Linsmore Tavern has a reputation that precedes it. Much as I would with a blind date, I do a quick Google search prior to heading over. There's a Chowhound post: a query by someone who was looking for real dives in the city. The responses have Linsmore Tavern described as "a historic hotel and a real dump," colourful but not "dangerous" enough, and famous for its $1 draft beer. Unlike some of the other places, there are zero mentions of murderers, whores, or junkies. An old photograph, circa 1945, paints the Linsmore as a rather sad, unsexy hotel. I approached my destination with trepidation--understandably, I thought.
Well, they lied. Not the part about the hotel, or its lack of luster, or the $1 draft beer, but the part about its bleakness. People had made it sound like a dive too lukewarm to be actually unsavoury, but I found the Linsmore to be a sweet kind of place. It's almost wholesome. Really.
Having been on the block for almost 80 years, the Linsmore is something of an institution amongst locals. It's across the street from a "model recruitment" agency that could feature in Taken 3 , and marked with an unimpressive sign that does far less in identifying the spot than its smoking regulars. The only sounds heard inside are the clinking of pint glasses and banter; no music, at least not at first. The bartender and owner, Ryan, is easily the youngest guy in the room.
I inquire about the dollar-draft (it's actually $1.15 for a seven-ounce glass of Labatt 50; not exactly the cheap thrill I was expecting, but cute nonetheless). The space is generous in size. The unremarkable wooden furniture, the decades-old couches in the back room, and a wooden deer's head anchored on the wall are by no means fashionable, but who cares on this end of the Danforth ?
Aesthetic shortcomings aside, there's very little to dislike about the Linsmore. You'd be hard-pressed finding a more agreeable bunch than the regulars on this Monday night. People here will remember your name, and pay for your drinks (just be sure to return the favour). Chairs and tables are pulled up to make more room, and unbelievable stories are exchanged.
I'm invited to play darts. I say I'm not very good and don't want to ruin their good time. "Don't be silly," they reply. I'm with two other girlfriends, so they deem our team Charlie after the eponymous television series. There's a banker, an Irishman, Hulk Hogan's twin brother in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and Axl Rose's red bandanna. A woman with a voice scratchier than Tom Waits ' teaches me the proper stance in dart throwing. In the face of my incompetence she jokes: "maybe we'd get you over there instead." She points towards the pool table at the back.
The Linsmore's a good place for those who like to romanticize; in fact, on the night I'm there, some guy claiming to be scouting locations for a movie shows up. Almost any idiosyncrasy can be justified--made charming, even--by its age, having served since 1934. I tell Ryan that I love the place. He frowns at me worriedly. "Really? I was thinking of fixing it up. Maybe a patio. A real menu. Or new furniture."
The only new thing acquired in the past decade--a giant, touchscreen jukebox that jars horribly with the Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn it plays--glows in the corner, alien and anachronistic. It's the only genuinely ugly thing about the bar. "Don't change a thing," I reply.