The stories behind Toronto’s classic bars

The owners of The Only, The Monarch and the Hyatt's Rooftop Lounge on the key to staying in business for 20+ years

This week, we’re ditching the trends to put the spotlight on a few of Toronto’s long-standing, classic restaurants and bars. Here are some of our favourites in the bar category (for restaurants, go here):

The Monarch Tavern 

12 Clinton, 416-531-5833,

A music venue, beer and whisky bar where everyone knows your name – est. 1910, licensed 1927

What’s The Monarch’s origin story? 

Michael Dorbyk, owner. It was a tavern, a place to eat and drink and spend the night. When Evan Georgiades and I took it over six years ago, I struggled with whether or not to change the name. But the place has been around so long – it’s in its 90th year right now – I figured I’d just leave it. 

Because we had two floors, I decided to leave the upstairs tavern a tavern. I wanted it to be an enjoyable and comfortable experience without trying to make it into a trendy hot spot. We’ve done improvements slowly but surely. 

How did it become a music venue?

When we took it over. I consider it less a live venue than an event space. We could have a band on Monday, a book reading on Tuesday and a private birthday party on Wednesday. It can be whatever someone wants it to be. 

Do you feel pressure to adapt to the times?

I question that daily, but I have confidence in that kind of Cheers vibe we have. We’re able to do improvements here and there to keep the atmosphere cool and enjoyable. We also have a great relationship with our landlord. I think the reason a lot of places are going out of business is because of greedy landlords.

See listing.

WEST ParkHyatt336.jpg

Hyatt Rooftop Lounge 

4 Avenue Rd, 416-925-1234,

A classy time capsule with the best view (and martinis) in the city – est 1936

What makes the Hyatt Rooftop special?

Marco Capeloa, bar manager Joe (Gomes, who retired last October) was here for almost six decades, and some other guys have been up here for 15 to 20 years. We don’t have loud music the decorations have been the same for decades now. That’s been on purpose – we don’t want to ruin the vibe that our guests expect. It’s nice and intimate. The history that’s in this building and up here in the bar speaks volumes. 

One thing that amazes me is the number of guests who tell me this is where they had their first drink. Don’t get me wrong – we have lots of regulars from Yorkville, but also people who come every four to six years for the sake of nostalgia. 

What’s it been like since Gomes retired?

The saddest thing was the guests who knew he was retiring but came in too late and missed him. Joe once said Paul Anka came just to meet him, not the other way around. I still come in and expect to see him behind the bar.

Does he ever come in for a drink?

He moved overseas to Madeira, where I think he has a better view. Then again, maybe he just traded in one great view for another. 

See listing.


Stefania Yarhi

The Only Cafe interior

The Only Café

972 Danforth, 416-463-7843,

A long-standing craft beer outpost in the east end – est. 1980

Tell us your origin story? 

James O’Donnell, owner The original owner, Jerome [Ackhurst], now owns the Only in Peterborough. He bought it as a sandwich shop, got a liquor licence and the Only was born.

I’ve owned it for 14 years. I heard that the Only was for sale and I knew the place very well because I drank here often. It kind of fell in my lap.

How did the Only become a destination for craft beer?

It quickly went from a sandwich shop to a beer bar. We didn’t serve coffee for a long time even though it was called a café, which was the big joke. 

How has the craft beer boom affected business? 

It’s been great for us. Now people appreciate craft beer – it’s up there with whisky and wine. We have a more discerning clientele, but we keep our taps really balanced so there’s something for everyone. We stock mostly local beer from Ontario or Canada. We’re socially conscious here – we get all our groceries down the road, buy beer from as nearby as we can. 

And guests can bring their own food

We encourage people to bring whatever they want to eat – that also helps local business. We have sandwiches and chips, but Big House Pizza is just next door, Danforth Pizza and Tacos del Carmen are down the road.

See listing.

Don’t miss: Toronto food icons spill their secrets | @S_Parns

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