For centuries, bar owners have understood that spirits, games and recreation go together like pretzels and beer, hence the proliferation of games like pool and darts, and the willing personal embarrassment that is karaoke. Recently in Toronto, a new crop of establishments has been stretching the parameters of bartime recreation beyond the old stand-bys. Here, five recommended spots that will keep you busy — make you think — while you drink.
Snakes & Lattes
For a ten dollar cover, the puntasticly-named Snakes & Lattes [pictured] gives you access to what might as well be every board game on the planet. From Bananagrams to Settlers of Catan to the Jeopardy home game, if you can name it, they’ve probably got it; if they’re not busy, they’ll even teach you the rules. S&L’s unique but simple combination of crowd participation, coffee, wholesome and not-so-wholesome (they did get a liquor license) fun has made it the ideal spot for first dates, group outings and hang-out sessions. It’s no wonder they’re already eyeing expansion. 600 Bloor St. W. 647-342-9229
Like many downtown Toronto spinoffs of New York establishments, SPiN ping pong club was ripe with cachet from the minute it opened its doors. That’s somewhat of a feat considering ping pong — for the less colloquial, table tennis — has long-battled a reputation as a basement rec room sport for the socially-inept. This faddish 12,000-square-foot King West bar couldn’t be hipper if it tried (and it does seem to be trying pretty hard). That’s what you get when you combine amped-up birthday party food, fancy cocktails, beautiful people and non-athletic sport. If you’ve ever wondered if ping pong paddles are compatible with high heels, SPiN deftly demonstrates that the answer is Yes. 461 King St. W. 416-599-7746
Once you move bowling into the downtown core, introduce a too-fancy-by-half “comfort food” menu and place the game (and the lanes) in the context of bohemian bar culture, it becomes a sudden fad; see: SPiN/ping pong. Not even close to being your typical bowling alley, the clubland-dwelling Ballroom offers DJs, a shabby-chic rec room, LED TV screens, and $65 hourly weekend rates. More importantly, it offers a spot where one can truly roll in style. 145 John St., 416-597-2695
The Duke of York Pubstumpers Trivia
The British practically invented pub games (well, pubs too), so it’s no surprise that one of their standby barfly-friendly pastimes has taken on a life of its own on this side of the pond. Toronto boasts any number of pubs hosting UK-style pub quiz nights, but the Duke of York was one of the very first to jump aboard, and has carefully garnered a sizable cult following to go with it. Get a team together (about 3 to 6 people), study up on history, geography and obscure ’80s pop tunes, and join one of the most proudly nerdy gatherings Toronto has to offer. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. 39 Prince Arthur Ave. 416-964-2441.
Underground Rebel Bingo Club
Though it’s linked to a game most often practiced in nursing homes and summer camps, the Underground Rebel Bingo Club is a renowned cult party night spreading its seed around North America and Europe. Part underground rave, part campy metal opera, (small) part bingo, the event is over-the-top, theatrical and quite a bit vague. In fact, they won’t even release the location until a day or two before the event (check their Facebook page; the next one is this Friday). Gimmicky, sure, but more than a little intriguing.
Image courtesy of Jennifer Yin.