The pub’s name was the first thing to grab my attention, but I’ve always been amused by its sketchy location on one of the grittiest intersections in Toronto.
I’d passed the Black Irish a dozen times on my way downtown from the east end and always wondered what it would be like to go in and what kind of people would be there. From the safety of public transit I’ve watched in total disbelief as half naked hookers pranced around the corner of Sherboune and Queen. Across the street homeless men lie on park benches in the shade. I had always thought if the Black Irish were a person, he’d ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle and punch me in the face if I accidentally made eye contact.
I want to go. I had to go and on Saturday night I did go. On a mission for a burger and fries and to try something new for a change, I marched through the front door and immediately let my guard down. The bar was empty and the friendly young waitress in a short Lulu Lemon skirt said I could absolutely take a seat anywhere on the patio. A fellow on guitar strummed Eric Clapton’s Layla and about five of the 15 tables were were occupied by good looking young people who were there to enjoy the warm weather and easy going vibes. I sat down, pleasantly shocked.
There was only one person who fit the image I’d conjured up in my mind of the kind of characters this place would attract: a middle aged skinny guy in jogging pants and slippers. He flipped peacefully through a magazine I don’t think he was reading and applauded the guitarist after every song.
“How you doing today, Paul?” asked one of the waitresses. He was clearly a regular at this place that made him feel very much at home. There were only a couple of rats that took a shortcut across the patio from Sherbourne to some garbage cans nearby behind Queen.
As the beer flowed and live music ended, quiet conversations got louder and livelier.
“I hate working and I don’t treat it with any respect and, even still, when calling in sick, I get tons of anxiety,” said one young hipster to his friends who seemed to sympathize. He went on to try and explain his job at the TTC, noting, “It’s all automated so there’s pretty much no reason for me to have the job as it is. I just sit and read.”
Across from me a couple of guys were waiting for one of their girlfriend’s to show up.
“Ah she’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes.” She did, eventually, all made up and in a white dress and wedge heels.
When a respectable looking gay man snuck off the patio and headed north on Sherbourne with a full glass of wine about the same time. the waitress just sort of laughed and shrugged and said, ”Maybe he’ll return the glass tomorrow.”
Just as I was about to leave, after satisfying my cravings for food and curiosity about the Black Irish, a foursome walked in, two of whom were regulars, an artist and a musician and their friends who were visiting from Kazakhstan. They invited me to join them and everyone else who showed up later, including the girl with funny stories from from Ashley Madison.
Around midnight I left to get back to my dog at home. I went to the Black Irish feel a little jaded and fed up with Toronto and expected to find others just as down and out as down and out. Instead I found one of Toronto’s best kept secrets and left with the wonderful realization that Toronto is a city that never ceases to amaze. If you’re looking for a place to chill out under the sun all day, then go ahead and get off the TTC at Sherbourne and Queen. The Black Irish bacon and cheddar cheese burger is to die for and, besides, you know you’ve always wanted to.