By: Dan Grant and Daniel Reynolds
Welcome to the 12 Pubs of Christmas! Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the event, as it takes place in many shapes and sizes. The version of the event I run? 12 pubs, one drink in each, 30 minutes per pub. Obviously participation in boozing is not mandatory to come along the crawl (we wouldn’t want people to overindulge! Or something) and a ‘drink’ is a fairly loose term.
This year the Same Page team decided to come along for the ride – the inaugural North American version of the event – after I spent the last two Christmases abroad.
A little background:
People always look at me funny when we do this, but this year, they looked at me even funnier.
The last couple years that I ran this thing it was in the UK. If you’ve ever been to the UK, you’ll know that that 1. Drinking is serious business there and 2. People like to dress up in goofy stuff when they do it. Hen parties (generally bachelorette style) and stag do’s, as they’re known, are the norm. If you’re out on a weekend, you’re generally going to run into people dressed up like idiots, getting thoroughly blasted.
This is why my 12 Pubs of Christmas costume, while fairly ridiculous, didn’t really surprise anyone. Make people laugh? Sure. Cause some curious glances? Definitely. But nobody was shocked.
The subway in Toronto was a bit of a different story.
Garbed in my finest polar bear toque – that is to say, it resembles a polar bears head – and my special 12 Pubs of Christmas shirt, I made my way to this years event. I use the word ‘shirt’ loosely here. It’s more of a Frankenstein’s monster. Two years ago for the event, my lovely fiance Emma sewed a Christmas stocking to a white t-shirt, so that as made our way from pub to pub, I could reveal each subsequent pub by drawing it from the stocking. The sleeves were cut off and underneath I wore both a Team Canada hockey jersey and a Green Bay Packers jersey, to keep with the themes of red and green. In 2012, I also donned green pajama pants, which really completed the look.
This year? No pajama pants, no Packers jersey (saved that for Sunday! Go Pack Go!). A green piece of felt had been added to the back of the original white t-shirt, with those jelly things you can stick to a window sewed on, spelling out Merry Christmas. These were originally added two weeks prior for an ‘ugly sweater’ party and at this point, the entire word ‘Christmas’ had fallen off or been misplaced, so I was just ‘Merry’. A stuffed polar bear and penguin were also attached to the front of the shirt. It was really quite something, if I do say so myself.
The route is always planned in advance, with only myself knowing the destinations. Each subsequent pub is then drawn out of the stocking, with a silly rhyme or verse that leads us to the next bar. Some bars have challenges – others do not. It’s all pretty arbitrary, kind of like the challenge itself. Keys to a good route? Short walks between pubs, with one longer breather in the middle for people to relax. This year? That led us first to Toronto’s Little Italy district, and then a short jump to the Annex.
That was a real heart stirring story there, Dan. A story of love and friendship, of camaraderie and revelry, of peace among men.
But now, the goddamn pub crawl quest itself.
We begin the day at Bitondo’s, the classic hole-in-the-wall pizza joint/mafia front, found on Clinton Street, south of College. There we were – Dan, Chris Dagonas and myself – sitting in tiny plastic chairs, downing a proper cheese panzerotti and watching an episode of The Simpsons along with the, um, colourful counterwoman. (When Sideshow Bob started singing the HMS Pinafore, she remarked that she had sung it in high school.) Our merry band was set to grow and shrink in number as the day went on. But still, the tone was set.
For our first pub, our motley crew of drinkers (we were now five) crossed the street from Bitondo’s to enjoy a beverage at Monarch Tavern. Lots of history here. Nowadays, the Monarch is pitched somewhere between a local work-a-day pub and a party spot for out of touch time travelers. We fit right in. Also, Dan managed to get his picture taken. Let’s just say the Monarch doesn’t get too many large men wearing absurd shirts at the bar at 4pm on a Saturday (unless the Azzurri have recently taken the field).
The story here? While Dan gabbed with some former co-workers, Chris and I set about for some Connect Four action. The series was settled at 3-2 for me. We shook hands. The group also added two additional members: the Same Pager Nick and our erstwhile critic Matt (I could call him what I want, he’s not going to read this). For unexplained reasons, Nick was carrying a bag load of kale. He claims it was two bucks for the whole bag, but still, the question remains: why?
After discovering that Ted’s Collision is not open until 6pm on a Saturday (huh?), we ambled into the nearby Porteree Pub. We managed to sit by the fire. Yes, an actual fire. As far as I could tell, this was a fairly new establishment, so I’m sure they won’t mind that they were also the spot for the start of what is referred to as “the coaster game”. They now have at least a dozen fewer coasters. Sorry, Porteree.
Apparently inspired by the 90s era Golden State Warriors, we made our way to this Irish pub at the corner of College and Euclid. Highlights here include a stirring round of toasts, a waitress in a ridiculous green knit cat sweater (she alleges to have found it in an old box of clothes), and some airing of grievances. Also, after managing to make two stops, we lose both Nick and Matt. A worthy effort, guys. I’d love to say we didn’t leave a man behind, but clearly, that was not the case.
Now, the Cloak and Dagger – the public beverage house – is a fine upstanding institution. Fellow Same Page contributor Patrick has played musical sets there before, there’s a tabletop Pac-Man game, and the female bartender has a tattoo on her face. We were in good hands. I think Patrick and I started talking about the social dynamics on display on Tinder. Eh, you know what, maybe we should just move on.
The half way point! Also, somehow, a Caesar break. We needed the produce. Nachos became involved. Also seen? A lack of self control. But time is, as always, an evil taskmaster (or is that Dan?) and we were whisked away before being able to properly settle in. (We did not order the King’s Crown nachos.)
As promised after the midpoint we made an extended jaunt up Markham Street, got a chance to catch a brief respite, and found ourselves at the venerable corner spot (and one of my favourite bars in the city), the Victory Cafe. I’d love to tell you what happened here. I remember talking loudly.
This is where I recall things getting distinctly slippery – a round of shots was ordered in addition to the drinks we already had. Just totally reckless. I counted myself out. The coaster game (which involves stealing the coaster of your neighbour) started to get out of hand as the rules were being treated (by me) as merely suggestion. Whatever. I won.
You’re not going to believe this, but things continued to get hazy. At this point, I can only assure you that the group had grown in number to maybe ten or eleven people. We almost claimed a reserved section of the bar for ourselves like an invading barbarian horde, until we were discouraged from doing so. After calming down we opted for a brief game of darts instead. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Things take a weird turn. We end up at the Brunswick House which, at around 9pm, was empty, naturally. We still somehow had to pay three (3) dollars for coat check. Mandatory coat check. I feel like this is against the rights and freedoms of a Charter somewhere. Mandatory coat check? What a racket. We drank our drinks quickly and got the hell outta there. I will never forgive Dan for this bar selection.
This is more like it. Labyrinth Lounge was fairly full up so we buzzed around at the bar, vodka sodas flowing like water. On a personal note, I discovered that Labyrinth offers bar rail drinks for $3.50. I feel like I knew this already but had somehow forgotten. In no way could these two notions be related. In any case, it would have been a waste of money not to order at least one. Somehow – somehow – we soldiered on.
Alright, now, bear with me here. This is when things start actually going off the rails. I know, surprising it took this long, right? Anyway, we wandered into the back alley establishment known as the Green Room only to discover it to be completely full. Apparently it is tough to accommodate a large group of people who have been drinking all day. Who knew? So, where do you go if you’re in an unruly mob and want to drink irresponsibly? The Madison, of course.
Plot twist though, half the group made it in. Patrick got turned away, something about an expired ID. Tough break. Fissure! Chris and I remained at the Madison, the rest of the party moved on to the Fox and the Fiddle. By the time I arrived there karaoke was in full swing, a second plate of nachos was gone, anarchy reigned. There may have been a group sing-along of Afternoon Delight. Dan sat atop his wooden throne like a power mad (re: drunk) pharaoh. We made it.
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!