When late November presents its melancholic face – that long grey stretch of waiting for a cleaner and whiter and more festively Christmas-light-festooned December – there will always be music to warm you up again. This transcendental song by Little Dragon, “Twice,” encapsulates the rainy, cold feeling that this month likes to spring on us in the Northern Hemisphere. The video is also beautiful, with a life lesson – don’t follow that Pied Piper skeleton!
More people, more places, more beer: the weekend had all of these most excellent things…
58 The Esplanade and 600 King Street West
On Friday night, Mink and I made our way down to Bier Markt to meet an old friend from undergrad, Neil (the running joke is the emphasis on old. We’re all jerks.) There was a bit of a line, as we didn’t get there until 11:00 p.m., but there was a decent-sounding live band and about a million different kinds of beer available – only fitting for a bar so named – so it was worth the wait. Inside, the bar was absolutely full of dudes dressed in nice shirts and with their hair did and the like. There was not a flannel or plaid shirt within sight, which is always a little off-putting for a girl who has spent a number of years in Maritimes bars and/or in the company of hipster Humanities grad students.
I should mention that the bar’s name is pronounced the German way (as it is spelled), so there should be none of this two-syllable “market” nonsense – just MARKT. Efficient and commanding, as the German language expects you to be when you are speaking it.
Mink and I scoped out the place for Neil, who was purportedly wearing a Blue Jays cap, but the cap was nowhere in sight. After I did an awkward walkabout through the bar – with the dudes hovering around like carrion-starved vultures and looking at me like I was fresh road kill – there was still no Neil. A flurry of confused text messages confirmed what Mink and I feared. There was more than one Bier Markt, and he was at the other one. Communication fail.
We got out of there pretty quickly, in search of something a little less intense. Some nights you just don’t feel like getting aggressively hit on by vultures, ya know?
537 Queen Street West
After walking about a bit, we stumbled upon the Java House, which seemed much more suited to sharing a cheap pitcher of beer and some quiet conversation. The bespectacled girl reading a novel at the corner table gave that one away. A paunchy 20-something stroked his girlfriend’s wrist at the next table, leaning forward to hear her murmured confessions. Two goth-looking guys – one in a black coat that had a mesmerizing, hand-painted white skeleton tree spread across the back – got up periodically to smoke outside. Places like this defy description if I don’t talk about the patrons, and I can only assume that the ambiance of Java House faithfully shifts in accordance with whoever occupies its tables.
The pitchers are indeed cheap, the service friendly and efficient, the booths pleasingly etched with things like “M ❤ L”. I traced that inscription a thousand times with my finger while eavesdropping on the conversations bubbling around us. I can’t stress enough how delightful it is to have the privilege of eavesdropping on English speakers.
550 Queen Street West
As we were paying our bill, I got a text from my friend Brian that he was just up the street at Nocturne for a birthday party. Mink peaced out because she was exhausted, so I wandered until I found the black door that lead up to Nocturne. I asked the girl taking cover where this birthday party was, and she let me in without paying – which was only fair, considering it was already about 1:30 and the bars have last call at the obscenely early hour of 2:00 a.m. in this city. (There’s something to work on, Toronto.)
The main part of the club was illuminated by seizure-inducing strobelights and full of sweaty people dancing to heavy electro beats. (I am terrible with pinning down music genres, but it was reminiscent of the sets played during the many lovely summer afternoons we spent dancing at Piknic Electronik in Montreal.) The B.O. wafting about was almost palpable by this point, but that’s just the sign of a good night, right kids?
In the smaller front room, a modest group of people were still dancing to Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen (which I can always get behind). When I got there, a DJ with an asymmetrical haircut was singing along to “Lips Like Sugar.” Apparently, the music in that room is usually even better than this, so I definitely have to go back to Nocturne again.
431 College Street
By now, the city’s flow of alcohol had been staunched (at least officially – I am sure there are certain after-hours niches that do not truly close until dawn; it’s just a matter of finding them). We took a night bus to College Street in search of the famous nachos at Sneaky Dee’s. The place’s wooden booths and tables are decorated with skeleton paintings and other random graffiti, and it was full of students who were on a similar post-bar quest for the holy grail (of nachos).
The birthday boy and girl accompanied us, and the latter had reached the point of being hilariously inebriated (which is the minimum expectation for a celebration for the day of one’s birth, if your friends are any friends at all). She was wearing a pink crown and toting a shiny butterfly balloon around. The best thing she said all night, once she got her order, was, “I’m gonna have sex with these chicken enchiladas!”
Drunk people make me happy. Oh, and the nachos were divine.
The Mugshot Tavern
1729 Bloor Street West
On Saturday night, Mink and I made our second attempt to hang out with Neil, and with much more success. We met him at his favourite neighbourhood bar, The Mugshot Tavern, which he describes as “a classier Ducky’s.” (If I’m going to be reviewing bars regularly, you should be aware that Ducky’s is the gold standard for anyone who went to Mount A and drinks beer.) Tavern owners be warned – if Neil likes your bar, he will be there all the time. But I assume that it’s having regulars like him that would making owning a bar so fun.
The Mugshot was comfortably full at 10:00 p.m., and still had a reasonable number of people when we left after last call. The booth we snagged had Bill Gates’s mugshot next to it, so I caught a glimpse of his amiable smile once in a while. Felt like he was there with us. Five of us started with modest pints and ended up ordering organic beer by the pitcher, but our tab was surprisingly palatable at the end of the night.
A definite highlight is the owner (Scott? Jeff? I blame the beer for forgetting this one), who clearly loves his bar and his regulars. He was hilarious, and he would yell at our booth from across the bar about the patrons he thought were too drunk or too stupid. He also dramatically lit up a cigarette whilst ushering drunkards out unceremoniously sometime after last call. I can see why it is Neil’s new favourite haunt for when Ducky’s is out of reach.
One week, a dozen bars, and I have barely scratched the surface…