So here’s our first installment: the outposts of Dundas West.
You’d never know this was the hub of hip. Dundas and Ossington is possibly the ugliest intersection in the Toronto (except, maybe, after Sorauren and Dundas). And yet, hiding among the Portuguese fish shops and Vietnamese karaoke bars is a veritable trove of self-conscious little hipster bars – locals for legions of unshaven sonneteers, arguing communists, unemployed art directors and lots and lots of guys who are “getting a band together”. It may feel a little in-the-know at times – and you have to be prepared for some impenetrably ironic choices on the jukebox – but at least the hooch is cheap, and there are no doormen herding lines of refugees from Club Land.
Here’s our guide to the bars of Dundas and Ossington: the new wild west.
Catering to a more upscale party crowd for neighbourhood hipsters, professionals and students alike, owners Fadi Hakim and Alex Sengupta deftly balance style and coziness in their three-year-old cocktail lounge (formerly home to lesbian bar, The Shag). Featuring inventive mixed drinks and rotating DJs every night (‘I Hjarta pop musik’ on Fridays with Rob Thomas is especially good), TCR serves up “one big house party” every night, according to Hakim. Bonus: The new people-watching patio out front opens this month. 923 Dundas St. West, 416-364-0553
Simple but sleek in its design (think sheet-metal and genuine Eames bar stools), the popular nightspot is nonetheless all about comfort – an indie rock neighbourhood haven with patio out back that’s heavy on beer and whiskey. Kalli Glennon, Roland Jean and Krista Tobias of Ted’s Collision opened about three years ago, serving the late night resto crowd, students and artists – “people like you”, bartender Jay Isaac says – though Cocktail Molotov also appeals to music nerds who will dig the nightly DJs who really know their stuff. 928 Dundas St. West, 416-603-6691
The first “local” in the area and perhaps the very definition of grunge-chic. This destination joint announces itself with only a chalkboard sign in the window that’s as low-key as the atmosphere inside. A very tiny boozer where you may be forced to share a table, The Daughter offers the perfect opportunity to launch into conversations with your comrades-in-booze. Owners Paul Emery and Patricia Welbourn have definitely cultivated a real family feel here. The biggest draw may well be the jukebox full of local music, punk, “alt-country”, and glam rock, but live matinees every Saturday (gypsy jazz) and Sunday also keep the joint jumpin’. As bartender Judd Reuhl notes, “You don’t come here for the wine list and dinner.” (He does whip up some casual nosh for “maintenance” -including the best pickled eggs in town.) 1149 Dundas St. West, 647-435-0103
The defining principle of local musician Graeme McIntyre’s newish neighbourhood tavern? “No pretense, bullshit or hype.” Pretty big by local standards – it can fit about 60. At a recent Big Lebowski-themed affair, he served White Russians and encouraged patrons to wear bathrobes. With several Ontario craft beers that you can try before you buy, as well as high-end imported bottles, this friendly neighbourhood joint is truly a beer-boy’s paradise. Music on tap includes 60s British pop, garage rock, some old country. No patio, but come summer, you’ll be grateful for the bar’s A/C. 831 Dundas St. West, 416-916-6499
The Press Club
With its welcoming Euro-pub vibe, The Press Club is a laid-back charmer, all mismatched furniture -including some 60s Canadian designer stuff and easy-going service. First time bar owner Natalie Robinson opened her casual haunt a few years back, but it was last spring’s renovation that really made the bar unique among the street’s karaoke and sports bars, opening up the space for live music every night, from jazz to Celtic to reggae to bluegrass. Enjoy your micro-brew, imported bottled beer or absinthe (yes but without the poison that makes you want to cut your ear off and give it to a hooker) on the patio out back. 850 Dundas St. West, 416-364-7183