THE BEACONSFIELD (1154 Queen West, at Beaconsfield, 416-516-2550) Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of plonk. Open daily 5 pm to 2 am. Kitchen open 6 pm to midnight. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
Unlike the slew of bars that now occupy what's become the hippest of strips since the Drake Hotel launched last year, the Beaconsfield isn't simply a holding pen for those less fortunate fashionistas who can't make it past the Drake's velvet rope.
Of course, being located directly across the street from the Drake can't but help business, but in the four months since it opened, the Beaconsfield has developed its own identity and become a destination in itself. Its art deco decor and stainless steel bar remind most first-timers of the Paddock, all red leather banquettes and period light fixtures turned way down low. Looking like it's been there forever, the intimate room's actually all new construction, having most recently done time as a convenience store and decades before as a bank. The friendly space attracts a mixed crowd of neighbourhood regulars who would rather belly up to the bar with a pint than swan about swigging from a bottle of champagne.
Differing, too, from those nearby trendy trats, chef Bernard Druxerman - formerly of the Rivoli and Monsoon - offers a short comfort-food card from the saloon's open kitchen. Next to old-school poutine ($7) and butterscotch bread pudding ($8), you'll find substantial servings of baked macaroni made with Guinness-soaked cheddar ($14, with very good hand-cut fries) or lovely Moroccan-spiced Lamb Pot-au-Feu ($17) topped with puff pastry and sided with mesclun and cherry tomatoes in a sweet balsamic vinaigrette.
Modelled on Cinema Parallel in Montreal and the ICA in London, filmmaker Atom Egoyan's Camera Bar (1028 Queen West, at Brookfield, 416-530-7856) is a welcome addition to the downtown art scene. Though there are no doubt those in the neighbourhood who would prefer that this stylish space was still a hardware store, for others it's a combination screening room and clubhouse, albeit one with a martini menu. After catching an obscure Czechoslovakian doc out back, film fans gather at the storefront lounge's long communal table to discuss the merits of Soderbergh's remake of Tarkovsky's Solaris while less cerebral types sit on sofas and stare into a flickering fireplace.
While drinking at Camera Bar can feel like some swell soirée where you don't know a soul, let alone understand what they're all talking about, after an absinthe at funky Sweaty Betty's (13 Ossington, at Queen, 416-535-6861) you'll be the life of the party. It helps that this tiny two-room dive decked out in chandeliers and fugly sofas seats about 12 max, so your chances of going unnoticed are next to nil. Conveniently located steps from the Queen West Mental Health and Addiction Centre as well as a hop, skip and jump from Toronto Western's detox facility, Betty opens weekdays at 5 pm and weekends at 2. Sundays at 3 pm, she unspools free Asian chop-socky flicks (where, the ceiling?) to discounted sake accompaniment. And any boozer that offers Cheez Whiz on toast in its lineup and has Motörhead on the CD jukebox is all right by me.