Regardless of whether you’re a 70s child, an 80’s baby or an early 90’s kid, we all have something in common – a propensity for nostalgia. It’s one of the most uniquely human experiences – a longing for another time, a belief that we should have grown up in another decade, or just a particular song, smell or taste that reminds us of when we were younger.
Toronto has bars and restaurants built on feeding this longing for, “The good ol’ days.” Whether its new places designed to mimic the décor and vibes of the past, or just those establishments that have stood the test of time and remain much the same as they did 50 years ago, the following are those places that are always good companions for a trip down memory lane.
1. Old School // 800 Dundas Street West
Located at Dundas and Palmerston, Old School Diner is a solid middle finger in the face of the Toronto health and juice trend. You won’t find anything kale-infused and low-cal here. Instead, Old School offers an amalgamation of American-style comfort food and drinks. The décor is straight out of a 1950s diner, complete with chrome stools and one very Instagram-worthy red neon sign that reads, “I called shotgun infinity when I was twelve.” The music played here stays true to the era, with a Motown accompaniment to every meal.
Notable drinks include a mojito that tastes like you’re sipping on a little bit of a Cuban vacation and the “Keep it Real” rye and ginger made with house-made gingerale.The food menu is where the real I’ll-be-going-on-a-diet-as-soon-as-this-meal-is-over action is. Think home-style biscuits, chicken and waffles, ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. Top it off with their Broken Dreams Sundae, a simple but delicious combination of vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and pretzel pieces.
Your new-age juice cleanse can wait. Take a trip back to a time carbs and curves were revered. Oh and side note: it's open 24 hours. One-night stands with food here I come.
2. Stones Place // 1255 Queen Street West
Answering the age-old question posed to us by Metric, “Who’d you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” is Stones Place owner Jimmy Stone, collector of Rolling Stones memorabilia for over 40 years. The walls to this Queen and Dufferin bar are a trip down 1960's memory lane, flanked with guitars, photos and gold records spanning the band’s career. The music runs parallel to this blast from the past theme, with Friday and Saturday nights spinning hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s. One of the few unpretentious bars left in Toronto, its patrons all take a little bit of sage advice from their favorite quote-of-the-day website and actually dance like no one is watching.
3. The Dakota Tavern // 249 Ossignton Avenue
Hailed as the best live music venue in the city, the Dakota Tavern is a little bit of the old south in Toronto. Occupying a downstairs space at Dundas and Ossignton, the wood-slated walls and saloon style seating are anything but contemporary. In fact, the bar radiates anti-modernity so much, it’s not uncommon to completely lose cell phone reception the minute you reach the bottom of the stairs. Long before Toronto hopped on the country bandwagon with Rock ‘n’ Horse and Boots and Bourbon, the Dakota Tavern has been the home of bluegrass jam sessions and a little of the deep south of years past. The Dakota is your spot for authentic country music, where whiskey is always accompanied by a little banjo and harmonica.
4. Mars Food // 432 College Street
This College and Bathurst staple isn’t designed to look like a diner of the past; it is a diner of the past. Since 1951, in fact. What is more retro than a diner that hasn’t changed its décor in over 50 years? The epitome of a greasy spoon, Mars food is the spot for a hangover cure that won’t break the bank. Screw those $20-an-egg spots on King West, get that tired Sunday butt over to College Street and enjoy a vanilla milkshake to match that pale, too-much-vodka-last-night face of yours.
5. Bean and Baker Malt Shop // 326 Harbord Street
Another new ice cream bar designed to mimic the 1950s malt shop experience, Bean and Baker is located on Harbord street across from Bickford Park. A park and some ice cream is a perfect summer pairing for a date or as a place to take the kids. With a staff decked out in white shirts and red bow ties, black and white tiled floors, red stool seating and 50s era music playing all day long, this spot is straight out of an Archie comic book lovers wet dream.
Not that I once had a collection of over 500 Archie comics or anything (I’m SUCH a Betty). Oh, and try the pocket pie. They are enough to make all the white girls squeal, “I just CAN’T EVEN!”
6. Cherry Cola’s Rock 'n' Rolla Cabaret Lounge // 200 Bathurst Street
This retro-style cabaret lounge is as tough to describe as it is to find. Located on the west side of Bathurst Street just north of Queen, it’s located at a very non-descript, blacked-out-windows spot in an otherwise largely residential neighbourhood. The only clue to finding it comes on weekends, when people crowd around its bright red door.
Self-titled as, “Toronto’s sexiest live music venue” the décor is reminiscent of Fangtastia from True Blood. Red Velvet wallpaper and vintage mirrors cover the walls and and chandeliers cast dim lighting on red boudoir seating. Like the name implies, cabaret is the live music of choice and it’s not uncommon to find go-go dancers getting down to the bands tunes. Milkshakes and Diners are great. But stumbling intoxicated into a 1920’s brothel-style burlesque show? That’s the kind of sexed-up period of history I can hop on board with.
7. Snakes and Lattes // Two locations
The only thing that could make me feel more nostalgic for my childhood than the board game Jumangi, is if I attended a “Guess this 1990's boyband hit” game of Trivial Pursuit.
Snakes and Lattes combines two very comforting things: alcohol and board games. And sure, on any given day at Snakes and Lagers you’re likely to find certain patrons taking their strategy games VERY seriously (we’re talking playing a game of Risk fully decked out in costume). But for most it’s simply a place to get your adult buzz on while yelling movie titles at each other like you’re kids again.
8. The Horseshoe Tavern // 370 Queen Street West
Toronto has a few standout music venues with history, where the beers and concerts of the past literally soak the walls. Sitting at the corner of Queen and Spadina since it opened its doors in 1947, the Horseshoe is one such venue that is extraordinary to hear live music at simply because of the history that reverberates through its walls.
A dive bar in the most wonderful sense of the word, entering the Horseshoe is like falling into a time capsule. The walls are coated with concert photos, newspaper clippings and reviews of the past. In a city where we seem to have little sentimental attachment to anything, the fact that the Horseshoe stands today is a testament to the power of music and the loyalty of its fans.
9. Sneaky Dee’s // 431 College Street
Pumping out arguably the city's best nachos since it opened its doors in 1990 at the corner of College and Bathurst, Sneaky Dee’s is Toronto grunge at its finest. A punk bar to the core, the bar still holds onto a faint musk that reminds you smokers once lit up in hoards here. The bathrooms are a proverbial Dr. Phil of sound graffiti-written advice, like, “Beware of limbo dancers” and “Nate’s balls are tiny.”
Their $5 breakfast is a reminder of a time when food was cheap, portions were massive, and 17-year-olds wearing Nirvana t-shirts tried to buy pitchers of beer with fake IDs . Don’t be intimidated by the bicycle gang-like exterior. The food is delicious, the drinks flow easily, and the atmosphere makes you feel like you’re drinking in a friend’s basement in high school.
10. Get Well // 1181 Dundas Street West
Ok sure, this one is a bit of a stretch. Get Well on Dundas West makes you feel like you took a jump into the past if that past included all the Toronto hipsters and a serious dedication to floral shirts.
But the bar has lines outside it every weekend for a reason. Patrons love the eclectic design, the more eclectic crowd, the large variety of cheap beer on tap and most notably the back area of the bar dedicated to vintage arcade games like Space Invaders, Tetris and Pinball. Maybe it won’t make you feel like you’re in a completely different era, but sharing a beer and a pinball war with one of your friends may just make you feel like you’re the coolest grade 9 kid in the whole damn city.
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