My favorite bar in Toronto

The list of bars to the right represents places I like to go when I’m in the neighborhood. They vary in concept and crowd but one thing holds true for all of ‘em: they’re beloved by those who know a good drink and those who could care less equally because they’re great bars.

I know that if I happen to stop by because I’m in that neck of the woods, I’ll meet interesting people, ranging from industry types to general enthusiasts and whatever I drink will be solid.

Still, one of my favorite bars isn’t on that list. It has no website and the phone is dodgy at times. If you were to drive by you’d probably pay it no attention to it at all, mostly because it’s located in Chinatown East and looks like a million other little, blue-collar bars that dot the Toronto landscape.

It’s called the Akia (not Ikea although it sounds the same when I say it) Bar & Grill and it’s been around for over a decade. It started out as a bar where the local guys could go for a beer after work and, given it’s proximity to the Don Jail, quickly attracted a clientele of sketchy folks who spent their time selling drugs, fighting over the jukebox and generally terrorizing whomever operated the bar at the time.

Rodney (my roomate) and I started going about five years ago, pretty much as soon as we moved in, because it was right around the corner and the beer was cheap. The jukebox sucked and the crowd was trouble but it was worth it.

As the years passed, we got to know the nonsketchy regulars (there were a few) and even made a few friends. The drinks stayed fairly cheap, only getting raised a quarter now and then, mostly when a new owner took over

After the last handover, I stopped going. The Chinese karaoke, gloriously blaring in MIDI had gotten to be too much for me and the selection of beer was admittedly crappy for the current price. I don’t mind paying two bucks for a Lakeport but ask me for three-fifty and we’ve got a problem. Besides, I was currently enamored with the renaissance of Leslieville and it was much easier to barhop along Queen St. East after finishing work at Joy Bistro.

Soon, I started working downtown again and found myself without a place to go after work. Most of the time, I just drank at home. Rodney had stopped going to but he dropped by every know and then and I began to hear good things about the place once again. He said the karaoke wasn’t going on every night and they’d renovated. I still didn’t go because most renovations don’t do much but raise the prices.

But then, low and behold, another regular and friend of mine started going three or four times a week, holding court as it were, and he invited me. I went and not only did I like the new owners but they carried beer I liked, at reasonable prices.

Knowing I could get a Steamwhistle for four bucks suddenly made the Akia a desirable after-work joint. The owners really made the effort to attract a better crowd and they installed a jukebox full of CDs by Elvis, the Stones and the Kinks; stuff I’d actually listen to.

It was quieter and smelt better. You didn’t have to walk a plank over a flooded basement to get to the bathroom and there were no more dealers offering coke that made you feel like your nose was going to fall off. In short, it was the perfect place for a guy like me, a little older and a lot less impressed by dives, who just wanted a decent beer to drink while he read his book.

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  1. Jacqueline
    10:38 am on December 6th, 2008

    hey neighbour!
    meet ya there tonight?
    ps. glad i missed the “walk the plank” stage

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