I have been to Toronto three times. I have been to Bellwoods three times. This is not by chance.
Well, perhaps the first time was.
The first time, in the summer 2015, I had organized a trip to the Great White North prior to a good friend’s wedding. (I’m trying to avoid saying “bachelor party.”) On the advice of Tammy Portnoy, a knower of beer things, I planned a visit to Bellwoods – a brewpub in the small neighborhood of Ossington, northwest of downtown. (It’s the type of area your mom would call “hip.”)
We went to Bellwoods.
We left Bellwoods.
I immediately wanted to go back to Bellwoods.
So, I did. My subsequent trips to Toronto ostensibly had other motivations (namely a Wolf Parade reunion show in 2016 and my girlfriend’s birthday in 2017), but it was really about Bellwoods. Or, at the least, a potential visit to Bellwoods greased the wheels in each instance.
What was – and has continued to – fuel this obsession? We have to start with the beer, I guess.
Bellwoods makes incredible beer. It makes light-bodied, extravagantly hopped IPAs like Witchshark and Roman Candle that combine West Coast and Northeast brewing techniques; juicy with a touch of bitterness. It consistently produces a dry-hopped, #crushable kettle sour (Jelly King) with just the right amount of acidity and often a fair amount of actual fruit (Jelly King’s various variants). It has an adventurous but refined and approachable wild ale and barrel-aged sour program. It even churns out incredible saisons, and I am very particular about saisons.
But today isn’t about breweries. It’s about bars, and a brewpub is a bar, and there are few bars in the world I enjoy drinking beer more than Bellwoods. (I note here that I am speaking only of the Ossington location and not the newer production space in York, which I am sure is lovely but I have not been to.)
It’s a small space – so small, in fact, that there is often a line to get in during prime hours. (No reservations, sorry.)
In warmer months, the space splits relatively evenly between an outside patio, encased by a literal white picket fence, and an inside bar and dining area. A retractable garage door separates the two.
Outside, it’s picnic tables. Insides, it’s reclaimed wooden tables and creaky but sturdy chairs. Everything feels lived-in. As the evening progresses, the primary source of light is candles inside and hanging lights outside, which all sounds maybe a little cheesy, but I assure you it’s not. It’s warm, intimate, comfortable.
Inside, the candle light reflects off the white industrial walls which are decorated entirely by framed prints of Andrew and Matt McCracken’s instantly recognizable, brightly colored label art for the brewery.
The vibe is part Scandanvia, part Brooklyn – or perhaps it’s just the best of how I imagine those places. It could just be a Canadian thing.
The food – gourmet snacks, mostly – is incredible. The draft list is hardly excessive, ten options maybe, but it’s bolstered by a bottle list of Bellwoods beers that are otherwise long gone. Prices are wildly fair.
For such an acclaimed, hyped-up brewery, it all feels so easy. The place is never overrun, primarily because there’s no standing room. You wait for a seat or you head elsewhere. This model has to result in a fair amount of turned away of business –not a common occurrence for the margin-thin craft beer industry – but there’s a reason people keep coming back.
When I took my Wolf Parade bros and my girlfriend to Bellwoods, I think each respective party was prepared to be underwhelmed given my unreasonable lavishing of praise. But they left as I came: Team Bellwoods.
More Bars Worth Traveling To:
- The Bar at Hotel Particulier – Paris, France
- Alfredo’s Cantina – Monterey, California
- Container Bar – Austin, Texas
- The Neighber’s – Omaha, Nebraska
- Maps – Portland, Maine
- Melvyn’s Restaurant & Lounge – Palm Springs, California
- Dino’s – Nashville, Tennessee
- Mikkeller & Friends – Reykjavík, Iceland
- Nice Guys Pizza and Beer – Cape Coral, Florida
- Zeitgest – San Francisco, California
- The Sitting Room at Delahunt – Dublin, Ireland
- Tlachiquero – Mexico City, Mexico
- The Country Club – New Orleans, Louisiana