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.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Smokeless Joe: Toronto, ON

Most treasures are hard to find. They usually get discovered by sheer luck; whether you stumble upon one or inadvertently recognize one. Smokeless Joe's is no exception. If you have never heard of the pub your not alone. Tucked away in the basement of an old brownstone on John Street just south of Queen, Smokeless Joe's has made their name with their vast selection of bottled beer. The pub is located in an area with a handful of franchise restaurants which Joe's has to compete against, but they can't hold a candle to the beer served up at Joe's.

In 1995, a man named Joe (weird) opened up this tiny pub and instantly created a niche for himself by importing a variety of Belgian beers, German lagers, American hop bombs and beers from other Provinces while maintaining a no smoking policy (before it was law). In 2001 Joe sold the pub to another man by the name of Joe and it was decided that nothing would change. The new Joe was behind the stove when I visited and we had a great chat about the history of the pub and the state on Ontario craft beers. He is a passionate man when it comes to beer and he takes great pride in knowing that his pub heightens the profile of craft beers in Toronto. Eddie, the bartender/server/host was terrific. Everytime someone new entered through the downstairs door he greeted them with a big hello and spent time explaining the concept of the pub. A lot different than the bartender from Cloak and Dagger.

There were six beers on draught when I visited, all of which are good quality. I settled with a Konigshoeven Triple which was delicious. It was perfect as the warming alcohol felt great on a cold night; it was a nice winter warmer. The bottled selection as I have already mentioned is huge. 14 pages to be precise and those don't include the new stuff. Like Volo and the Rhino, you are likely to find beers from Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, US and many more from countries known for their beer making abilities. There are large chalkboards behind the bar, on a side wall and on a door informing customers of some releases they can order. All the beer was served in the appropriate glassware which is great. I caught a glimpse into the beer fridge at the back of the pub and I imagined what it'd be like getting locked in there at night.

Smokeless Joe's is small. Very small. Eddie mentions that the inside capacity is set at 28, 14 more added during the summer when the small patio opens. You have to walk a set of small stone steps under another set of green wooden stair leading to another entrance in the building. The pub is well hidden, without knowing exactly where it is you may just walk right by it (I have myself). Walking in through the front door you are almost immediately seated at the bar, just to give you an idea of how tight it can be. Lots of wooden bar back stools, exposed brick and stone walls, hardwood floors, pot lighting and rustic artifacts provide this pub with charm. The walls are also lined with many plaques and framed awards from various media award programs celebrating Joe's successes.

The bar is long and curvy starting almost at the front door and ending near the bathrooms. There is a fabulous display of foreign beer bottles and money from other countries. It is not a fancy bar, no shiny shelving, no metal rails, just straight up saloon style bar. Here is where Eddie shines. His personable nature makes it easy for seasoned beer drinkers or newcomers alike to feel comfortable ordering. Behind the bar and down near the end is a set of stove elements where Joe is busy heating and cooking his food. And it is good. Smokeless Joe's is a good spot to visit if you’re in the mood for oysters. They have the awards to prove it. I had the BLAST. Bacon, lettuce, avocado, salsa and tomato sandwich with potato salad and chips. A typical bachelor's meal and it was outstanding.

It's a place you only go in for one and end up drinking four. You only want to stay for an hour and two or three hours later you'll finally climbing the steps back up to John Street to catch the streetcar home. This is why I love doing my drinking in a pub. It is costly, but you leave with new friends, gain some new perspectives on life and try a variety of hard to find beers. The crowd at Smokeless Joe's is diverse as well. Parents with their young child, people up from the financial district, students, hippies and some in their latter years. One pub bringing all these people together - only a church can do the same. Smokeless Joe's is exactly what I look for in a pub.

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