Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ugly Sweater: 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl - Part 1

While the citizens of Toronto were hunkering down for the night waiting for the looming winter storm, a group of about 20 people were making their way down to the Duke of York pub for the start of the third annual ‘Ugly Sweater, 12 Bars of Christmas Pub Crawl’. And whoa, what a bunch of ugly sweaters, kinds you wouldn’t or shouldn’t think ever existed.

I have a buddy(Luke Bowen) that was kind enough to extend an invite and even though I had to work the next morning, I couldn’t pass up on this opportunity. But just to confirm, I only stayed with the group until the eighth bar as I hate working hung over. I arrived to the Duke of York a little early because I had heard some positive things about it, even though it is part of a chain (Duke pubs). Well, I guess I came on an off night because it is not a pub I can appreciate. Loud rock and pop music, mainstream beer menu and dancing wait staff were at the top of the ‘I don’t like this to much’ list. Seriously, wait staff dancing to AC/DC Dirty Deeds around a brass pole attached to the bar was unprofessional and would be better suited for a university bar. I never write about places I don’t enjoy, but I felt I would be honest with the places that were selected for the crawl and so be it.

The other members of the crawl eventually arrived and the night began with a quick pint and contest buy in. For $5 you could buy a ticket for a chance to win prizes throughout the night, like travelers, shots, free beer etc. We saddled up after 25 minutes and headed across the road to the Bedford Academy.

From the moment we walked into Bedford Academy I knew it was an Inbev friendly bar. Tall, shiny draught towers proudly displaying Leffe, Hoegaarden, Stella and other Inbev imports were an eye catcher from the front lobby. We headed up to the second floor where we had the bar to ourselves. This place didn’t feel right to me. Already 0-2 pub wise. It appeared that a lot of money has been put into the bar and it shows as beer is a bit pricey. They did have nice music though, Jazz I believe.

We started walking down Bloor street to Gabby’s. Gabby’s is part of a chain of pubs that falls into the sports bar theme and caters to loyal Leaf fans. I have never been in a Gabby’s before so I really had no idea what to expect. I saw the many Molson Canadian signs and started shaking. Luckily there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me at the bar as Big Rock Grasshopper was nicely poured into a pitcher for Luke, his friend Loader, Jeff (tour organizer) and I which they all enjoyed. Before leaving, Jeff drew a name for a traveler in between Gabby’s and our next destination and low and behold I won. One of the members of the pub crawl had shown up in a home made sweater consisting of little glowing lights powered a solar device. While at Gabby’s though, his battery died and he had to make a run to a convenience store to jerry-rig two large batteries and he was up and running again.

The next stop was the Regal Beagle further along Bloor Street. I was told to be wary of ordering a pint as the draught lines don’t get cleaned often, so I had to settle on a bottle of Stella. What shocked me was the price I paid for that Stella. $6.25 for a bottle!! One guy ordered a pint of Steam Whistle and paid $7.25. If C’est What can offer me a quality craft brew cheaper than this, it just makes you wonder… I noticed that my good buddies over at Great Lakes Brewery have got two beers on tap, so I am going to have to follow up with this draught line cleaning business to get the real story. Pricey Stella garbage aside, I enjoyed the Regal Beagle. There was a mix of young and old people enjoying a Saturday night out and old rock music played silently in the background. There was a wall of money behind the bar that comes from all over the world – good conversation piece for new comers.

We headed back out to Bloor Street and ran across the road to a Fox and Fiddle. Nuff said. $5 for a bottle of any domestic cold corn juice. Molson heavy. Lots of young people looking to get hammered. I did get into a good beer discussion with some members of the crawl though and they promised me that they were going to start trying craft beers in the future. Good enough – back to the crawl.

I have never been to the Madison before either. Come to think of it, I haven’t really seen the west side of Toronto in years. We made our way to the Maddy through a big wind tunnel that was swirling snow all around. This only added to the fun I was having. We stayed downstairs in the tight quarters and met a friend of mine there with some buddies of his and they decided they would join us for the rest of the night. Luke took me for a walk around the huge place and I found it interesting. Not my pub of choice, but some floors looked like my time of place. I think I drank a Blue here, not sure though, may have been a Bud. Onto the next stop.

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