permission granted

The certain reader I went out with last night was Marnie. I'm lucky to have a found a buddy who, like me, works on weekends, takes her days off during the week, is 40-something, doesn't have kids and likes to explore the city. Not to mention is smart and funny. (Blushing yet?)

Last night we had dinner at the Duke of York pub, the second real pub Marnie has sent me to. (Allan and I went to Allen's on the Danforth at her suggestion, too.) I adore pubs, and they don't exist in New York City. There are bars and restaurants of every description, but not pubs.

I've been trying to put my finger on what makes a place a pub. In New York, it would be a cross between the relaxed atmosphere of a coffee-shop - where you feel comfortable going by yourself with a book - with the good food of a homey restaurant, and the good drinks of an ordinary bar-bar. Nicer than a dive bar, but not at all upscale. No one rushes you, conversation abounds, but if you want to sip a pot of tea and read or write, you don't feel out of place. I've only found pubs (so far) in England and Ireland, and discovering their existence in Canada is positively brilliant.

After dinner, we walked a few blocks to the University of Toronto campus, for a storytelling night. I'll let Marnie describe it here. It was fun, a neat experience, and something I would do again, although not regularly. I do like the idea of connecting with this very ancient form of communication and entertainment. If I end up going back, it's only a matter of time before I have to tell a story, too.


Marnie said...

*blushing wildly*

Oh, and good-looking. You forgot to mention good-looking.

laura k said...

But of course, fabulously stunning!

Sass said...

I've been trying to put my finger on what makes a place a pub.

The place has to have decent food, and a noticable lack of skanky pickup attempts going on. Shepard's pie should be on the menu, but this is just my personal preference.

laura k said...

Yes, definitely decent food, and definitely Shepherd's Pie. (Yum!) Yet a good Shepherd's Pie on the menu does not a pub make.

Absence of skank: check.

Nice to see you, Sass. :)

Lisa said...

There are no pubs in NYC? I don’t know why, but that kind of surprises me. I kind of can’t quite imagine a city without pubs. But that's probably because I've lived in Toronto my whole life, and am pathetically insular and untravelled (if that's an adjective...)

Well, if you enjoy pubs, you’re certainly in the right city! Toronto is full of them. I’ve lived in many many areas in Toronto throughout my life, and there has always been at least one neighbourhood pub to go to, that fits your description. Homey, not too seedy, but definitely not uptight either. I’m not sure if some of these places I’m thinking of are technically “pubs”, or at least self-consciously so, but they aren’t pickup bars, they aren’t simply restaurants, they’re definitely not dives. They tend to include a bunch of locals sitting at the bar - not chronic alcoholic types, just neighbourhood folks who all got to know each other largely from hanging out at the establishment. The staff is casual, the food is good - substantial but not overly priced or gourmet. And the atmosphere is definitely relaxed, where one can sit alone, comfortably, with a book and a pint. At the moment my local dropin is the Court Jester at Pape and Danforth, a few blocks east of Allen’s. Not a place that I would cross town to go to necessarily, but if you find yourself in the neighbourhood one evening it’s worth visiting. Absolutely great food, too (including Shepard’s Pie).

You might want to check out Fionn MacCool’s (http://www.fionnmaccoolstoronto.com)at the 70 The Esplanade. It’s a bit on the upscale side (something like Allen’s), and most definitely a pub (Fionn MacCool’s is what I mean by “self-consciously” a pub – the Duke of York and Allen’s fall into this category, as well). C’est What (http://www.cestwhat.com/)at 67 Front St East is also worth checking out. They have an unbelievable selection of beer, including beer they brew themselves (like “Homegrown Hemp Ale” and “Coffee Porter”), and they have a music bar that showcases great local singer/songwriter talent (including some pretty big names like Ron Sexsmith and Sarah Harmer, who played there before they got “famous”).

Finally, you should visit McVeigh’s at 124 Church St, on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s more on the divey side, and doesn’t quite fit your criteria of a relaxed place to just go and read a book on a casual night out, but their regular band from Dublin called the Celtic Cross - I’ll leave it to you to figure out what kind of music they specialize in – is amazing, and the audience tends to sing along to all songs that they know (which is a whole slew of them...)

McVeigh’s can be a bit hit and miss, but if you find yourself there on the right night, when the band is playing well and the audience is particularly into it, it can be a whole lot of fun. One of the best nights I had there once was on a Friday night a few years ago, and in piled a whole bunch of very friendly university students (well, college kids, I guess – they were American, after all) from New York state who were in Toronto for a week on an organized school trip of some sort. They totally got into the spirit of it, spending the night drinking, dancing, singing along - the band ended up inviting a few of them to the stage where they sang some Canadian songs they knew. (Sarah McLachlan, I think). Oh yeah, they all kept profusely apologizing for George Bush – it was kind of sweet, actually.

Celtic Cross doesn’t play every single weekend, so you’d want to call ahead.

These three pubs I just mentioned are all within walking distance of one another, by the way, if you ever wanted to make a night of it.

There are a kazillion other great pubs in the city. Just google pubs and Toronto, and you’ll see what I mean.

Sorry for the insanely long post.


laura k said...

Thanks Lisa! No need to apologize. Many have posted longer with less to say. :)

New York City is full of bars and restaurants, and many are homey and comfy. When I say there are no pubs, I'm thinking of something very specific. If Toronto is full of that, I'm glad!

Music and a huge selection of beers are - I think - decidedly un-pubby. (Pubby?) But Finn MacCool's, McVeigh's and C'est What are good to know about for other reasons.

McVeigh's sounds like it would have been my kind of place, once upon a time. (10 years ago? 15?) The chances of my being there on a Friday or Saturday night these days are none and none. :)

Thanks for the info! Maybe I'll see you at Court Jester some time.

Andrea said...

I love sports pubs.
And the pubs you get in the upcountry area of BC are great. Amazing beer.
Good food is a definite must. Sometimes my dad and stepmom dont bother going to a restaurant for a dinner out, they head to a pub. Now that is a sigh of a good pub.
Vancounver is FULL of GREAT pubs.

Japan - totally pathetic.

Lisa said...

I kind of suspected that you might too busy and maybe settled (I mean this in a good way) for a night at McVeigh's - but I wanted to mention it anyways!

3 quick recommendations (entirely unrelated to the last post - these are media recommendations). I'm sure you've heard these before but anyway:

The Diplomatic Immunity segment every Friday night on Studio Two (on cable 2, channel 19 if you don't have cable) at 8 and 11. Extremely knowledgable and civil talking heads expounding about all things non-Canadian (in a very Canadian way). Janice Stein is brilliant.

CBC 2 on Sunday afternoons. Quirks and Quarks - great science radio show hosted by one of the most eager radio personalities you'll ever come across; Tapestry - a very good religious show interesting to all faiths or otherwise - I'm an atheist, and I enjoy this program; Writers' and Company - Eleanor Wachtel is wonderful, and she (or the CBC staff, I guess) manages to find the best/most important writers around to interview - her interview with Saul Bellow shortly before his death was great. And of course Cross Country Checkup, for a taste of what (at least a segment) of Canadians are thinking - and Rex Murphy (the host) is actually extremely amiable and nothing like the opiniated blathering persona you've probably encountered already through the Globe and his CBC new segment.

Babble at Rabble.ca. It would be bit time consuming for you to read yet another series of personal posts about the Canadian political landscape, and you frankly are already hearing from some of the most astute political commentators on Canada that I've come across on this sort of Internet forum, but if you're curious about what the Canadian left is saying about the upcoming election, this site's comment forum is pretty insightful. No one is quite as eloquent as say, Lone Primate, Wrye or RobfromAlberta, but it's interesting nonetheless.

That's it. Really.

(these posts have long because I've been saving up these recommendations to you for, like, months now)

Okay. It's all off my chest. Whew, I feel better already..


Lisa said...


Sorry about the double posting! (it's late, I'm tired..)

What I meant to say was:


I think that perhaps it's CBC Radio One, not Two. I can never get them straight.

Anyways, 99.1, almost dead centre at the middle of your FM dial. NOT the station to the left on the dial that plays really sappy jazz music all the time, but the other one, the good one, (the one you probably already listen to).



Scott M. said...

Yep, that's CBC Radio One.

And seeing as we're on the Story-telling theme... I hope you've already run across (and read all of) Stuart Mclean.

Perhaps one of the best storytellers alive today. No joke.

You can hear him on CBC Radio One and Two (check out times at: http://www.cbc.ca/vinylcafe/), in concert at many different venues (the Christmas concert is a bi-annual treat we like to engage in), pick up a CD at your local music store, or pick up any number of his best sellers at your local bookstore.

If you can, it's great to listen to the tales of Dave and Morely in chronological order.

laura k said...

Thanks for all the recommendations, I appreciate it!

Lisa, the reason I wouldn't be at McVeigh's on Friday or Saturday nights is because I work on the weekends. Even though I'm working from home now, Allan's day job is Fri-Sat-Sun (similar to our old jobs in NYC), so I use those days as big work days for myself.

And, from years and years of working weekends, I am accustomed to going out during the week when things are less crowded. Less hopping, too - but that's fine for me.

McVeigh's sounds cool, a place to check out.

I never listen to the radio except when I'm in the car, so I miss all the CBC Radio programmes. But when I'm driving, I listen to either 91.1 Jazz FM or CIUT 89.5. Both good and interesting - and I hate that "Lite Jazz" crap!! :)

laura k said...

P.S. Lisa: Glad you feel better. Maybe if you post more, you'll feel better more often. ;-)

nataleo said...

My last visit to Toronto, I ate at the 'Irish Embassy' on Yonge/Wellington....some of the best poutine I've ever had!!

laura k said...

I haven't tried poutine yet - but want to!

barefoot hiker said...

I haven't tried poutine yet - but want to!

I have a friend in Connecticut who makes an annual trek to Toronto, and that was one of the things on his list. So I asked a Quebecois here in the city where the best poutine in Toronto is served. I couldn't believe it, but he told me... Burger King! He said it's all in the sauce (barring the fact that you can't get unpasturized cheese curd here, of course). Burger King uses a sauce, not gravy, which my buddy assured me is crucial. So we tried it there, and at Lick's, and agreed Burger King's was better... though it's not my thing.

What amazes me is how hard it is to get cheese curd in the US. My friend went home and tried... you have to mail order it from a few places in upstate New York or Wisconsin. Here, you can get it any well-stocked supermarket. I wonder why the difference?

laura k said...

So I asked a Quebecois here in the city where the best poutine in Toronto is served. I couldn't believe it, but he told me... Burger King!

You know what's funny? Someone else suggested Harvey's! So the usually disgusting corporate chains find a purpose, eh?

I wonder why the difference?

Well, what's it used for, besides poutine? I don't even know what cheese curd is.