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Get to know a bartender: Fabian Skidmore of The Only Cafe

Posted by Ryan Bolton / February 16, 2012

Fabian Skidmore Only CafeFabian Skidmore is about as laid back as they come. Sipping a draught beer, sporting some disheveled hair and perched on a stool at The Only, Fabian is home.

He meshes seamlessly with the Danforth hotspot for beer drinkers, most of whom are regulars. He knows his beer. Especially the local draught brews. And he should know — before getting behind the bar, he was on the other side as a patron for 13 years. Not to forget, as his appearance and demeanor accurately portrays, Fabian is also a musician. He plays straight-up rock 'n' roll in Clang and usually a once-a-year gig with The Shoes, sometimes at The Only.

How long have you been a barkeep?

I've been either bartending or cooking since I was really young. About 22 years now. I started as an 18-year-old in a chicken restaurant. A fried chicken restaurant that my friend started up in Scarborough. I've been at too many places to count. In the industry, there's a shelf life. If you're good and you know it, you know when to duck out and move on. It's probably about five to six months per place. You bring something new to the place and then that starts to wear out. You start to get tired of it and your boss starts to get tired of you. It's a bit different here though.

This is more of a long-term place. There is always a line-up of people trying to get in here as an employee. We have people on staff that have been here for eight or nine years.

Only CafeWhat's kept you here at The Only?

I'd been on this side of the bar [the drinking side], for about 18 years. And I've worked here for about five. My friend James bought this place about nine years ago. He asked me to come in and do shifts and help out. I had always resisted him because I didn't want to ruin my hangout.

The one thing that has kept me here is being able to take it and promote it in my way with the craft beer. James and I are old friends and he trusts me completely and so he's able to be totally hands-off and do other projects like opening the coffee shop about three years ago.

Favourite type of regular and why?

That's a tough question there, Mr. I often get a lot of joy from the regulars that I've known because they're all my friends — that's why it's a hard question. But introducing them to new beer. Most of the regulars (i.e. the people who have been coming here for as long as I have or longer) have their go-to beer. But if I sample out new beer and they're open to it and they switch their brand to that or whatever. Or even better is going into experimental-mode and trying a few different beers instead of sessioning just one kind. Those are my favourites for sure.

Favourite Toronto hideout?

Bar Volo would be one. I can go there and see all the staff and operators that I know so I'll be able to talk to someone there. Also, we have a lot of customers in common. It's really neat running into other people there.

I also like The Rhino when I want to be more conspicuous.

Best part about working in a bar? And the worst?

Best part is the people. The worst part is the people, too. I'm really fortunate to work here, because I'm serving a lot of my friends. It's very casual. The Only is casual anyway because it's still kinda like hanging out. The problem is that I can't really hang out because I am working, you know. We're not at the most cream of the crop spot on the Danforth, but the vibe itself sorts out the people who are here to get plastered and make trouble and the people who appreciate what we're doing. It's one of my favourite parts is that it works itself out.

What do you do on your days off?

Hangout with my family.

Only CafeWhat's your beverage of choice?

Local draught beer. Black Oak Pale Ale is a pretty good go-to. But I don't settle on one because there's always more beers coming out.

What's your best move for kicking people out of the bar?

The best way, I'm sure every bartender will agree with, is the non-confrontational way. Just say, "Try again tomorrow." Be really polite and still treat them like a customer — I think that's the most important thing. Once you cross the line to getting emotional, they're going to pick up on that and go with it.

The craziest thing you've seen here?

As a patron, I saw a bartender, who I didn't know at the time but was pretty legendary as it turns out, getting naked at last call. He got up on the bar and started throwing ashtrays around and kicking drinks and saying, "It's time to go" and doing a dance along the bar. It happened once or twice during his tenure here, but there's lots of legend around it. It was pretty awesome. He got our attention and made us leave.

What's the biggest no-no in a bar?

One of them is explaining why you can't tip better. We actually don't care. We don't think about it. What we think about is at the end of the night [when we tally our tips]. To explain it is pointing it out to us. At the time we're usually pretty busy as well. It washes out in the end — it's cool. We don't need the explanation. Just pay for the beer. If you leave stuff, great. If not, whatever. It all washes out to us making our money in the end anyway. It's not a big deal.

One thing that is kind of a no-no here is asking for a martini or a cocktail. Because the answer you will often get is, "a shot of tequila?"


Straight up or on the rocks? Mixed drink on the rocks. Single malt straight up.

Whiskey or rum? Whiskey

Shots or mixed drinks? Shots

Beards or mustaches? Beards

Labatt or Molson? Neither

Beer or hard liquor? That's pretty easy. [It's beer for the record]

Photos by Joel Yum



EJ / February 16, 2012 at 11:01 am
Coolest dude and best casual spot for a pint east of Yonge.
artie blanc replying to a comment from EJ / February 16, 2012 at 11:47 am
1 / February 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm
Toronto is populated only by hipsters.
Dabo / February 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm
Makes me wish I was on my way to "The Danny" not San Francisco .
Hoptomology / February 16, 2012 at 12:54 pm
Great bar, Great beer, Great people...
Chet / February 16, 2012 at 01:01 pm
Best bartender at the best bar in the city.
Rob / February 16, 2012 at 01:13 pm
Wonder how long he'll last with an ever-growing Mecca across the street
wat replying to a comment from Rob / February 16, 2012 at 01:18 pm
Mecca lekka hi mekka hidey-ho
John Coates / February 16, 2012 at 01:37 pm
Great bartender and great bar!
Mark / February 16, 2012 at 01:46 pm
Anyone know if this place is 'related to' The Only in Peterborough?
jgam / February 16, 2012 at 01:49 pm
The Only is not littered with hipsters, though to some degree I wish it was.
I live in the hood, and drink here often.
Hipsters don't come this far East.

Great bar (and adjoining espresso bar beside it).
Sara / February 16, 2012 at 01:51 pm
I really wish they would change that Labatt or Molson question. Why not, lager or ale? Stout or blonde? Especially with these bars with amazing beer selections.
cody replying to a comment from Sara / February 16, 2012 at 02:40 pm
I like my ladies both stout and blonde.
Ultramother Catastrophe / February 16, 2012 at 03:23 pm
Sara, I wholeheartedly agree. It should definitely be changed to "lager or ale". Fuck Labatt and fuck Molson -- they're marketers, not brewers.
Mike replying to a comment from Mark / February 16, 2012 at 04:28 pm
Yes, I believe it is.
JL / February 16, 2012 at 08:00 pm
It's good to be a regular at The Only. Fabian and the gang are second to none. Although, I do miss the poker games and the small town feel.
Gabriel / February 16, 2012 at 08:48 pm
This place is Kick Ass!!!
hpo replying to a comment from Rob / February 16, 2012 at 11:27 pm
Wonder how long bigots will last in a diverse city.
Tim / February 17, 2012 at 01:23 am
A fine lad in a fine place. cheers fabro.
jd replying to a comment from Rob / February 18, 2012 at 02:17 am
"how long he'll last" ?? well almost thirty years at this point, i think they'll be around for quite a wile longer.
jd replying to a comment from Mark / February 18, 2012 at 02:20 am
the only on the danforth was originally opened by Jerome Ackhurst in the mid - late eighties....he sold it and moved to peterboroughin early 90's and opened the only there...i've worked, drank, fucked, fought and fallen in love at both places. 2 of the best bars in the country.
Brittany / February 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm
This is my favourite bar in the city! Such a gem.
tardy laser boats / March 12, 2012 at 09:54 pm
I wish I lived closer to The Only.
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