Handlebar, courtesy of Rachel Conduit (of the east-end's Avro ), embodies the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." If you're a dedicated fan of the Avro, then there's not much about Handlebar that you don't already know.
Its motif is obvious. In a city where the bi-wheeled are often maligned and fodder for near civil warfare, Handlebar is a haven. There are bronzed bikes anchored on the wall, and for those who wear their cyclists' hearts on their sleeves, this place is almost cartoonishly perfect (hey bikers, I don't bike, but I like your zeal). It certainly made for a beautiful, cohesive space, and also lacked the smell and hard edges of a space reincarnated, providing a relaxed vibe that one typically associates with an older place.
The space itself is long and narrow, but has far more room than its east-end sibling. In a room at the back, you'll find a stage that's small enough to be more appropriate for comedic stand-up than music. The seating area is split into small tables, and there's a roomy patio littered with season-appropriate poolside chairs.
As with the Avro, Handlebar is not a space for those with fancy tastes. Beers ($6.25) and whiskies ($6.50 for a Maker's) are the focus here, which is not necessarily bad for the weary palate. Their bar menu is similarly unpretentious, serving homey favourites such as spaghetti and meatballs or tacos. The dishes vary daily, but hover around $6. I was sated.
There are places that go out of their way to push you out of your comfort zone, but that's not the case here. What I liked most about Handlebar is that intimacy is not only possible, but seems to be encouraged. Its Kensington location also proves to be an advantage; it not only works with all the other bars in the area, but answers to what they're missing. In short, if the Embassy was larger, Cold Tea lower-key, and Ronnie's more put-together, you'd have Handlebar. Having just opened last week, Handlebar may be the new kid on the block, but its potential to be a neighbourhood favourite is cinched. Cyclist or not, you'll be very welcome.