Wilson 96 is a new-ish bar on College that really is a breath of fresh air in what has become, to me anyway, a pretty tired strip of Toronto night-life. While there is no doubt some incredibly good food along the way (including the new Woodlot), when it comes to finding a simple, welcoming place to kick back and have a drink without feeling like you're either on a date or in a restaurant/dance club/tiki bar, Little Italy is a desert.
Open since May, Wilson 96 comes to us from the mother/daughter team of Siobhan and Gail Power. They've completely remade the shockingly green interior of its previous inhabitants into a den of exposed brick and dark wood creating a very warm, cozy, and relaxed atmosphere that makes anyone feel invited (although their signage could use some help).
A long 10 seat bar made from the floor of the old Wilson Lanes bowling alley stretches into the middle of the space, backstopped by a fridge stocked with about 25 types of beer (wish that were true with all bowling alleys - note to The Ballroom ). There are a couple booths along the wall and some plush arm chairs at the rear that get rearranged for live music nights - of which there are currently three - Monday (Jazz), Tuesday and Thursday (alt country with Samantha Martin and the Haggard).
Come the new year, they'll be adding an early Sunday evening show and will also start up a short film screening series for budding auteurs. If that isn't enough, they also have old school pen and paper trivia on Tuesday nights. The rest of the time, the music is your more ubiquitous ipod shuffle, but in this case, it really is a shuffle as friends and patrons are encouraged to make their own lists and share.
Food is a relatively minor occurrence, but you do have lots of options, including bringing your own (a whole homemade lasagne was spotted recently) or choosing from a smaller menu prepared by next door neighbour La Forchetta .
The drinks list is a nice combination of old school cocktails and with 4 beers and a cider on tap there is sure to be something you like, but make sure you bring cash as it's currently all they'll take.
Open 7 days a week from 5pm - 2am, Wilson 96 is a much needed addition to the College Street shuffle.