London’s bar scene is drastically different now than it was around the turn of the millennium.
Richmond Row has shrunk significantly, moving all the traffic north of Dundas with a few notable standouts. You can read about many of them in part one of this series. Back in my day (hikes up old man pants and shakes rake at kids on lawn), south of Dundas (SODUN) was once a thriving scene.
Of course, being the millennium, smart phones weren’t a thing for another six years, so finding photos online of these places has been tough. If you have any, please share them in the comments!
1 – BRUNSWICK HOTEL
The beauty of the Brunswick was that anybody could feel at home there. It was like an old pair of sweat pants – worn out and dingy, but incredibly comfortable.
It had the best bathroom graffiti, bar none… a perfect blend of vulgarity and philosophy. Regulars loved Woody’s “Get the f*ck out!” at the end of the night.
Most of the time, it was well deserved. If he told you to drink up, you drank up.
Bands of all types played and practiced there. It was the epicentre of some great scenes – including, in its later years, the original Dirty Thursdays, where London rappers had something of a mid-2000s golden age.
It had more history, and people had more love for The ‘Wick than any other place in the city. It was the type of place where you graduated into being a regular there, because there were so many different eras of punks, rockers, drinkers, stumblers and fumblers all together at any given time.
When it was destroyed in 2008, it left a huge hole in London’s music scene, and our collective psyche.
2 – BRASS DOOR
Another place with great local music. The Brass Door (now a chicken wing place, I believe), had all the fixtures of a classic pub but with the grit and grime of SODUN (really hoping that picks up).
On any given night you could pop in and listen to the band or just play some pool and chill. I liked the stage there, because it was right in the middle of the action. Only trouble was… it was right in the middle of the action, so depending on where you sat, you crossed in front of everyone on your way to the bar.
Regardless, it had a great vibe and you never felt out of place there.
It felt as far from the club scene as you could possibly get, which is what made it perfect.
3 – THE EMBASSY
For as many times as I frequented the Embassy in my younger days, I don’t think I EVER sat on the couch.
This place was as dirty as it got, but it fit the establishment well. Every show there felt like a true rock and roll experience because the element of danger (ie: putting your hand in vomit) was ever-present. The inside of the Embassy looked like a scene out of a movie where someone overdoses on bad speed. Bad smell, bad sight lines, bad lighting, bad smell. The Whippet Lounge was a marked improvement for seeing bands, but the real charm of the place was on the Embassy side.
If you stuffed a teenage boy’s pillow case with smoke butts and empties, you might come close to smelling like the Embassy.
But the music was what made this place legendary, and the reason why it’s missed the most. Wesley Willis, Dayglo Abortions, Del tha Funky Homosapien… Others I can’t remember… The Embassy had such a great mix of shows that fans of every genre probably passed out in the bathroom at one time or another.
4 – THE VIC TAVERN – AKA ‘BUCKET OF BLOOD’
Not the redux… The old Vic.
I’ve seen a lot of fluids during my time workin’ and drinking at the Vic’, but blood was never one of them. Sure, there was a bit of a rough edge about it, but anyone who was ever intimidated by that misnomer missed out on a fantastic bar.
It was a true neighbourhood pub, with all the rich, wooden trappings of a historic building combined with a real tin ceiling and exposed brick.
It was a place where people from all walks of life came to drink or eat (I worked in the kitchen there), be it doctors and nurses from the nearby Vic Hospital (RIP), or down-and-out types counting their change on the bar.
Or should I say ‘bars’?
One of the most overlooked facts about the Vic’ was that it had another fully functional bar downstairs that housed its share of artists, bikers, private parties, and more.
This place was a gem, held over from another age. Now, it sits empty at the corner of South and Maitland, and I get sad (and thirsty) every time I walk by.
5 – THE FABULOUS FORUM
(Firstly – It should be pretty obvious why nobody would have a photo from the Forum.)
Back in the day, when my small town buddies came to the big city for a night out, there was always a trip to the rips. Depending on the bus I took (as a Fanshawe student, it was either the #4 or the #20), it was either Solids or the the Fabulous Forum.
What made the Forum so fab?
It didn’t feel like your typical strip club. It was more like a roadhouse that happened to have strippers instead of Patrick Swayze. It had a perpetual feeling that all hell was going to break loose at any given moment.
To be honest, I don’t even remember a single stripper from the Forum (sorry ladies), because people-watching was far more interesting. There were always tables of 90s-era bros (think frosted tips and pookah shells), spending money like it was not an object, until the point it became an object and the testosterone spiked.
6 – MEXICALI ROSA’S
This place stands out for two very solid reasons – the patio and the sangria.
Summer just wasn’t complete without sitting outside with pitcher after maroon pitcher of delicious, fruity booze after a long day at work in the office.
Now it’s the Ale House, and it is still one of the best (if not THE best) patios in the city…
Still… Ale just ain’t sangria, so nostalgia wins out on this one.
7 – BACCHUS LOUNGE
If I ever decided to venture north on Richmond Row (and you never needed to way back when), I loved stopping by the Bacchus to watch bands or play pool. Even played a show or two there back in my Springsteen glory days.
For the massive scale of the place, it had a cool lounge vibe that made it great to hang out. True to its name, I guess. Having two levels gave the place a unique feel, and if you got tired of squeezing your way through the dance floor, you could always chill upstairs.
Many games of 9-ball were played there, and many pints consumed over the music of some great London bands.
8 – CHEZ BRUNET
I don’t know how long Chez Brunet was actually open, but it was in the plaza off Wellington and Baseline where Staples and the Beer Store are. The decor was amazing – all white and black, with plenty of animal print and mirrors.
All that was missing was a mound of cocaine – which, by the way, I never saw at the place. I’m just saying that’s the first thing that comes to mind with that decor scheme.
Fun fact: I won a dance contest there in 2006. I have never been much of a dancer. I was probably just slightly less (or slightly more) inebriated than my fellow contestants.
The prize? A $50 certificate for Chez Brunet!
OTHER NOTABLE ENTRIES:
Where were your watering holes, Fusers? Let us know!
Feature photo via Facebook / @PaulLatorre