If you visited Bryden's pub at Bloor Street West and Jane more than six months ago you would have glanced at the tap handles and noticed the same thing you do when you walk into any sports bar - multi-national products: Keith's, Stella, Hoegaarden, Moosehead, Becks, etc. A lot has changed since December as the draught line-up has gone through a tremendous overhaul and it starting to gain some much deserved attention.
The stretch of pubs along the area is littered with brands like Guinness, Rickard's and Keith's, and Bryden's, even though they offer Keith's and Guinness, are now doing their part to separate themselves from the pack by offering draught options rarely seen west of Bathurst. "Right now I've got Great Lakes Orange Peel Ale, GL Red Leaf, GL Horseshoe, Steam Whistle, Mike Duggan #9, Koningshoeven Tripel, Mill Street Organic and Tank House, St. Ambroise Cream Ale, Wellington Pale Ale, Grand River Galt Knife, Denison's Weissbier, Hacker Pschorr, Guiness, Keith's, Stella and Black Thorn Cider on tap, and a bunch of good craft beer in the beer fridge," said Tash.
"I don't want to be sold by someone, I want to sell someone. I want to believe in a product and sell it. Not be sold by a flashy marketing campaign," stated Tash, long time owner of Bryden's. "I love these beers and I love what they stand for, so they're here to stay."
"We have been slowly taking off the big guys for the little guys and so far the remarks from our customers have been great. Denison's Weiss replaced Hoegaarden and although it is a different style people have been quite enamoured with it." It was clearly evident as we sat on the patio. It was a hit with the crowd as customer after customer came out from the bar with the popular Toronto weissbier.
The topic of cask conditioned ale came up in conversation and Tash mentioned that he plans to do something with the wonderful drink in the future. "It's definitely something I'm considering. We'll probably do a small introduction with a couple of casks on a weekend, just to start off small and get the regulars interested."
The atmosphere inside Bryden's feels eerily similar to a backyard party. In a good way. Because the pub is small (capacity of 50 inside) everyone is part of the crowd. I'm told Bryden's was more sports bar than pubish in the past, but I got a good pub vibe from the place. "We are well supported by the local residents and I think that has helped create a nice relaxing atmosphere both inside the pub and outside on the patio," says Tash.
Mismatched furniture litters the inside of the pub. Well used and seasoned, the old chairs and couches look like pieces you'd put in the rec room of a basement, but damn are they comfy. There is a large four seater couch at the back of the pub beside an over sized Victoria style chair that is in front of a long slender coffee table, offering a great spot to bring a group for some pints to watch a hockey game on one of the three televisions. The tables and chairs used for eating are also an array of different styles, sizes and colours, putting a unique touch on the pub. The walls are decorated with beer signage from the big breweries who used to have more presence here, however, there are some micro-brewery signs here and there. There is a nice 30 person patio out front (see pic) that is surrounded by a black wrought iron fence decorated with some planted flowers. The patio is covered with two large patio umbrella's helping shade the people (even if they are Stella), which adds some comfort for the scorching hot days we're about to go through.
Bryden's has a lovely little 'L' shaped bar on the left side of the establishment that can accommodate up to 10 bar back chairs. The all wooden bar has a low lying overhead that has wire racks holding a number of chalices and tulip glassware, along with a bunch of hearty beer mugs for the regulars. A handful of 'stuffed' animal heads are plaqued and attached to this wooden overhead (don't worry PETA, their toys). The 4 brass rails running up the bar to the overhead ad an English touch and the bartender was very social and friendly, an added bonus here in Toronto and something that helps set a pub apart from their competition.
Each beer served at Bryden's comes in the appropriate glass, a big plus, and the beer coming from breweries that don't have branded glassware is served in a regular pint glass. No mistaken identity. The draught towers are nice and clean and are easy to read, which helps when it comes to making a decision about which beer to choose. There is a large mirror behind the bar partially blocked by a large amount of spirits and liqueurs bottles and the beer fridge is stocked with a variety of local craft product, imports, and some generic lagers for the unadventurous.
The food at Bryden's was terrific. I was there with some guys from Great Lakes Brewing and we ordered up a bunch of appetizers which included a to-die for quesadilla. Sliced pears, diced peameal, walnuts and brie cheese, dipped in a garlic aioli sauce. On Monday and Tuesday appetizers can be purchased for the low price of $6 and pitchers of Great Lakes Horseshoe and Red Leaf Lager are priced at $9.
Bryden's is a great pub that deserves some attention from those who follow the Toronto beer scene on a regular basis. There are certain pubs in Toronto that I've come to love and I think I've found a new west end hangout. Whether going to the pub by yourself or with a group of friends, Bryden's is a place that makes you feel welcomed, and the staff show their appreciation for your service with their outgoing and personable nature. A nice find just steps from the Jane subway station.