Holiday gluttony with beer and whisky!

29
Dec/09
0

Although I spent Christmas Eve and Day at my apartment, my mum picked me up on Boxing Day to spend the next four days at their house in Bowmanville with the rest of the family.

Most of our get-togethers revolve around food and drink but I can’t remember one where we got so into it. I arrived to find a fridge full of beer; pretty much anything you could think of. There was Duchy Organic Ale, Westephaner HefeWieiss, Rogue Yellow Snow, Lowenbrau, Warsteiner, La Fin du Monde, Beau’s Lug Tread (which is now available at the LCBO!) and Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2009. The latter two were particularly good with Beau’s being a dry, crisp lager and the Vintage Ale surprising me with it’s almost-sweet alcohol taste reminiscent of cognac.

We made our way through most of that on the first day and went out to resupply on day two. I picked up a bottle of Century Reserve 15 Year Old Rye (discontinued and unavailable in Toronto) and a six-pack of assorted tallboys. Thus suitably supplied, we settled down for some serious drinking, punctuated by some terrific meals and snacks.

One of my favorite things were the ham-and-cheese sliders! Taking these 3/4-baked buns from Metro, we put em in the oven with a basting of butter and after they browned, we filled them with whatever we had on hand which, in this case, was ham, roast beef, cheese, mustards, chutneys and mango hot sauce (although not all of those at once).

I tried a number of combos but my favorites were the ham/gruyere/mango hot sauce and the ham/brie/sweet tomato chutney. (There was nothing wrong with the ham/applewood cheddar/mustard combo but it definitely ranked third.) When I open my own place, I’m definitely going to have to feature these on the menu. Dead-easy to make and delicious; the perfect bar snack!

Over a couple of dinners (including the obligatory-but-completely-necessary turkey) we tried a number of interesting wines selected by my mum as well. I finally got to try Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir and I found it to be smooth with a bit of the sour cherry/currant flavor; it had excellent length. There was also a white from Sancerre but I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me… it was quite nice though.

We had a fairly challenging whisky-tasting. The contenders were Balvenie Signature 12 Year Old, Dun Bheagan 8 Year Old, Century Reserve 15 Year Old and Tyrconnel Single Malt. The first two being Scottish with the latter being Canadian and Irish, respectively, we had no idea what to expect or even if it was fair to compare these four whiskies.

Needless to say, we got right to it. We started with the Canadian whisky which was much sweeter than I remembered it, even on the nose. We nibbled on some Christmas cake which was a pretty decent accompaniment. If someone was afraid of whisky, I’d definitely give ‘em a sip of this. As it is, it didn’t have enough “oomph” for me.

Next up was the Tyrconnell which was quite a bit rougher but only in comparison to the Century Reserve. Relatively smooth and creamy for a single malt, it was perfectly decent but didn’t stand out. There was no complexity, one gets a lot of malt and it finishes rather quickly. I prefer Tea Bheag myself.

Next up was the Balvenie and it was clear to see that we had stepped into the company of masters here. Heady and complex, there was something new to appreciate in each and every sip with spice, sherry and honey. While there was a bit of smoke, it was held firmly in check and the finish was clean and strong. Honestly, I didn’t want to go on but we had one more…

And what a monster! Dun Bheagan’s Limited Edition was full of peat and smoke and fire. While rather smooth, at least when you like this sort of thing,  it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. It left me feeling warm and fuzzy for a couple of hours or maybe that was just the cumulative affect of all of that whisky.

To top it off, I got a bottle of Mount Gay’s Extra Old Rum and Canadou’s cane syrup which leaves me relatively well-stocked for January. I’m not really feeling like making mojitos so I think I’m going to have to whip up a fresh batch of orgeat and go for a Mai Tai!

I leave you with two recipes I came up with Christmas Day while working. A quartet of ladies came in at the last minute and while they didn’t want to eat, they did want to drink and were kind enough to leave the choice up to me.

NO. 4

1 oz Bacardi White rum
1/4 oz Malibu rum
1/4 oz Galliano
1/4 oz Midori Melon
1/4 oz Peach schnapps
3 oz pineapple juice
splash of Bol’s Blue Curacao
splash Angostura Bitters

Shake the first five ingredients. Take a hurricane glass filled with ice and pour the curacao until it collects at the bottom. Add a couple splashes of the bitters and then top up the glass with the contents of the shaker. Garnish with an cherry wrapped in an orange slice for that ultra-cheesy look.

NO. 5

1 oz Wiser’s Reserve
1 oz Frangelico
1 egg white
3 oz of 18% cream
nutmeg

Shake the first four ingredients and pour them into a rocks glass. Add a dash of nutmeg on top.

The first cocktail is my take on a cheesy 90’s-style “tropical” cocktail. Obviously, the better ingredients you use, the better it’ll taste. The second one is much like eggnog but lighter and not quite as sugary. Both are nothing new but a lot of fun to make.

Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

How to decide which beer to order

25
Nov/09
0

I was at my current local, Hoops Sports Bar & Grill, conveniently located across the street from where I work, and about to order my first brew of the night when I was presented with an unexpected choice.

Sandra, instead of getting me my Rickard’s Red (they’d stopped carrying Mill St. Tankhouse Ale sometime in the fall), told me that the Creemore keg had just been tapped. Now the freshness of a keg doesn’t normally factor into my decision to partake or not but for some reason tonight, it really appealed to me and a set of criteria for ordering beer began to assemble itself in my mind.

1. Is it new or different?

Obviously, the most important question for anyone who truly loves beer. If you’ve never had it before, maybe it’ll be the best one you’ve ever had. Any truly decent bar will have one or two lines devoted to seasonal drafts and you’d have to be daft to pass up the opportunity to sample a pint of Grand River’s Jubilation Spiced Ale, for example. Even if you don’t like it, what’s the harm? You can always pussy out and order half-a-pint anyway…

2. Is it clearly the best beer available?

This is where Mill St. Tankhouse Ale often cleans up for me. Before they stupidly did away with it at Hoops, it was the only beer worth ordering in a line-up that included a full collection of Keith’s products. When it comes to that kind of decision, don’t settle for second-best. The flip-side to this neatly segues into point no. 3 which is:

3. Is it fresh?

It might be the best beer but if hardly anyone ever orders a pint because they’re too busy drinking Keith’s, it might not be up to its full potential. Just like in a restaurant, if you order the special that no one else is having, prepare to be disappointed. One person ordering their favorite beer from time-to-time can take an awfully long while to drain that keg and you don’t want to be the one sampling the lower third of that bastard.

So there you have it. Follow this quick-and-easy set of rules and you’ll probably be happy with whatever beer you end up drinking.

Or not. Maybe you just want a goddamned beer and you won’t even notice the taste because all your throat’s been craving all night is that magical equation of water, malt and hops.

Have at ‘er, I won’t stand in your way.

But for those of you who order a Keith’s, day in and day out, because nothing better comes to mind, try something else. And if I’m serving you, know this… I’m gonna fetch you your shitty beer but I hope it gives you gas and a nasty hangover tomorrow morning.

How to do you decide what you’re going to have?

What makes certain beers more popular?

21
Oct/09
0

At the hotel where I work, the most popular beer is Keith’s India Pale Ale.

Obviously, we’re not the only establishment that serves this beer and it’s pretty uniformly popular across the city. It kind of bridges the vague, drinking gap between those older guys who only drink Molson Ex or Labatt 50 or Blue and the little shits who’ll drink whatever’s put before ‘em. Along with Stella, Heineken and Corona, Keith’s flagship brand serves to represent Canada on the international front as Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico purport to stand for the formers, respectively.

Much like it’s cousins, Keith’s Red and White (we don’t serve it’s ugly little brother the Staghead Stout so I’ll discount that here), Keith’s is not really an I.P.A. at all but a mutant clone, watered-down and designed to appeal to broader tastes; in much the same way Labatt Blue is called a pilsner.

It’s not even as good as Rickard’s (Molson’s brand) but people will continue to order it everyday. Now clearly, the marketing and perceived credibility of the brand affect the likelihood of a consumer being familiar enough to feel comfortable ordering it but I would argue that this actually has very little to do with what people actually order at my hotel.

Can you guess who’s responsible for Keith’s products being the biggest sellers? Why the bartenders of course! They recommend these beers and not because they like them but, in blind subservience to a vicious cycle, recite their names first when asked because they’re big sellers!

I take a different approach. If asked what we have on tap, I mention Mill St.’s Organic Lager and their Tankhouse Ale as likely options. 9 times out of 10, the guest will order one and be done with it. If they press me I’ll mention that we serve a number of  big brands and ask which one they would prefer. Sometimes, only a Stella will do and I’m not going refuse someone’s request. Still, the majority of guests will go with my suggestion and, particularly in the case of the Tankhouse Ale, I’m comfortable offering them a beer I consider to be one of the better ones produced in Ontario.

There are two factors at work here. Many people, when arriving at the critical juncture of the meal where they must choose from a number of options will often go along with a timely suggestion from their server. These people don’t want to have to give a lot of thought to their choice and they’re comfortable letting their choices be influenced by a confidently-knowledgeable server.

The second factor is one of novelty. These guests will often be up for trying something new if it’s well-presented by the server with a minimum of bullshit. I find that many foreigners are extremely keen to try a local beer but many Canadians will go for it as well.

The bartenders I work with don’t give a shit about supporting local products. They take the franchise element of the hotel to the extreme and offer  what they feel will be most comforting and familiar to a traveler.  They just can’t be bothered to concern themselves with the idea of which items are better.

One of them, seemed to be slightly irked by my constant orders for Mill St. beer. She wanted to know why I always sold their beers and did not agree with my assertion that they were the best of what we had to offer. According to her, Keith’s was obviously the best beer because it was the most popular.

This is coming from someone who doesn’t even drink beer. Mind you, she’s a fairly-good bartender for this hotel and a nice person to boot but I simply can’t wrap my head around her view-point.

She thought I was being pretentious in my devotion to our local brewery and while that may be true, I still think Mill St. makes a better beer. You may like Keith’s and Stella and could argue that those beers are different but even if you get technical and hold up Keith’s Red to the Tankhouse Ale, the latter comes out a clear winner. End of story.

So I’ll continue to sell as much Mill St. beer as I can (and if you guys are reading this, I’d be up for some kind of brand ambassador position…) and my coworkers will continue to think I’m odd but I can’t imagine selling anything but what I like myself.

I think servers owe their guests that kind of honesty.

(Photo taken from the Go There Guide.)

Meet Ryan McVittie

3
Oct/09
0

bars_professionals_mcvittieHe’s the first contributor to the Jolly Inebriate and I’m quite pleased to have him on board.

I first got to know Ryan back at The Comrade, the bar he co-owns in Leslieville. After a long shift at Joy Bistro, I’d frequently start a night of drinking there because they had a fantastic selection of seasonal beers and Ryan could always be counted on to make a damn good cocktail when something stronger was required.

I’ve had quite a few good dates end up there and many quiet evenings on my own as well; although other bars have taken its place, I’ll always remember the good times.

I’ve seen Ryan at a couple of places since then but one thing remains consistent; he enjoys making classic cocktails, knows their stories and can experiment with ‘em when called on to do so. He’s a solid bartender and I hope you get as much from his experiences as I have.

In completely-unrelated news, I can’t get enough of this cover by The Arcade Fire. I couldn’t tell you which show it was recorded at or who did the original but it’s good. Give it a listen, download and share because it’s a bitch to source out on Hype Machine. ‘Tis the season!

The Arcade Fire – Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son (live)

(Photo taken from Toronto Life.)

Wine Rack makes last-minute save!

19
Sep/09
1

When it’s past 10pm and everything is closed, go to the Wine Rack. Breeze past all of that shitty wine from Inniskillin, Sawmill Creek and Jackson-Triggs and go straight for the coolers. Grab a 2L bottle of Grower’s White Cranberry cider and a magnum of Spumante Bambino sparkling wine and get yourself home.

Get out a couple of flutes, use some ice if you need to make it cold and fill with equal measures of both.

It’s not too sweet and the low alcohol content ensures you can have quite a a few… Delicious!

Cutting Edge Music Festival + Festival of Beer = excessive summer drinking!

9
Sep/09
0

So I figured that since I’m behind on several updates, I’ll just smoosh them all into one big post and get it out of the way so I can get ready for the next season (and perhaps even become more timely with my writing!).

The big thing for me this summer was festivals and travelling. I went to the Cutting Edge Music Festival at the start of August and when not enjoying some hard, hard music, I did my fair share of drinking as well.

My friend Kat (who bartends at one of my favorites, Rasputin Vodka Bar) and I packed a couple 24’s worth of booze. There was no liquor but I brought Corona (my go-to camping beer) and she brought half-a-dozen types of coolers.

I can’t stand the damn things due to what I feel is an excessive amount of sugar and Kat doesn’t generally drink beer but over the next couple of days we dipped into each other’s stashes and I have to admit that Bacardi’s Blueberry Guava Breezer was actually quite refreshing, dare I say even buyable if one were prone to that sort of thing.

bud busIn terms of where one could drink there was a licensed area set to the side of the two main stages which was a Budweiser Bus. I generally hate segregated beer gardens with a passion and there was no way in hell I was going to pay $7 for a plastic cup of Bud when the camping area was licensed as well.

Unfortunately, drinking there required leaving the pit, making your way through security without getting anything confiscated, climbing up a monster hill and trying to find your way through Tent City. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a 10 minute walk, made exceedingly challenging for many folk dealing with the variety of substances playing havoc with their bodies. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard stories of people dropping where they stood but I can’t believe that fucking hill didn’t claim more victims. Still, I made the trek over twenty times and I’d do it again if it meant not drinking a Bud.

CEMF was my first music festival and I’m definitely looking forward to attending more although I think I’d prefer ones in other countries that don’t have such draconian licensing restrictions.

The next big thing I went to was Toronto’s Festival of Beer. I’d never been and I figured I should probably go to see what the fuss was about. I was a bit put out by the steep entrance fee ($45!) and getting in to the event was a challenge of labyrinthian proportions but I still enjoyed myself.

I know that Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites was largely unimpressed with the festival, Troy Burtch at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer also had some quibbles and Save Your Fork… There’s Pie’s Sheryl Kirby gave a number of good reasons why it sucked when stacked up to the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and while I agree with pretty much everything they said I think I’m coming from a different place in my take on the event.

dug those barrels!

They’re right when they take issue with the smaller number of craft brewers in attendance, the roaming packs of drunken louts (and requisite “beer Nazi” security force) and all the cringe-worthy accoutrement of the Molson-Coors/Anheuser-Busch Inbev crowd.

Beerfest was all of that but it was also fun! Tecate’s human foosball was a glorious mess of tangled limbs and drunken saves and almost good enough for me to forgive them for the piss they call beer. Sure the hats you received for winning looked dumb but my group largely negated that by stealing ours. The Steamwhistle photobooth was also nice carnival-style throwback but other than those two promotional tie-ins, I mostly stuck with drinking as much beer as possible.

My friends were already trashed by the time I got there but I managed to catch up pretty quickly with a stop at the Trafalgar Brewery booth and I had another go at their Critical Mass and Korruptor strong beers. Both tasted much better than I remember from that three-pack I bought back in the spring (or maybe I was just happy to finally have a beer in my hand).

In quick succession, I hit the Wellington, Radeberger & DAMM and McClelland Premium Imports booths. The first two didn’t do that much for me but the last one featured both the Erdinger Weissbier and Dunkel, Fruli and Affligem’s Dubbel, Tripel and Blonde. Unfortunately, they were out of Delirium Tremens by Sunday; this saddened me because I’ve always loved it and since it was banned by the LCBO awhile ago, it’s been very difficult to source it out beyond a few bars.

One of my friends had a massive hankering for wings and that was just fine with me because it allowed us to sit in the southwest corner of the festival where Great Lakes Brewery’s CASKapalooza! held court. I’d heard good things but I had no idea they’d have so many great brews just waiting for me to sample!

We ended up spending over an hour here; quite a feat when you consider that most booths didn’t merit more than a couple of minutes at best. During our time there, I tried the Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale, Kaptain Kolsch, Iron Eagle Pilsner, Simon Says Stout and Superior I.P.A.

All were pretty good with the Snaggle Tooth and Kaptain definitely meriting a place on the shelf. My disappointment at not being able to try more of them has been tempered by the hindsight that I was pretty trashed by this point and wouldn’t have made it through much more.

Still, there was more of the grounds to traverse and I forced my comrades to take me back to the Bier Markt’s Oktoberfest Experience. There, we dined on sausages, sauerkraut and a most excellent weissbier which I believe was imported. The only finer example I’ve had would be the rather untraditional Edelweiss’ Snowfresh or Denison’s.

After this point, my memories of what we did next begin to jumble together like a night of partying… I remember watching some booth girls playing a drinking game that involved some kind of soccer chant and being extremely disappointed by the Eastern European lager I got when it was my turn.

We ended up in the center of the grounds and although I think I tried some great beers I don’t recall what they were called or even what they tasted like. I remember a couple of friends climbing up into a tree and getting reprimanded by security and one of our cups getting confiscated by the beer Nazis after we doubled up while one of our friends went to the washroom. We ended up dancing in front of the bandshell to some no-name band playing a cover of Home for a Rest, a song that is somehow synonymous with being smashed and Canadian. (On a sidenote: there are so many concert videos of that song being played by the band on YouTube… they must be very tired of playing it but if the festival is any indication of public opinion, no one seems to very tired of hearing it.)

In retrospect we were pretty much like everyone else by that point; very drunk and very, very happy. This may not be the best way to try out new beers but it can be a terrific condition in which to enjoy yourself. I may be getting older but I still take some pleasure in this sort of thing from time to time. The day I stop doing so may very well coincide with the day I start taking my writing more seriously but it hasn’t come yet. I saw plenty of assholes but I also met some incredibly-fun people and drank some damn good beer; those are the memories that stick.

When not going out, I’ve had the opportunity to buy a few beers here and there but not too many of them stick out in my mind.

IMG_1601

Boris Organic (not pictured here, I misplaced the can, but I’m sure you can picture it) is a middle-of-the-road lager with that slightly-malty, clean, inoffensive taste that features in so many beers of its kind. There’s not a whole lot of carbonation and you’re left with not much of an aftertaste because it’s so damn watery. It reminded me a bit of Mill St. Organic except not as good.

Both Nektar and Ochakovo Premium were both equally bland and I’d stay away from both of them. I don’t like the Eastern European lagers the LCBO brings over here and neither of these changed my mind.

Estrella Damm, on the other hand, is a lot better but that’s faint praise considering the company it was keeping. It poured with a nice thick head that left a lovely amount of lacing on the glass which was unusual given that I wouldn’t call this a full-bodied beer.

Still, it was quite lovely; dry, crisp and refreshing. The nose was definitely light and there was a decent mouthfeel but I would’ve preferred more carbonation. It’s definitely less grassier than some pilsners with some malt and just a touch of bitterness. Bonus points for no evident skunkiness or overt sweetness. There was very little aftertaste but the dryness definitely became more pronounced which I didn’t mind.

Everyone I know who doesn’t generally enjoy beer and has tried Damm has enjoyed it; this is definitely one of those beers you can satisfy most people without sinking to the level of your garden-variety macro-brews. I’ve had a couple cans with everything ranging from a tuna-melt sandwich to pasta and found it worked quite well as a “carb-soaker”. My only real caveat with this beer is that is has to be served ice-cold; it loses points for not aging well in the glass. Overall, it’s a decent beer to get drunk with but there are cheaper tallboys that don’t sacrifice too much in taste.

(Top photo by Matt Eckensweiler.)

Beer Night!

30
Jun/09
0

Beer_Hunter_MillerAd05MWhen you collect beer like I do, drinking it can become something of a chore; especially if it starts to pile up. I can maybe get through eight or so in one sitting but my notes get sloppy by the fifth and it’s usually down-hill from there.

Inviting friends to help is a good strategy but you can’t just invite anyone. Most folks, when asked about the beer they’re drinking, will usually offer up such gems as, “this one’s bitter” or “this one’s not so bitter” and my favorite, “this one’s pretty easy to drink”. With that kind of feedback, it’s essential to find people who put a bit more thought into their evaluation.

It doesn’t have to be a by-the-book tasting either; one of my favorite comments about a beer was by a friend who compared Stuarts Natural Session Ale to “licking a wet dog”.

Tonight, I’ve invited five friends over for beer and food. The vast majority of them are part of the LCBO’s summer beer release but I’ve included a few old favorites too…

Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse

Erdinger Weisbier

Whistler Export Lager

Heritage Maple Bush Lager

Duchy Originals Organic Ale

Warka Strong

Banks Caribbean Lager

Chapeau Lemon Lambic

Chapeau Exotic Lambic

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale

Fruli Strawberry Beer

Innis & Gunn Blonde

Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Amsterdam Strong Framboise Beer (which I want to compare to…)

KLB Raspberry Wheat (owned by Amsterdam!)

Amsterdam Pomegranate Wheat Beer

Wittekerke Rose

St. Ambroise Vintage Ale 2009

I was unable to procure any Edelweiss (damn LCBO strike!) but hopefully my brother will be bringing a bottle to bring the beer total to eighteen.

Food-wise, we’re going to have sesame seed crackers with smoked cheddar, pickles and walnuts,  mini-wraps (the filling is, at this point, unknown) and some homemade hummus and pita.

It should be a good night.

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I’m not alone!

26
Jun/09
0

kyleI’ve got some company in the blogosphere surrounding Toronto.

While perusing Fasebook the other day, I come across an interesting status update by my friend Kyle which said something about making “peach bitters”. It turns out that not only is he a long-time member of the bar and a general enthusiast but writes his own his own blog, The Bespoke Bar.

It wasn’t long before I found myself, bag of bottles in hand, heading into the west end to reconnoiter with Kyle and see what trouble we could ourselves into.

First drink was his version of an Old Fashioned, albeit with orange zest in place of grapefruit and Knob Creek standing in for Jim Beam. I especially dug his homemade bourbon cherries but the finished cocktail was nicely-balanced indeed.

My round turned out rather sweet but was fun all the same; starting with the Knob Creek as a base, I added some of my orgeat syrup, a bit of his orange bitters and just a touch of the chocolate grappa. It reminded me of one of those chocolate oranges you pound on the table before eating which isn’t a bad flavour to recall but I’m not a fan of sweetness so it was a bit of a mixed blessing.

Owing to the cumulative effects of alcohol, I can’t quite recall what he made next but I do remember a couple of Manhattans being prepared (with the bourbon cherries of course) and a last minute inspiration consisting of the aforementioned bourbon, Kyle’s home-made ginger beer and some organic maple syrup which was quite good after we balanced it out.

It was nice hanging out with someone that has a four years on me when it comes to booze and I very much enjoyed soaking up what knowledge I could. Usually I hang out with people who know mostly nothing so being the small fish was fun and informative.

(Image taken from The Bespoke Bar.)

Putting together the perfect birthday bar

24
Apr/09
1

The big day has arrived and passed but the party is happening tomorrow. I still haven’t decided upon a cocktail and in the absence of any notable flashes-of-brilliance, recipe-wise I’ve decided to cover my bases with a wide variety of liquor.

So far, I’ve picked up an ever-reliable bottle of Centennial 10 Year Old Rye, Stoli (I used to buy Iceberg but then I realized that Stoli was just a dollar more and quantifiably better), Martini Rosso, Hungarian Grande  Cuvée Brut and McGillicuddy’s Peach Schnapps. My friend Alex McLeod and his girlfriend gifted me with a bottle of Gianduia chocolate-flavoured grappa which I suspect I will have little problem finding a use for.

On the day of, I’ll probably head back to the LCBO and pick up some Sailor Jerry Rum, Grand Marnier, McGuiness Melon and Banane and Hendrick’s Gin. If I have any money left over, I might buy some Jagermeister, Luxardo Amaretto and Unicum bitters but I have some Angostura at home which will do in a pinch.

Mix-wise, I’ve already made some simple syrup and I have a bottle of grenadine lying around too. I don’t have any time to make anything else (unless I can persuade my mum to help me make  a bottle of orgeat syrup) but I’m probably going to buy some juices (cranberry, orange, acai blueberry, pomegranate, aloe), pop (soda water, ginger beer and green tea ginger ale) and maybe a four-pack of Red Bull.

Fruit will probably be nothing more exotic than a ready supply of lemons and limes but I’d like to have some ginger root on hand. I also have spices left over from the last party and I’d like to use ‘em more this time.

For the wine-drinkers, I have three bottles of red kicking around: the Pascual Toso Malbec 2007, the Barco Reale di Carmignano Capezzana 2006 and the Cent’are Nero d’Avola 2006. After my last post on Fuzion, I should probably get a bottle of that too but I’m not sweating it.

Yesterday, I decided against a bottle of Ironstone Symphony 2007  but I might change my mind tomorrow.

I let other people bring beer. My brother Lowell is always good for a mini-keg of Heineken.

Looking at this list, I think I might very well be going overboard but I replenished my bar in such a long time and I really want to do my own Fridgin’ Out: Liquor Cabinet Edition.

In completely unrelated news, I’ve sampled the rest of the LCBO’s 2009 spring beer release, including the new Innis & Gunn Blonde! I’ll probably post that when I recover from the inevitable party hangover, sometime next week.

innis-gunn-blonde

(Image taken from ralph&dot’s Flickr photostream.)

How to redesign a bar

20
Apr/09
0

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, the Akia is one of my favorite bars.

Not only are Charlie and Vivian willing to take risks with new products when the majority of their current clientele drink only Budweiser (why do so many Asians drink Bud anyway?) but if you happen to come semi-frequently and have a favorite beer, they’ll probably hold some for you. My friend Gil and I drink Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, this other fellow usually goes for Tsingtao and John, the resident, affable know-it-all will have Molson Export and nothing else.

They have a bottle of Żubrówka on hand (my suggestion) and they said they’ll bring in some Centennial as well. Their prices are very fair and they treat everyone who walks into their bar as a potential friend.

And yet the Akia is not busy. Their weekends are dead and even happy hour (generally the point when bars like this do most of their business) is not as good as it should be. Charlie sat down at my table tonight and asked me why. After listening to his concerns, I brought up several points for him to consider.

1. The bar has a bad rep.

The Akia has a lot of history. For the past decade, it’s been a dive bar that bums, gangsters and cokeheads flocked to for its anything-goes, laissez-faire attitude. You could go there and know that the owners wouldn’t hassle you. The cops also generally stayed away although this changed as time went by.

Most passerbys might not be aware of everything that went on inside but you can bet they saw the motley assortment of people entering, leaving and smoking their cigarettes outside. One of the first assessments many potential guests will make of a venue is the crowd and I would imagine many of the folks in the tonier area north of the bar probably avoid the Akia for that reason.

The best way to overcome this is through word-of-mouth, some careful flyer distribution and a careful application of the convert-one-person-they’ll-bring-their-friends approach.

akia2. The sign sucks.

The second thing that a potential guest will look at is the sign. It can tell you a lot about the place. Akia’s sign is old, too foreign and rather cheap-looking. The bits about the “grill” and “cafe” are definitely misleading and the subheading on the sign on the left advertising the products available makes it seem a bit low-class. The whole sign seems designed to attempt to appeal to everyone by throwing out words without considering what the establishment can offer.

The colours, make me think of Ikea and are a bit too convenience store and not enough neighborhood bar. This sign has been here longer than I have and it should be trashed.

I’d do away with the garish colours and go for earth tone with a white or red type. It shouldn’t be too hip or too grungy either… Like Czehoski but with less of a look-at-me attitude.

3. They have a great location they’re not taking advantage of.

That, in a nutshell, is what the Akia should be. When I think neighborhood bar, I think of the Gem or the Only and while I have a definite bias towards individualistic establishments that have an eclectic jukebox, good beer and interesting people, I don’t think I’m way off base here in proposing that kind of template for the Akia. Hell, they already have the first two; all they need is the third.

The area between the Danforth and Gerrard is full of young couples and families who would probably be up for a casual weekday pint without having to go more than a couple blocks in either direction. Sure, East Chinatown is predominantly Asian but there are still quite a few young artist-types who might dig it too. And as much as I like Queen St. East, I don’t always want to go down there.

4. The interior is not inviting.

The ceiling is this dull, rusty colour and three of the walls are beige. The wall behind the bar is a nice, rich red and the lights are kind of sexy but two good bits can’t overcome the vomitous mess closing in on all three sides. The chairs and tables, while a bit bare-bone, are workable and the TVs are fine. The tiles on the floor suck but since replacing them would be very expensive, I think they’d be better off sticking with a new paint job.

I’d leave the one red wall and paint the rest of them dark brown or black. The wood panelling and trim should be sanded down and varnished; this would give it a much classier feel and make up for the cheap seating.

5. They don’t have a patio.

To the north of the bar is a rather large rectangular piece of asphalt that is not being used for anything. It would make a perfect patio and although it would look out onto the Don Jail, it would get a fair bit of sun and allow the smokers to sit and drink instead of congregating around the entrance.

According to Vivian, the third-last owner enquired with City Hall about building a patio and was told that there were issues of “hydro access”. I told her she should check this out herself and see if there was some kind of work-around; there’s no harm in asking.

Even without a patio, I think that making nice with the neighbors, changing the sign and repainting the interior would definitely give the Akia a chance to attract a different crowd. These things do take time but Charlie and Vivian would be improving the area and they’d probably make some money too.

They seem to be willing to overhaul their image and I’d be happy to help; we’ll see if anything comes of it.