For years, The Communist's Daughter at Ossington and Dundas was one of those hidden-gem spots that people in the know loved to be in the know about. Cozy, candlelit and powered by body heat, it's a hole in the wall in the best possible sense of the term. Fans of the the tiny haunt will tell you that its casual atmosphere, excellent jukebox selection, and signature pickled eggs are what keeps them coming back for more. Word is out by now, though, so even without a proper sign, there's no shortage of drinkers. The atmosphere is friendly and intimate, but with room for only eight small tables it has to be; the clientele's on top of each other by about 9pm.
The decor is either reminiscent of the older, lingering social clubs that still pepper dusty neighbourhoods like Dundas's west end, or the kind of working-class dive bar you could see yourself frequenting alone if you liked to tell bartenders your troubles, depending on your frame of reference. Think Legion Hall with romance. I like to think it's the way I would've wanted my bedroom to look when I was 20 - bohemian, artistic and homey - but better, because there's a bar and the patrons make judicious use of the jukebox's eclectic jazzy/indie/classic rock selection.
Christmas lights are strung from the ceiling to give the otherwise dark room a warm glow. Vintage crokinole boards hang on the wall and are available for play. Over the bench at the back, a framed portrait of an unhappy looking child never fails to draw the attention of pensive tipplers.
Outside, the facade is misleading, as the six-year-old bar is still crowned with the outdated signage of the venue's previous incarnation, "Nazare Snack Bar". Owners Paul Emery and Trish Welbourn incorporated much of what was left of the Portuguese diner into the bar, including leaving the original sign up, which can get confusing for first-time visitors. A chalkboard sign hanging in the window tips would-be customers off to its true name.
Hipsters, locals, artists, students, and blue-collars alike come for no-nonsense fare like Molson Stock Ale and pickled eggs. Wine comes in red or white, and is served to the brim in the kind of glass your grandmother might have served you milk in. A short menu in the $6 to $7 range is scrawled on a chalkboard on the back wall: hummus plate, salami sandwich, beer cheese sandwich, salami and cheese plate, lupine olive plate. The apple blue cheese sandwich is a bit overwhelming, even for a cheese lover like myself.
On Saturday and Sunday evenings, live bands play in the window alcove at the front of the bar, making things even cozier in the remaining space of the rest of the bar. Two guitarists and a bassist bust out Django Reinhardt tunes on Saturdays with sporadic accompaniment by the bartender. Sundays, Toronto punk legends John Borra and Sam Ferrara play a folky, acoustic set. A friend of mine used to frequent the Communist's Daughter on a fruitless mission to seduce Ron Sexsmith, who could often be found - friendly, but disappointingly appropriate - seated at the bar.
The name of the bar will sound familiar to fans of Neutral Milk Hotel, whose song "The Communist's Daughter" inspired the designation. It also somehow perfectly captures the bolshevik vibe of this laid-back imbiber's oasis, where everybody's your comrade and the limited seating must be shared equally by all.
Writing by Jessica McCann