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No One Writes to the Colonel

Photo: Dennis Marciniak

Posted by Robyn Urback / June 4, 2011

No One Writes to the Colonel feels just like a 70's throwback lounge, but more homey than groovy, and laid-back than swank. First off, it's in a house, formerly a doctor's office, on College just west of Bathurst. Then the signage--there's little of it. Right now, it's just gold lettering spelling out "No One Writes to the Colonel" on the mailbox by the door. "We haven't decided yet if we're going to do something bigger," co-owner Martin Smits tells me.

Inside, there's a fireplace, painted white and surrounded by low vintage furniture. Hanging lamps glow over sections by the windows, which are covered by mismatched plaid curtains. The bar in the centre is the main focal point, though, made of dark wood and antique backlit tiles.

"There wasn't really an idea for the space," Smits says. "We just started finding things and the concept evolved from there."

"The wood for that bar," he continues, motioning toward the side bar with saddle stools, "came from my grandparents barn. The records are from my grandmother's collection."

Those records have been fixed to the wall behind the stage. Another wall is covered with vintage sepia floral wallpaper from Smash in the Junction, and some others boast art by Sabine Liva, who happens to be the wife of Smits' partner.

Smits, who was born in Toronto but whose family is from Latvia, was living in Latvia for 10 years prior to opening the Colonel. His friend, who was in the club business, suggested they open a bar in Toronto, seeing as Sabine's work brought then to Toronto for five months a year.

After initially opening just for private functions and special events - they host the weekly Short & Sweet film screenings as well as The Moth events - they are now fully up and running. "I don't want to be the new 'hot spot,'" Smits says. "So many places in Toronto like that start hard and fizzle out."

"There are lots of places for students around here, but I want this to be an adult place."

There are still some things to figure out, including exact pricing ("we'll probably just charge whatever other places in the area are charging for a pint"), precise hours ("we'll be open for coffee, lunch, and we have free WiFi"), and how to make sure live bands don't piss off the neighbours ("there's a decibel meter behind the bar"). The name, however, was a sure-thing from the get-go.

"Actually, there's a No One Writes to the Colonel in Latvia," Smits says. "That's the original; my partner opened it a few years back then sold if off to finance this one."

Named for a novella by Gabriel García Márquez, Smits says he thinks the architect was on a Márquez kick at the time, and designed the space for the bar in Latvia with the novella in mind.

"Toronto also has a vibrant literary community, so I think it works," Smits says. "And Toronto has too many single-word bars anyway."

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Pale Ale, Cream Ale, Apricot Wheat
Signature Drink:
Mojito shot
Bar Snacks:
Soup, salads, Latvian pīrāgi. Full menu coming soon.
Everything but house
Live Music:
Who Goes There:
Grad students, young professionals, some silver hair
Open 10am daily

Other Cities: Montreal