Stella is all about the music. Sure, this new bar at the western frontier of Bloordale hosts a variety of concerts and regular music nights, but even the story of how the place came to be has a lot to do with some well-chosen grooves.
Somewhere in the murky history of 1261 Bloor Street West, the address was home to CC Records, a mainly reggae imprint whose legacy is testified to by a framed 45 that now sits on Stella's mantelpiece. More recently the site had been languishing as a sketchy café that attracted a few local residents but was otherwise just one of many nondescript storefronts along Bloor Street.
One of those locals was Vince Pollard, who one night was asked by owner Ronti Hosen to pick some music on the café's iPod in exchange for free drinks and food. Soon Vince was hosting DJ nights there and when Ronti left to visit family in Bangladesh he asked Vince to take care of the place for a while. Stella was re-launched on Feb. 11th.
Vince and his friends Chris Flanagan and Emily Alfred renovated the place, painting it a schoolroom green and installing a bar made of wood reclaimed from a school. Most of the chairs are those wood plank and metal numbers you'd normally see lined up in a classroom. They're much more comfortable than I remember them being in grade four.
Though Vince dropped the "café" from the place's name to denote its graduation to a bona fide Bloor Street bar, he decided to keep the garish sign outside, for now at least. He muses that he can't decide whether it's "bad, or so bad that it's good." Personally, I think it's the latter.
Vince is working on a menu of simple favourites like mac n' cheese and nachos made with ingredients from the Mexican grocers around the corner, and when Ronti returns he'll be whipping up his neighbourhood-famous curry. Until then patrons have their choice of cheap drinks. Six bucks for a shot of Johnny Walker Black Label if you're feeling the need for something stiff, $4.25 bottles of 50 or MGD if you're not.
Beers costing $4.75 (this counts as midrange at Stella) include bottles of No. 9 IPA from up-and-coming Toronto microbrewery Duggan's, $5.25 bottles of Red Stripe, and on the high end $6 tall cans of Stiegl. Unfortunately the only thing on tap so far is Steamwhistle, for $5.50.
Vince's specialty cocktail is the Whinging Pomegranate, a pomegranate martini topped with frozen raspberries that takes its name from an Australian slang term for British immigrants, courtesy of co-manager and Australian expat Chris Flanagan.
Low-cost brews and extremely friendly service aside, Vince hopes Stella's main attraction will be its roster of regular parties and concerts. A full schedule hasn't been fleshed out but Stella appears to be a home for all genres. Events to expect in the coming months include a monthly all-vinyl dance party helmed by a DJ who guys by the stomach-churning moniker Maggot Brain, shows by local electro acts like minisystem , a reggae night, and a music trivia night. With a capacity that could hardly exceed 50 people, anything approaching a high-energy party in here would quickly steam up the windows and, I imagine, be very fun.
Which is just as well because on nights when there are no events, good beer and good service alone might not be enough to draw customers to the dark end of Bloor Street. Stella's vibe is laid-back and cool, but nothing too special. Yet this bar has a touch of energy and creativity that this section of the city sorely needs, and for that reason alone Stella is a place worth supporting.
UPDATE (Dec 18, 2011): Vince Pollard has contacted us to let us know he is no longer involved with Stella. The bar is now run by Ronti Hosen who has shifted the menu to focus on a mishmash of Bangladesh-style curry and soup. MGD is no longer stocked and Spearhead Hawaiian is now on tap. The Whinging Pomegranate is no longer served here. Also, Maggot Brain and Minisystem are no longer involved. There are still occasional DJ nights and an open mic but it's more sporadic from what it was.