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Duffy's Tavern

Photo: Jesse Milns

Posted by Caroline Leung / May 1, 2012

Duffy's Tavern is located in the heart of Bloordale Village. There's little denying the desolation of the neighbourhood, but the bright, unmissable sign lights up the corner of Bloor and Margueretta: "Since 1949!" it declares, alongside the bubbly white letters spelling out its name. It's hardly intriguing, but certainly welcoming--especially in light of the garish pink neon of the gentlemen's club just across the street.

Just past the entrance is a dusty piano, adorned with framed pictures of old-timey whiskey advertisements and a building license that dates back to the 1880's; the building itself is, indeed, that old. A well-used jukebox is nestled in the corner. There are also four flat-screens each playing a different sport above the bar, barely audible over the strains of Metallica's 'Unforgiven.' The effect is wholeheartedly masculine, totally unfanciful, and tinged with a kind of sentimentality that comes with its age.

The tavern is more than fifty years old, after all. Nothing about its antiquity is contrived or trendy--in fact, Duffy's seems to go out of its way to be as unfashionable as possible. Its history has lent it a character that's genuine, from the four-leaf clover stickers on the wall to an unbearably gaudy striped sofa (apparently occupied by Quentin Tarantino himself years ago, during a quick stop before heading to the strip club across the street).

Further in is a staircase leading up to a space with a stage and basic soundsystem for live acts. Or stroll downstairs, where there are three pool tables. Combined with the four televisions and bartenders willing to shoot the shit, it's not difficult to be entertained here.

"It's like we're presenting our living room to you," Harrison, the owner, explains. Having taken over the bar five years ago, he sees Duffy's as a perfect metaphor for the neighbourhood. "I grew up around here. I didn't want to change much. What would it look like if I was to buy the third-oldest establishment in the city and run off with a quick profit? No," he says, wincing at the very thought. "There needs to be respect."

Previously a popular rendezvous spot for pimps and drug dealers, Duffy's has since cleaned up in what's certainly an appreciated effort. He's retained most of the regulars here--some of them having frequented Duffy's for 35 years--while bringing in new business from now-pacified neighbours. There are plans to expand to the building adjacent, which would bring the tavern's capacity up to 600 people, along with a 100-seat patio and kitchen.

Duffy's Tavern is a neighbourhood joint in the sense that I doubt any of its patrons live beyond a five block radius. At first glance, this seems to be a bar good for convenience and little else: one wouldn't exactly go out of their way for the pint or pool game it offers. It won't impress everyone. But if friendly service and a cozy watering hole is what you're looking for, it will never disappoint.

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
Amsterdam Blonde, Amsterdam Big Wheel, Golden Horseshoe, Hoptical Illusion, Smash Bomb Atomic, Red Leaf, Wellington
Signature Drink:
N/A, but drink specials are a daily occurrence
Bar Snacks:
Working on it
Patio:
Yes
Music/Genre:
Depends on the jukebox, but usually classic rock with the occasional interjection of pop
Live Music:
Yes
Who Goes There:
Your father. And his father, probably.
Hours:
Daily 2pm - 2am

Discussion

39 Comments

eric / May 1, 2012 at 1:28 PM
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Dammit. My uncle drank here in the 50s when stationed with the army in Toronto and as a local I loved its character and charm. Alas for the last few years we've seen less and less regulars and more BlogTO sorts. I suppose it was only a matter of time before it gained a mention here.

Glad for Harrison but sad for those of us who just liked our local pub that always had an open stool and a mini pitcher or red or blonde beer waiting.

Vic / May 1, 2012 at 1:40 PM
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I just wish Duffy's still had this fantastic old sign (via Toronto Archives):
https://gencat4.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/systems/toronto.arch/resource/fo1257/ser1057/f1257_s1057_it5624.jpg

Silverfuck / May 1, 2012 at 1:54 PM
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"There's little denying the desolation of the neighbourhood."

While my area might be a bit run-down, I wouldn't call it "desolate." The two strip clubs just add to the charm, right? Right?

Little Fury / May 1, 2012 at 2:00 PM
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If this is what Duffy's looks like now that it's been "cleaned up," I really shudder to think at what it must have been like before. Hookers servicing clients on the pool tables? Dead overdose victims in the bathrooms?

Andrew / May 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM
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Duffy's actually has kind of a cool layout, in a pleasantly dive-y sort of way. It's too bad they primarily book terrible nu-metal bands in their back room. I'm also happy to see someone expanding and bucking the trend towards bars that only fit 15 people.

I'd hardly call Bloordale "desolate" either. There's lots of fine places and people.

SSSasky / May 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM
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I live around the corner from there, but have never gone in. I definitely will now, especially since they have two great Flying Monkeys beers on tap.

I would most certainly deny the 'desolation' of the neighbourhood. Having moved into the 'hood just shy of a year ago, I think it's totally charming. Not too gentrified yet, but just enough to have a few really great spots (Drift, Three Speed, The Holy Oak).

Wait. I mean it's desolate and horrible. Stay out.

matts In replying to a comment from Little Fury / May 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM
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Yes, that was the "character" others speak of

Sausages Galore / May 1, 2012 at 2:30 PM
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Needs more strippers.

foo / May 1, 2012 at 3:35 PM
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"Desolation"? Please.

samsham / May 1, 2012 at 3:42 PM
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Is that a plastic bottle of Prince Igor in the 5th picture?

t-kwon / May 1, 2012 at 3:57 PM
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Cleaned up its act? Really?

Was there for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was offered weed AND coke by 2 different patrons within 10mins of getting my drink... Bars like this are dragging down an otherwise rejuvenating area... Check out 3 Speed, Neon or Holy Oak for much better atmosphere...

Fung shui / May 1, 2012 at 7:17 PM
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I feel like fighting. See you in an hour

hendrix / May 1, 2012 at 7:26 PM
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Who the f**k is Duffy anyway?

Eli / May 1, 2012 at 9:10 PM
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I grew up not too far from here. "Desolation" is a very poor choice of words to describe this neighborhood.

Arlena / May 1, 2012 at 10:52 PM
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Duffy's is a very welcoming bar with a lot of regulars (both old and new) good service and cheap drinks. The live music is mostly good ranging from folksy to rock depending on the night. It's one of my favourite bars in the city and if they are getting a patio, I'm stoked! That's great news!

Greg / May 1, 2012 at 11:22 PM
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Crack is usually smoked out back on the weekends.. Bring your tin can out with you to enjoy!

John Maeyers In replying to a comment from Greg / May 1, 2012 at 11:32 PM
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Not true. The area has changed so much over the years. It's very welcoming and safe nowadays!

Alyssa / May 2, 2012 at 12:05 AM
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I agree with the previous post! I live less than a block away from Duffy's and respectfully ask Caroline to reconsider her choice of words when describing Bloordale Village! Born and raised a Torontonian, I would hardly tag our neibourhood as a 'desolate' one! I've been in Duffy's, as a customer many times - as a homeowner and resident of Bloordale village, I appreciate everything that Harrison and his staff have done for our community over the years! His efforts to rid the tavern, and in many ways the neibourhood, of unwanted crime as well as undesirable Riff Raff are jaw-dropping! I for one, (and I certainly do not stand alone), applaud Harrison for his courage to stand up to the criminals that once ran this entire area. I'd call his stance nothing less than, admirable! 

Johnny Garconi / May 2, 2012 at 2:25 AM
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Sweet ! Thanks for the honest blog ;) i am Johnny Garconi ...day bartender , to quote the Beatles "it's getting better all the time" ;)

Matt In replying to a comment from Alyssa / May 2, 2012 at 8:27 AM
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Couldn't agree more Alyssa! Maybe it's time to take a walk around the neighbourhood a bit more and see all the progress it's making and what it is becoming instead of relying on stereotypes of a decade ago.

sojourner / May 2, 2012 at 9:41 AM
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Their daily specials chalkboard sign usually suffers from random "quotation marks" and funny punctuation.

mayor dodge / May 2, 2012 at 9:43 AM
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That guy in the middle of the first photo looks both nervous and suspicious. He needs another drink.

Moi In replying to a comment from mayor dodge / May 2, 2012 at 11:12 AM
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No he's just married, cruising and like every man in Toronto, on the down-low

Printblue Music Publishing/Productions / May 2, 2012 at 12:39 PM
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The area is changing dramatically, and there seems to be no loss of Culture. Gary Adam's, the General Manager has done a great job booking live music & entertainment over the past few years since he joined the team. We (Printblue Music) have been assisting with bookings over the past few months and there are a lot more good things to come. We book a wide variety of Acts (Jazz, Blues, Comedy, Pop, Metal, Rock, Folk, Latin, ect). Last night we had a very great night with "The History of Jazzz Part 4" which was kind of like a modern Scat, complete with Drums, Cello, and spoken Word. There are many more events to come keep posted on our Facebook Page !

Printblue Music Publishing & Production / May 2, 2012 at 12:56 PM
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The area is changing dramatically , albeit the Gentrification factor has not quite set in yet so there is a very specific charm to the neighbourhood that allows Duffy's Tavern to be a Flagship Bar for the area. Gary Adams, the General Manager has done a great job with everything since he joined the team a few years ago, including booking Live Music & Entertainment 7 days a week. We, (Printblue Music) have been assisting with bookings for the past few months and there is no lack of Cultured Variety here. Last evening we had a very successful evening with "The History of Jazz Part 4" in the early evening and Printblue Music's own Flagship Music Artist "Szan T No" continued the night later on, playing a few sets of Covers and Original Material like he does every Tuesday. There are so many different Genre's of Music that frequent the Atmosphere of this charming place that Owner, Harrison Mazis over-sees with a keen eye and unique Entrepreneurship. There are Drink Specials every day, so come by and say Hi sometime ;)

Hepman In replying to a comment from Fung shui / May 2, 2012 at 2:57 PM
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Good; I'll bring my pliers and face paint.

LC / May 2, 2012 at 11:21 PM
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Stopped reading after "desolation," give me a break.

Athena / May 2, 2012 at 11:22 PM
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If you have nothing good to say .... great little pub, I think there should be more people like Harrison in all communities!

San / May 3, 2012 at 1:45 PM
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One day a couple of years back, i got a phone call from Gary, the Manager/Sound-Engineer at Duffy's asking if I wanted to play that night. I never turn down gigs. Many people advised me not to play there. Of course i went to play. It had a charm about it right off the bat. It was Folksy, and had a very interesting appeal. The "Regulars" were some of the coolest people i had met in my life. It was like a small town mixed with a sports bar, a very cozy big city live music venue and much more. It was still a little rough around the edges, but that was it's charm.
Since then, i have had countless events there, got to know most of the people in the neighbourhood, seen the the hood start to change slowly into a cozy & cultural best kept secret village in the city. I have gotten to know the Owner, Harrison who is very genuine and strikes the right balance with his passion & business acumen and i also work there helping with bookings & bar tending as well as playing there. A very cool place indeed, check it out ;)

Judy / May 5, 2012 at 1:29 PM
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Desolate? hardly .. I think the neighbourhood has become one of the best places to be in recent years. Bar Neon, Three speed, Ortolan, Bloordale Pantry.. SaraDuke FActory..I think your writer needs to give her head a shake.. seriously desolate?

I really think Harrison is trying to make this place work. The patio and good food will only make Duffy's a place to go to.

misterb / May 11, 2012 at 10:20 PM
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I've both frequented and played this club. I enjoy the local atmosphere and people and I know the management/ownership are really putting in the effort to improve the place. It's got a great history and hopefully it will get the respect it deserves.

ChinoLoco / May 24, 2012 at 2:32 PM
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Back in the 90s old school crew and reg custy Tiger, Shkink, Pirate, Double double, Google Lou, Johnny spliff, Gordo, tall Billy n his chinesr midget girlfriend is that jukebox still there? Forever young i want to be forever young suck sakes make me go crazy!

j / July 9, 2012 at 1:09 PM
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This place is WHACK.

Horrible place to have a pitcher let alone anything.

micheal / September 6, 2012 at 6:04 AM
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Nice place

Tim / September 18, 2012 at 10:29 AM
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I went last night for the first time. Honestly, amazing. It's not the kind of place you would expect to have daily fresh ground burgers with hormone and antibiotic free beef from small, local Ontario farms, but they do! And it's such a good price ($7 for burger and fries). The beer was great and cheap (Large pitcher for 11.30 after tax) and the waitress learned all of our names and was super friendly. My friends and I will definitely return to Duffy's.

Features / December 3, 2012 at 1:27 AM
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Real wonderful info can be found on web site.

jesse watt / August 10, 2013 at 3:27 PM
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I'm glad to hear yjis bar had changed, they must goof got rid of the manager Gary and the prostitutes that work behind the bar.

Secret / September 4, 2013 at 12:06 PM
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They've recently been renovated through Restaurant Makeover, and have a new GM.

They're Currently putting together a stellar brunch menu, and getting ready to open their Diner in the space next door.

Steve Nicholson / November 18, 2013 at 4:54 PM
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Very sorry to report that, after securing booking for my band and promoting the venue for approximately a month and a half, Duffy's has cancelled a mere five days before the event as they are apparently "double booked". This after repeated attempts to get information from them to coordinate the show. Speaks volumes and for itself, I think.

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