Track & Field Bar
Track & Field Bar is Toronto's first ever lawn games bar, the creation of Montauk owner Dustin Keating, Montauk ex-manager Joshua Leblanc, and publicist Nickie Minshall. The bar caused a major stir earlier this year when their owners unveiled their plans to merge cocktails and craft beer with bocce and shuffleboard.
It's tough to picture an indoor bar devoted to lawn games without picturing some kind of mini-golf course or arcade, Dave & Buster's -style. But as I spotted the entrance to the basement-level bar from College and descended through what the owners refer to as "the mine shaft," I was in for a rather pleasant surprise.
Sprawling across a massive basement underneath the corner of College and Concord, Track & Field is a surprisingly cozy place, with handmade wooden tables, dark walls, and dim lights that warm up the space. Oh, yeah - and there's two Astroturf-covered bocce ball courts to your immediate left, and two large shuffleboard decks to your right.
Most of the bar, though, is just there for patrons to sit or stand with a drink, chatting - just like any other spot for drinks. "Bocce ball and shuffleboard are really important, but at the end of the day, it's a bar first and foremost," Keating says.
The idea for the bar (since I know you're wondering) came from Minshall, Keating, and their obsession with gaming-based bars and activities like SPIN and BATL. "We kept going to bars with something to do, and stopped going just to drink," Minshall says. )Apparently, they got super hardcore into ping-pong.)
Minshall had visited a bar in New York called Union Hall that also made space for bocce courts, and when she told Keating - who was already itching for a new project, two years out from the launch of Montauk - the decision was instantly made.
The first place they saw - the huge, already-gutted basement - was a perfect fit, and they set about overhauling it themselves, installing a 7,000 pound bar and layering stones and sand under the fake turf of the bocce courts (which are by no means regulation - who has room for an 80-foot bocce court?) for a backyard feel.
One of each court is left open at all times for patrons to use (if it's free), while the other can be pre-booked online for a fee of $40, a feature the owners say is already in huge demand for birthday and office parties.
So far, people have (mercifully) been adults about respecting turns and using the gear responsibly. Says Keating: "We even heard one customer, like, 'Yo, don't throw the ball that high, man.'" Are they worried about being liable if someone get whacked by an errant throw? "I think if darts exists in a bar, bocce ball can exist in a bar," they insightfully point out.
Over at the bar, meanwhile, there's a short list of draft beers, wine and cocktails that's set to double in length as things get settled. (They don't do their own food, with the exception of some housemade jerky, but plan to host culinary pop-ups "all the time.")
Bar manager Jesse Borg approached the drinks list with a sense of fun, looking to ditch the stuffiness of some cocktail lists in favour of shaken-up classic drinks with goofy names: The Versace Versace Versace ($12) is a herbaceous twist on a Dark & Stormy, served on a fake $100 bill, while the Quiet American ($12) is like a more syrupy-sweet take on an Old Fashioned, undercut with a little licorice-y absinthe. (You wouldn't think it works, but it does.)
As he walks me through his creations, a loud, triumphant cheer erupts from the dudes rolling balls over at the bocce courts, and I'm momentarily stunned. "You get used to that, believe me," he smiles.