The 5 oldest bars in Toronto
There are not many of them, but Toronto boasts several bars and pubs that have been serving drinks for more than a century. In a city that a little over 220 years ago was no more than a cluster of tents, that's quite impressive. In fact, two of the bars on this list predate Canadian Confederation; all of them opened before the second great fire of Toronto and the first electricity reached the city from Niagara.
Naturally, the process for definitively determining the oldest bars in the city is subject to some debate, as business this old have often changed focus over the years. While we've researched our list, please feel free to make other compelling suggestions in the comments section.
Here are some of the oldest pubs and bars in Toronto.
The Wheat Sheaf
Only one place in Toronto can claim to have been serving beer for 155 years, and that's the Wheat Sheaf at King and Bathurst. The historic pub, which predates confederation, can trace its history to the days of soldiers at nearby Fort York and the wild wind storm that severed the Toronto Island's last natural connection to the mainland. The persistent rumour that the basement of the Wheat Sheaf is linked to Fort York by way of a tunnel is (sadly) completely bogus.
The Black Bull
Queen Street West's Black Bull can rightfully claim to be among Toronto's oldest bars, if not the oldest. The establishment opened in either 1833 or 1838, depending on the source, in a different wood-framed building on the same location at Queen and Soho streets. Writing in the late 1800s, newspaper owner John Ross Robertson said the Black Bull was "a favourite stopping place for farmers on their way to town from the west and north-west." It was called the Clifton House for several decades until 1977.
The Brunswick House
What the grimy Brunswick House lacks in luxury it makes up for with history. Since 1876, the Annex stalwart--"The Brunny" to its friends--has been serving food and libations, more recently to a raucous student crowd thirsty for cheap drinks and dance parties. During prohibition, the hotel was raided at least once for "having liquor in a private place other than a dwelling."
Dominion on Queen
Now sadly shorn of its tower and many of its finest exterior details, the Dominion on Queen was opened in 1889 by Robert Davies, a member of the family that founded the neighbouring Dominion Brewery (now converted to office space.) The hotel originally housed a performance space on its top floor, but it was demolished in the 1940s. In his lifetime, Davies was also financially involved in the running of the several paper mills and the Don Valley Brick Works.
The Gladstone Hotel
The Gladstone Hotel opened in 1899 across from North Parkdale, a lost Toronto railway station. According to the building's historical plaque, the 60-room hotel was considered one of the safest in the city for many decades--it was "the only safe place for one's Great Aunt to stay alone" and for that reason was a popular choice for traveling workers. In the 1950s, the hotel bar was called the Melody Room.
BONUS: Miller Tavern
Opened as the York Mills Hotel in 1860s, the Miller Tavern was a popular road house and resting point for horses on the trail out of Toronto. The name was changed to The Jolly Miller in the 20th century, and it became "infamous for the site of suburban high-school student debauchery," according to The Globe and Mail. The brick building dropped its happy moniker in 2004 after undergoing a renovation and conversion to a seafood restaurant.
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.
Image: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library
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