Sex Laser , the bartender tells me with a giggle when I asked her what the name of the establishment is. There isn't a sign out front. Despite the DineSafe sign in the window calling it Paradise Sports Bar & Grill, I found that very hard to believe: it's candlelit, contains zero televisions, with nothing on tap.
Turns out Paradise is the name of the old Portuguese joint it used to be. It's been about a month and a half since the keys were handed over, and its reincarnation is remarkable. The Dundas West regulars who do trickle in, however, seem awed: I hear "I can't believe this used to be Paradise" more than once.
Sex Laser, assuming that's the name they'll stick to, couldn't be more different from its former self. It's now a moody watering hole, more bohemian abode than what I imagine to be the Portuguese cousin of Hoops . It's got the interior design staples of any venue on this side of town: the dim lighting, the blood-red walls, the Persian rug. There is a gorgeous trunk used as a coffee table, likely sold at an obscene price from some furniture place in Leslieville .
A chandelier above the table umbrellas a dining table with unmatched chairs. One doesn't have to guess what vibe they're going for; it's essentially a living/dining room (that you pay to drink in). Apart from the requisite stools at the bar, there's nowhere else to linger, making one feel like they're at a giant house party. Even that stretch of empty space in the middle feels like it's because somebody's moved all the furniture out of the way.
Though nothing about it discourages you from coming alone, the way it's set up makes it ideal for a big group; most of the seating is by the sides and corners, providing plenty of privacy. On a Saturday night at eleven it's still relatively empty, with the music at an appropriate volume, making it the perfect place to actually converse.
The bar remains quiet for most of the evening until about one, when a sudden onslaught of people comes inexplicably pouring in. The music, having been on the mellower side of classic rock all evening, has its volume amped up and switches to The Tornadoes and The Kinks. (The crowd isn't the dancey type, but there's a fair bit of approving nodding.)
Sex Laser fits in seamlessly with the other bars on the stretch ( Bambi's , Camp 4 , Red Light ) in its casually intimate vibe. Judging from the lines I see snaking from each of these places as I walk eastward towards the end of the night, Sex Laser's sure to be a welcome alternative.