No matter what you call it – pub, tavern, taproom, bar, alehouse, brauhaus – there’s nothing quite like it. The pub is what separates us from the animals (well, not so much in Britain, where pub dogs and cats are fairly commonplace). But we are the species that most commonly gathers to imbibe intoxicating beverages.
American author Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, describes the pub as the Third Place, neither work nor home. It is a democratic place where civilized men and women can assemble regardless of their station in life. Plus it has beer. (To be fair, the book suggests that the Third Place could also be a coffee shop or a hair salon, but I think we know where we’d rather be.)
Now, you could drink at home, and many people do. It’s cheaper, after all. But most of us don’t have draught beer at home. Nor do we have a constantly changing influx of friends, acquaintances, and total strangers coming in and drinking beer with us, and to be honest I’m not sure how many of us would even want that at home. It’s why we go out. It’s the spontaneity of the pub, the infinite possibilities, that draw us in. And we don’t have to clean up afterwards. Plus it has beer.
In his essay, The Moon Under Water, George Orwell describes his perfect pub – the décor, the beer, the staff – and finally admits he’s made it all up, that his perfect pub doesn’t exist. We could all write our own essays about the perfect pub, and they’d all be different, but if you’re reading this publication chances are we’d all agree that the perfect pub serves good beer. A row of nearly identical industrial lager tap handles no longer appeals.
The pub might be a place where everybody knows your name, but it might also be somewhere you’ve never been before, somewhere they welcome you warmly, treat you kindly, and make you feel as if you’ve come home.
A good pub will offer good beer and good staff. Very often the pub you like to drink in is also a pub that good people will want to work in, and there is pleasure to be taken in walking into a favourite pub and being greeted by your favourite server. That server – someone who can possibly talk to you about the beer on tap or banter with you or notice that your glass is emptying or remember that you like a beermat under your glass – is an important component of a good pub and should be remembered in your tips.
In these pages you’ll find the names and addresses of quite a number of Toronto pubs. For the most part, these pubs were not designed by architects, nor are they run by someone in a distant office staring at spreadsheets. These pubs were put together by people who love beer, who “get” pubs. A Northern Irish author named Ian Cochrane wrote of a man who ran a pub: “The landlord was a very unhelpful unhappy man and didn’t agree with drinking in a pub.” We don’t think you’ll find him in this guide.
It is practically illegal not to quote Samuel Johnson when discussing the pub: “As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude. There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Plus it has beer. See you in the pub.
(c) 2016 Toronto Beer Week