Lager in Toronto
Located in downtown Toronto, Wide Open is unintentionally distinctive among the pristine, trendy bars and clubs in the financial, fashion, and entertainment districts. The sign above the door is grubby, grotesque, and neglected.
The front section of the bar is closed off by an unstable glass window and a door with a handwritten “pull” sign scrawled on a scrap of paper hanging by a piece of tape. Inside what appears to be a rented garage, the bar is a claustrophobe’s nightmare; a dimly-lit narrow alley less than three feet wide. It’s lively and it’s loud. There is a small scattering of chairs at the front.
There are two screens showing darts behind the bar. The music veers from recent dance-pop hits to mid-90s punk, and the clientele offers a similar level of diversity. There are businessmen in suits enjoying a cheap after-work tipple, there are students tanking full pitchers of beer surrounded by empty shot glasses and spillage, teenagers with creative hair styles and hair colors, and a group of mid-20s friends in plaid shirts, drinking pints and talking politics.
A beer or a well drink is under three bucks, tax included; less than half the cost of a beer anywhere else nearby, and far less than the marked-up prices in local clubs. The ebullient bar staff eagerly accept a shot of rum as a gratuity.
The crowd grows rapidly post-5 p.m. I am relentlessly pushed and shoved when I get myself another drink, before I find somewhere to plant my feet and enjoy another glass of one of the home-brews on offer: amber or lager. Standing still is not an option as more people shuffle slowly in towards the bar.
While the nearby downtown area of Toronto continues to develop with shiny, brand-new, high-rise condominiums, chic fine-dining establishments, and indie coffee shops, Wide Open has survived 14 years in its unsightly state.
Wide Open refuses to budge from their hyper-budget menu prices, but the bar offers little else. There is no food menu, no jukebox, no pool table, no bar snacks, and the toilet is in what seems to have at one time functioned as a broom cupboard. But, as their website proudly and confidently proclaims, “No one tops this shit in the city—NO ONE.”
After one more shot of white rum shared with gleeful acceptance, the barmaid invites me to the weekend’s 14th anniversary party. “Is the beer still cheap?” I reservedly enquire. “Of course.”