Swan Dive is a laid-back, friendly, and unpretentious place, where having unadulterated fun seems to be the order of the day. This stretch of Dundas West isn't short on bar options, but few are as quirky and inviting as this place.
One of Swan Dive's main attractions is its co-owner Abra Shiner, whose electric personality sets a tone of friendliness and open-mindedness that percolates throughout the bar whenever she enters the space.
"Coming in here should be an adventure," notes Shiner, who stocks the bar with novelty sunglasses and liquid soap bubbles for customers to play with. The place reminds me of a Chucky Cheese for adults.
There are board games, books, and an eccentric pool table. A widescreen plays old B-films with names like Flesh Gordon, while customers snack on free popcorn made from a vintage popcorn machine.
Cocktails range from $8 to $13. A Classic Gimlet is $8, while a Paper Plane comes in at $11:50. One of Shiner's more interesting concoctions is her reinvention of the classic 212 ($11.50).
Made with egg whites, tequila, grapefruit juice, and aperol, it's midnight grapefruit juice with a kick.
By way of beer, Swan Dive has a rotating tap and an assortment of tallboys, with pints ranging from $7.25 to $8.
Recent offerings have included Duggans #9 IPA and Duggan's #5 Sorachi Lager. Tallboys start at $6 -- and yes, for the cash strapped, they also have small cans of PBR ($4).
Another major draw for me is the availability of espresso ($2.50) and cappuccino ($4) into the early hours of the morning. All rail drinks are $5.25, with specials every night.
Swan Dive also has a constantly rotating menu that features some pretty interesting comfort food. The grilled cheese is my favourite ($6), served piping hot with tons of melted cheddar oozing out of densely buttered bread. With a side of juicy pickles, it's delicious.
A slice of strawberry pie is $4, and co-owner and chef Rebecca Lawton makes up a mean bowl of chilli ($8). The kitchen is open until after last call, so conceivably, you could be eating a plate of Texas jerk chicken ($7) at the bar at 2:30 in the morning while finishing your last drink.
The decor at Swan Dive is eclectic vintage but not retro. The front side of the bar bares a shellacked collage -- a hodgepodge of bank notes and vintage photographs.
The espresso bar is decked with roses and a neo-classical statuette holding a disco ball. The rest of the space is adorned with an assortment of vintage furniture, artwork, and playful schlock.
Events at Swan Dive include "Lazy Sunday Movies" (7 pm), a weekly movie night that pairs classic cult movies with cocktail specials.
For example, White Russians are paired with a screening of The Big Lebowski, PBR with Blue Velvet, Morning Glories with Breakfast at Tiffany's, and so on.
The bar also hosts guest bartenders every Wednesday night, which occasionally include performance art bartending.
Overall, the atmosphere at Swan Dive is very inviting. It's not a stuffy bar where you feel like you can't approach people, as patrons tend to interact with one another freely.
The place attracts people from all walks of life, from local artists to business people to rockers, and the average Joe beer drinker. "Everyone fits into a place like this," Shiner notes.