With the hockey lockout over and hockey season finally getting underway this weekend, many hockey fans are foregoing tickets and overpriced beers to support some of their favourite neighbourhood bars and restaurants who have surely felt the loss of the season that was supposed to start in October.
Here are my picks for the 10 best bars to watch hockey in Toronto:
1. The Dogs Bollocks
In the Queen & Niagara neighbourhood, the Dogs Bollocks is a bit “divey” and maybe even a bit of a hole in the wall, but after a $10 pitcher and an amazing dish like their Butter Chicken, Sheppards Pie, Pad Thai, or chicken wings, I suspect you’ll care a lot less about whether or not there is a fireplace or updated finishings in the bar. With large tables and booths available, a big projection screen, and no shortage of TVs, you can be sure they’ll be playing the game. They also have more than 20 beers on tap! Service is always fantastic and your bill is always much less than you anticipate.
My favourite Hoops location is at Queen and Tecumseth (or Palmerston), west of Bathurst. While the food isn’t anything to write home about, the prices are already on the lower end and they have daily food specials. Not only are there lots of TV screens, but even the booths have small screens built in so you won’t miss a minute of the action.
Most of my friends would tell you that I’m not much of a chicken wing fan. I rarely order them when I’m out, and if I do, I’m rarely impressed. You see, that’s because I’m a bit of a chicken wing snob. Duffs is my favourite wing spot in the city, and nothing goes better with hockey than some good quality chicken wings. There can be a bit of a wait for a table sometimes, so arrive early to stake out the best table to watch the game. Service is as consistently fantastic as the wings. And remember, Medium is Hot, Medium Hot is Very Hot, and Hot is Very, Very Hot!
The closest thing to a traditional german sausagehall Toronto has ever seen, WVRST caters to the craft beer lover and the carnivore in your group. They have DJs in on the weekend, the game is always playing on their large projection screen, and the kitchen never closes early. Food is ordered at a counter to keep things casual. Menu fare includes fresh sausages including classic pork bratwurst, foie gras, kangaroo, elk, venison, or vegetarian options, served on a freshly baked roll. My tip: order the duck fat fries! Monday games aren’t ideal, but the $5 pints of Ontario Craft after 5pm sure are!
5. Loose Moose
A classic sports bar and grill, the Loose Moose is an iconic part of the Queen West neighbourhood and has been a go-to sports bar for decades. Service is good, food and beer and flowing, and there are daily food and drink specials to keep your bill looking reasonable. The building’s capacity seats more than a few hundred people to enjoy the game on 9-foot televisions. If you’re starting early, look out for their $4.95 weekday Happy Hour pints from 4-6pm.
A bit of an unconventional suggestion, Hurricanes at Bloor and Dovercourt is the perfect neighbourhood bar to catch the game at while avoiding gimmicky high prices and tourists galore. Their menu features items like a jerk chicken quesadilla, nachos, pulled pork, beef brisket, and daily specials on food and drinks. My tip: go for the game, but come back in the summer for the patio!
7. Lou Dawgs
My stomach has few enemies but for some unfortunate reason pulled pork is about the only one. And the inner turmoil it causes still isn’t enough to keep me away from Lou Dawgs. With stellar customer service, amazing food, and Fireball on tap, you’re sure to impress the boys with this choice. This place has catered the Blue Jays dressing room and currently caters to the Strombo show. To celebrate the return of hockey, Lou Daws is offering $5 pints of Lou Dawgs Lager during Maple Leafs games. My tip: the owner Daryl is just about the most interesting and passionate person ever – be sure to say hi!
8. Wayne Gretzky’s
This popular bar is actually 3 venues as one; the Oasis rooftop patio (likely not your destination for hockey-watching this winter), the Restaurant, and the Sports Bar. Gretzky’s is the kind of place you take your girlfriend’s dad because it’s classy, a bit overpriced, and there’s always the chance you’ll spot the owner, Mr. 99 Himself.
9. Harbour Sports Grille
The Harbour Sports Grille has over 40 HD TV screens, lots of attentive servers, and tons of pool tables and decent food just steps away from the ACC. My tip: try one of their homemade pizzas and be sure to connect to their free wifi so you can stay connected to all of your friends watching the game.
10. Your Neighbourhood Pub
Chances are, your local watering hole has been feeling the effects of a hockey-less winter. Support an establishment in your neighbourhood and celebrate the return of Canada’s game!
And of course, Real Sports…
I didn’t want to include it at all, but Real Sports is a hugely popular sports bar in Toronto. Unfortunately, it also has a really bad reputation in the city. For some people the sheer volume of TVs and hot waitresses are enough to make up for the high prices and incredibly poor customer service.