Graffiti's Bar & Grill
Graffiti's Bar & Grill has an interior that is dark, maroon-lit and pulsating with activity, making me feel like I'm within the heart of something enormous. An apt decorating scheme, considering how long Graffiti's has been around in Kensington Market . Despite the numerous changes to the neighbourhood over the years (and the influx of recent bars ), Graffiti's has remained the same old-timey, cozy favourite of many - from newcomers to the city to the weary seen-it-alls.
A large Kensington Ave. street sign perches in the corner, as though to remind everyone where they are, where it is they came from, and how little it's changed since without being overtly in one's face. Sean, resident bartender of four years and counting, shrugs when I ask him how the evolution of the neighbourhood has affected them. "We've been around for fifteen years. We're doing something right," he jokes.
The lack of defiance is charming, even admirable. To strive for authenticity is to have lost before you've even began, and those running Graffiti's certainly get that. "We like to think we complement the new places out there. The neighbourhood needs variety," he continues. And the closing down of other older neighbourhood staples, such as European Quality Meats ? "It's a shame," he says, then shrugs. "Maybe we'll start a springtime lunch menu?"
Perhaps part of what's sustained Graffiti's original appeal is its patrons' involvement in the place. Much of its entertainment is provided by those who drink there regularly, mostly through music. Sean began serving there after playing a show. Mondays, he tells me, are reserved for Kevin Quain, a regular who began doing cabaret shows; it's been twelve years and counting. There are Saturday matinees for local bands who have also long frequented Graffiti's and wanted to contribute somehow.
Though the space is small, the kind of intimacy one gets at a show played there is unlike anywhere else. On a recent evening a flawless Joplin impression reverberates across the space. Even the barstools at the very back of the room are vibrating.
Graffiti's back to basics attitude is universally appealing. For those older, it's a throwback to their youth; for the young, it's refreshingly unpretentious. It does evoke a different, older Toronto, but lightheartedly, effortlessly so. Nostalgic without being dated, Graffiti's isn't a relic; it's a classic.