Bar Neon is one of those places that's just irrefutably cool. It's part the fantastic mural that spans the length of the bar, custom created by local artist Jeff Garcia . That and the mix of homey and industrial; the wooden tables with metal chairs, above which hangs a neon "Last Call" sign, which can be turned on via remote control. And then, the elementary school-esque water fountain, somehow fitting in unobtrusively in the middle of the space. And to top it off, there are the basement bathrooms, which are tiled with actual pennies, all laid labouriously, one by one.
The Bloordale bar opened just one week ago and is slowly being discovered by people in the area. Located midway between Dufferin and Lansdowne, the bar shares an owner (and name) with a relatively new Junction Triangle cafe . Niki Tsourounakis pursued both at the same time and is elated at how the bar turned out.
"It was a vegan restaurant, and before that, a shawarma place," Niki says. "And it was old, and kind of grimy." She tells me about the renovation as we bask in the glow of dozens of candles, recounting the terrible drop ceiling and three layers of wall removed to reveal brick. Lots of sweat and over 50,000 pounds of garbage later, Bar Neon was ready to receive its first patrons.
Food and drinks are obviously the focus here, but you're not going to find cheese sticks or onion rings. "We wanted to make good food accessible," chef Ivan tells me. "Available, and unpretentious."
The menu consists of tostas ($14) such as mushroom fricassee or salt cured ham, mini croque-monsieurs ($9), marinated sardines ($10) and Ivan's own truffles ($2). Drink specialties are bourbon-based and include a bourbon negroni ($9.65) and "Bourbon Snap" made with maple syrup, bitters, ginger, and orange juice. And on tap are Amstel Light, Mill Street Organic and Cobblestone Stout (~$7 including tax).
Barely open a week, the bar is clearly still finding its own, though it has already nailed down a few regular DJ nights. In my opinion, though, the best aspect of Bar Neon won't come to fruition until the spring, when its backyard patio (formerly a garden for the vegan restaurant) will be open and occupied.
Niki lets me peek into the back, where an old shipping crate hosts a neon "Bar Neon" sign, and might, come springtime, be oyster grilling and rotating spits. Until then, customers can enjoy drinks amid laid-back tracks, and resort to the fountain if they find themselves a few too many in.