By: Jim Bamboulis
I have to admit – growing up in Toronto’s east end, I knew very little about The Junction neighbourhood. I didn’t think there was a reason to visit. Didn’t have any friends there, it was too far and it was way off the subway lines. But over the past few years, I’ve been visiting more often, enjoying the day and nightlife.
Turns out the area wasn’t always so cool. The Junction ended prohibition in the 21st century. Huh? Yup! Nobody was allowed to sell alcohol here between the years 1904 and 2000! As one business owner put it to me – ‘The Junction had a drinking problem’.
The back story…
In fact, by the turn of the 20th century, this area just northwest of the downtown core was seen as a bit of a Wild West. A railway and manufacturing community, it had plenty of job opportunities which in turn attracted both non-English speaking immigrants and second generation Irish Catholics who moved across Toronto to work in the area.
When times were great, there was peace. But when economic conditions got bad, it got ugly. Residents would hit the drink at the many pubs and taverns that popped up. By 1904, things got so out of control that local residents voted to ban the sale of alcohol until 1998. It wasn’t until 2001 when the first drink was re-poured in the area. And since then, not only has The Junction become one of the key up-and-coming areas in Toronto but it’s also a go-to neighbourhood to grab a great drink.
Here are eight of the best spots.
Hole In The Wall
Even if you have the exact address, this place is a bit tough to find. But when you find it and step inside, you feel right at home. Thin and long, this spot gets packed quickly and gets festive just as fast. The food is killer, the atmosphere is great and yes, despite its limited space, bands are able to create some space, set up and jam.
Junction City Music Hall
With live music, craft beer and pinball machines, it’s easy to understand why this place is always a popular choice. The vibe is chill, the crowd is real and the place is always festive. Need I say more?
What I love about Shamone is that it doesn’t try hard to be great. It just is. It’s a low-key, friendly place with great food (it’s got a snack spread weekdays at 5pm), solid, well priced drinks and a DJ spinning tunes. This place is a no-brainer!
A saloon since 1903, it was obviously dry for many years. However, this was one of the restaurants that spearheaded the move towards ending prohibition in the area. It’s a big place and has pool tables, several beers on tap, pub grub and more than a few big screen TV’s.
Famous Last Words
I love this place because it’s a bit different from the expected when it comes to bars. Sure, it has craft beer and wine but it also has a book wall and drinks based on literature. Recently, there have been feature drinks inspired by A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
Located in the Junction Triangle on Bloor St. West, Gaslight is often spoken about and recommended from those who’ve already been. Cozy with a great selection of spirits, a limited but really great menu – Po Boo Pierogies are homemade and stuffed with shrimp and chorizo – it’s a must-go.
3030 Dundas West
DJ’s spin, craft beers are on tap and killer food is on the menu. All that and a super friendly staff makes 3030 is an obvious choice when you’re in the area. Despite becoming more and more known throughout the city, this place hasn’t lost its local and unpretentious touch. Or its sense of humour.
Indie Ale House
I love this place because here you’ll find everyone and anyone, including seniors ordering burgers, young couples on a first date and groups enjoying craft pints. The portions are big, the beer is delicious and with a brewery onsite with take away beer available, it’s easy to understand why the wait times are into the double digits.
Here’s where to find all these hot spots. Did I miss one? Holla back and let me know.