Gary: “Hey, guys, we were talking about a beer downtown before the game”.
Steve R.: “Right, so Gary, where? You know all the places”.
Gary: “Well, just read about a place I don’t know called Mart Ackerman, I saw their menu on the Internet, I was looking quickly but it looked good, a kind of retro concept – saloon they call it, kind of cool. Beer looks good and the food is chops and that kind of thing, retro again”.
Steve R.: “Mort Ackman’s you say…? Don’t know it, must be new”.
Gary: “No Steve, Mart Ack-er-man, a ‘saloon’ on Wellington St.”.
Steve R. “Must be one of those downtown-type bars, lots of imports but nothing really local”.
Gary: “Well, yes and no”.
Steve R. “What kind of beers do they have?”.
Gary: “English pale ales, Irish stout, a ‘Burton’ – that’s a strong English ale – but some stuff too from a local outfit I haven’t heard of”.
Steve R.: “What’s the local place called?”.
Gary: “Bains & Thompson, they supply an ale but also a cider too, makes sense ’cause cider is in now”.
Steve R.: “Bains & Thompson? Never heard of them”.
Gary: “Well I looked into it, didn’t have much time but that’s what it said, in a book on Toronto breweries. Let’s just walk down Wellington past the Fashion District, it’s obviously in that part, we’ll find it. Don’t check online, it’s more fun to ‘happen’ upon a new place”.
Steve R. “Alright, we’ll go there, I’ll tell the others, we’ll meet at 6:00 p.m. at University and King and walk from there, weather’s still good”.
The group met after work at University and King and ambled westerly and south along Wellington. Busy on the streets too, must be all those young condo-buyers, they stay downtown of course after work, no “flight” north like in our day. No Mart Ackerman’s either though, where is it? They reach the end of Wellington, no Mart Ackerman. Gary checks his Blackberry again, “Ai-yai-yai guys. This is crazy, but Mart Ackerman was an 1856 bar in Toronto! It probably hasn’t existed for well over 100 years! I must have read too quickly, could have been that Sazerac drink I made after dinner last night”.
Steve R.: “Oh wonderful, but what’s all that you said about Bains & Thompson??”. (Exasperation, which the good-humoured Steve rarely shows). “Er, sorry, Steve, of course, I see here now, it’s from the same time, I’m looking at the book more closely now, it explains the brewery became part of Cosgrove, very well-known in Toronto for a long time and later absorbed into E.P. Taylor’s group in the 30’s, and later O’Keefe”. Steve R.: “Fascinating Gary, thanks. Hey [to another in the group], Ron, do you know a good bar around here, I mean a real bar that exists?”. And so the group did find its way to a decent place for a drink before the game (for which they were late). Gary was thinking how the Rickard’s beers there from Molson Coors were kind of a link back to Cosgrove and B&T via O’Keefe etc. He hazarded some comments about it but the others didn’t want to know and gazed stolidly at the action on the field.
Later at home, chastened but intrigued by this old Toronto bar, Gary checked further on the Internet, taking time now to get the facts right.
He found the saloon menu again, which is here.
Just like he gleaned the first time, it offered English Pale Ale, Younger’s Ale (Scottish), Burton Ale, which was probably English too, and that local ale and cider from B&T – well, they were local at one time. They had been at Queen St. and Niagara St., just a hop and skip from Mart Ackerman, no doubt. He found some amazing early photographs of a Toronto in the 1850’s, a town that counted hardly more than 30,000 souls then, in this link.
In that group of pictures there is, astonishingly, a photo of Wellington Street, and a map from the time showing that Garrison Creek wasn’t buried and ran by the brewery. So that’s where they got the water for the beer and to cool the fermented wort, it all makes sense. He wondered if Mart Ackerman Saloon was in one of those buildings in the picture of Wellington St., maybe it was further west though, hard to say. Amazing to be able to look at the actual street Mart Ackerman was on in the very same decade the menu was from.
He packaged all this up and sent it by e-mail to the guys who had been so cruelly (but innocently) misled. “See guys, this is amazing, this must be one of the very early bars in town, they had fancy imported beer and Champagne and oysters too, for the ancestors of the crowd at Bay and King! Don’t you see…?
One guy answered, not Steve R. (he actually gets a lot of this stuff) but another one, he said: “Gary, next time, I’m choosing where to meet before the game, got it”?
I got it, yes.