The Feathers Pub
The Feathers Pub has been the local watering hole for British expats and Britophiles in the Upper Beaches community since 1981, and its patrons just can't seem to get enough of this place.
When you step inside, it's like you've been transported back in time to an olde style British pub, with its red velvet banquette benches, dark wooden furnishings and flowery wallpaper. There are framed photographs all over the walls documenting the bar's history and the Scottish homeland of its original owner, Ian Innes.
Innes decided to retire in 2009 and Reid Pickering bought the bar from him, taking over as publican. Pickering, who is also of Scottish heritage, grew up in the neighbourhood and liked that it was such a regular hangout for everybody in the area. He's been working in the bar biz since starting out as a dishwasher at 15, and for the most part, he's trying to keep what regulars love about Feathers intact.
Along with a few minor renovations (namely the carpet and the ceiling), one of the things Pickering has worked on improving is the pub fare. Everything is made in-house, with British staples on the menu like cottage (a.k.a. shepherd's) pie, which comes with a side of garden salad ($11.99), and on the weekends, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and vegetables (6 oz. for $14.99, 8 oz. for $17.50).
There is also not-so-Brit fare like veggie quesadillas ($9.99), and weekly specials like striploin steak Thursdays ($12.50), with quality meat supplied by Close to the Bone across the street on Kingston Road, and fresh fish Fridays ($17.99) with product from De La Mer .
This was one of the first bars to take an interest in craft beers, and about half of its 21 offerings on tap are domestic and local brews, including its Feathers and Feathers Red house lagers ($5.50 a pint), by Great Lakes Brewery .
Pints of other domestic draughts (Double Trouble's Hops & Robbers IPA, Junction Craft Brewing's Conductor's Craft Ale, Mill Street Organic, etc.) are $6.10 while imported ones (Fullers London Pride, Tetley's English Ale, Guinness, Innis & Gunn, etc.) are $6.50. There is also always a cask ale that changes weekly for $6.85 (when I'm there, it's the Flying Monkeys' Muddy Wader Nut Brown).
However, what Feathers is most famous for is its impressive selection of single malt Scotch. Innes started with one shelf dubbed the "singles bar" and it expanded into one of the largest and best - if not the best - collections in the country, and possibly in the entire continent.
There are over 400 bottles from over 100 Scottish distilleries to choose from, and if you're as overwhelmed as I am by the Scotch "book" they present, you can opt for one of the tasting menus ($30-75) that offer half-ounce samples according to a theme.
You can tour through all the whisky-producing regions of Scotland; focus in on a particular area; try some of the rare ones that are down to the last bottle; or hone in on just the finest single malts. The bar even occasionally brings in experts from the distilleries to run tastings.
An interesting mix of clientele can be found at Feathers. If you arrive in the early evening, it looks like a lot of the people in here have been coming since the place first opened (as in, they are pretty old now); the next wave seems to be large groups of families who grew up in the area and are now bringing their kids along with them; and finally, younger couples who are newer to the neighbourhood and drawn to the pub's quirky charms arrive as the night wears on.
One of the regulars, Simon Cowe, a brewmaster and British expat (fun fact: he was one of the original members of Newcastle folk-rock band Lindisfarne back in the '70s) has been coming to the pub for the past 20 years or so. I strike up a conversation with him and learn he used to brew the Feathers house beers in the bar's basement.
Cowe's a walking encyclopedia when it comes to both the beers and the history of this place. "It's the most authentic British pub in Canada and the best one in Toronto," he tells me. That must be why everyone just keeps coming back.