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Eat & Drink

The 5 oldest bars in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / July 18, 2014

oldest bars torontoThere 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.

toronto black bullThe 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.

toronto gladstone hotelThe 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

Discussion

25 Comments

Elysium / July 18, 2014 at 01:23 pm
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Love the Wheatsheaf, great staff.

2 suggestions:

1) play more golf on TV
2) bring back Creemore beer!

girlpublisher / July 18, 2014 at 01:55 pm
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"Travelling" in Canada, not "traveling".
umOK / July 18, 2014 at 02:29 pm
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You want to go to a bar to watch golf on TV? Are the most boring person?
M / July 18, 2014 at 02:38 pm
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True story: I saved the Wheat Sheaf from fire in 1987.
adsg / July 18, 2014 at 02:56 pm
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i wish blogto would start putting pictures below the titles. it's confusing
SteveM / July 18, 2014 at 02:58 pm
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I've been to the Black Bull a ton of times, knew it was old but didn't know it was that old!
zzzzzz / July 18, 2014 at 06:59 pm
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zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

what a horrible post.
Sab / July 18, 2014 at 07:02 pm
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Gotta love the Brunny!
Sarah / July 18, 2014 at 07:13 pm
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Sorry to say, but the first sentence of this piece is… nonsensical. Sigh. Here is the offending phrase: "There are ***not many*** of them, but Toronto boasts ***several*** bars and pubs"
It makes NO sense to use "not many" to describe the number of bars and pubs serving for more than a century in one phrase, and then indicate there are "several" in the next. Come ON. You are better than this, BlogTO. Or you should be.
d / July 18, 2014 at 08:11 pm
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Maybe you should write for them instead, Sarah. Give these people a break, they work hard to entertain you for nothing!

Thanks for the article, BlogTO!
Shelly / July 18, 2014 at 08:35 pm
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My grandfather used to manage the Gladstone. They used to call it the "Happy Rock". I've heard many a great story of the place, but have never been there myself.
rln / July 18, 2014 at 10:43 pm
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I'll add to this with a Whitby (GTA at least) landmark: The Royal Hotel "171 Brock St. N. (1872/73) -
The Royal Hotel was built for James
Pringle and was designed by the
Toronto architect, Henry Langley. In
1877, Sir John A. MacDonald,
Canada’s first Prime Minister, made a
political speech in this building.
Originally, the front facade had large
windows on the ground floor which
were bricked over around 1914. (see
picture)
It's still a strip bar.
Black Bull, by a nose. / July 20, 2014 at 12:27 am
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I love the Wheatsheaf, too, but why is there any question when CLEARLY the Black Bull is the older of the two establishments, and the oldest in the city??!?! Duh! Both were hotels at the beginning, and both have been in operation since opening (although I remember at least a year or two when the Wheatsheaf was closed).
Tom / July 20, 2014 at 12:29 am
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Supposedly until last year, there had been a bar/pub on the SE corner of Danforth & Dawes for around 150 years. This wouldn't make the list because it changed names and owners numerous times over that span, and it's now been closed at replaced with a clothing store
Black Bull, by a nose. / July 20, 2014 at 12:29 am
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Also, I should have noted that as far as I know, the Black Bull is STILL the original building, not a different one. It was built upon, refaced and enlarged, but I'm sure I read that there are original walls under all of the renovations. The Wheat Sheaf also has been renovated a lot since it opened, as is obvious by the 1870's Mansard roofline addition.
Brigitte replying to a comment from rln / July 20, 2014 at 04:38 am
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Since when is Whitby in the GTA?
Brigitte replying to a comment from rln / July 20, 2014 at 04:40 am
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Yeah could blogTO please get a little more clear with their picture correlations? Maybe some captions in bold or italics directly under each photo just to be clear? Like the header photo on this article... which bar is that? HELP US OUT HERE WE ARE JUST FLAILING IN THE DARK WE NEED GUIDANCE
Publican / July 20, 2014 at 07:32 pm
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Surprisingly, the oldest pubs in Canada are in Ontario. That is to say the pubs that have been operating continuously since day one, and not pubs that have moved around, or opened in an old building. There is an inn in the Maritimes that claims to be the oldest inn, but it has been a number of things over the years (including being a boarding house and quite likely a single family dwelling) so that claim is specious. To my knowledge the oldest continuously operated pub in one building in Canada is the Angel Inn in Niagara on the Lake.
Oldest in Toronto? No contest. The Black Bull tavern was built before the Wheat Sheaf by a decade and a half.
Deek / July 21, 2014 at 02:27 pm
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I believe there's a small error. I operate the Laff (The Chateau Lafayette) in Ottawa; we are Ottawa's oldest tavern, since 1849. It's been in my family since 1969. I'm pretty sure the Wheat Sheaf in Toronto opened the same year as us, making them 165 this year, not 155. I would check with their owner! Fun post - now do Ottawa :).
David / July 21, 2014 at 07:36 pm
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Many consider The Monarch Tavern to be the second oldest bar in Toronto. It, too, was a hotel back in the old days--as the blown up photograph on their main floor will attest. However, there is no actual record of how old The Monarch is. The earliest historical document is the liquor license that was issued in 1927--which is the year all the earliest liquor licenses were handed out in the city after prohibition. There's no way of knowing how long they were slinging beer before that, but I hear there are photographs of horses tied up out front of the old Monarch Hotel on Clinton St. just south of College.
Sorry to be a Stickler / July 22, 2014 at 10:22 am
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Deek, that is very cool! However, 42 York Street in Ottawa is not listed in Ottawa's historical buildings list; the closest is 41 York Street, which was the St Louis Hotel built in 1875. Do you know anything about when 42 York Street was built? For a fair definition of oldest pub, it have to be in the same building it started. What documentation do they have that it opened in 1849, and where did it originally open? Just curious, and I'm not being a dick about it. Next time I'm in Ottawa I will definitely check out the Laff!

@David, the first liquor licenses issued after the Prohibition
are not an indicator of the first bar. It's a cool bit of trivia, but unless anyone knows when the Monarch was built there is no way it can be called the second oldest bar in Toronto. Early to mid 19th Century, the area where the Monarch is now was actually pretty far away from the more settled sections of Toronto downtown. The building looks to me like it was built in the early part of the 20th Century; the red Spanish style tiles on the roof may have been added later but I doubt if it goes back too much further than when it got its liquor license. I can't find any photos online of horses outside, or any indication of when it was built. But again, kudos to the Monarch, as it is a much older watering hole than I realized! :)
Zthyadat replying to a comment from Sarah / July 27, 2014 at 07:29 pm
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Sorry to say, but... sigh...

Look up the meaning of the word "several"... according to Merriam-Webster:

a : more than one
b : more than two but fewer than many

So more than one and less than many pretty much means that "not many but there are several" is correct...

Funny how so many ignorant people use it the wrong way, isn't it?
paul / August 2, 2014 at 01:13 am
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the Olde Stone Cottage in Scarborough was built in 1867. Not sure if its been a pub the whole time but it has been serving drinks my whole life.
shovel knight dash attack / August 3, 2014 at 01:55 am
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Throughout each level the player will collect gold which they can use to purchase items and upgrades in towns.
As a matter of actuality, within the delayed
Nineties, Kate Scoop has been awarded Perfect Equipment Designer label of
year. Can you not see that the whole thing is brought about through the craft of the devil.
Royal Oak / August 23, 2014 at 09:47 am
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Dundas & Ontario Street. Though closed now, one of the oldest. Where 'Cocktail', starring Tom Cruise, was filmed.

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