’m in love.
TC: The food here is amazing! Definitely feels like you’ve been transported to Queen Street all of a sudden. Art on the walls, candlelight, late 20-something creative types drinking wine and eating tapas; it might not be everyone’s scene, but it’s deceptively affordable, incredibly enough. I’ve made a mental note to go back in the next few weeks. Speaking of notes, Sean lost all of his notes for the night here because he was too drunk.
Minority report: this bar was rad. The girls on stage for the open mic night were killing every song request the three or four other patrons were shouting at them, and the bartender didn’t seem to mind that we were down to counting out our quarters just to tip him.
SM: It seems like we came on the wrong night. This place is pretty deserted. Admittedly we’re coming in pretty late on a Tuesday, but it’s tough to judge a bar’s strengths when there just isn’t anything going on.
TC: I had high hopes for the Central. We definitely came here on the wrong night. Why do bars even do open mic nights? They’re always so terrible! Sorry, back to the Central: drinks are cheap enough here, and the place has a pretty neat character (that is, when “performers” aren’t doing some misogynistic comedy routine). Check this place out on a weekend.
The Victory Cafe
The Varsity’s former Editor-in-Chief, Jade Colbert, would always insist we go here instead of the Green Room if we wanted to get her to come along (she had some vendetta against filthiness). It’s actually a pretty great little bar — dimly lit, good music, nice people and a patio — if a tad far from campus. It’s probably the Annex’s best bet right now. For what it’s worth, it’s the only place we got a second round.
SM: The group at the next table is rolling a joint and the staff doesn’t seem to notice/care. I think this speaks to the laid back character of this fine establishment. Another gin and tonic please!
TC: The Victory seems to be my perennial “plan B.” If something falls through or the Green Room is closed due to health violations, I’ll usually end up here. I wonder why, though: the service is awfully slow (this past summer, I once sat for a full hour on the patio before getting a menu to look at), the music is almost always just-slightly-too-loud, and the waiters all come with a plentiful serving of attitude. Yet I still love it here. Go figure.
The Victory is victorious! Go spend your student loan here instead of studying. That being said, if some dive bar tycoon wants to buy the Green Room and bring it up to code without changing anything, we’ll pay for your investment five times over.