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, I just read about a place I didn’t know called Mart Ackerman, I saw their menu on the Internet when looking for something else. I was looking quickly but it looked good, a kind of retro concept – a “saloon” they call it, kind of cool. The beer looks good, some British imports too, and the food is chops and that kind of thing, retro again”.
Steve R.: “Mort Ackman’s you say…? I 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 suit-type bars, fancy import beers but nothing really local”.
Gary: “Well, yes and no”.
Steve R. “What kind of beers do they have?”.
Gary: “English pale ale, Irish stout, a ‘Burton’ – that’s strong English ale – and some stuff too from a local brewery I haven’t heard of. There are so many new ones, hard to keep up”.
Steve R.: “What’s the new brewery called?”.
Gary: “Bains & Thompson, they supply an ale but also a cider too, makes sense since cider is in now”.
Steve R.: “Bains & Thompson? Never heard of it”.
Gary: “Well I looked into it, I didn’t have much time but it’s in a book on Toronto breweries. Let’s just walk down Wellington Street past the Fashion District, it’s obviously in that part, we’ll find it. Don’t check online, it’s more fun just 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, the weather’s still good”.
The group met after work at University and King and ambled westerly and south along Wellington. It’s busy on the streets too, must be all the young condo-buyers, they stay downtown after work now, no mass heading north like in our day. No Mart Ackerman’s though, where is it? They reach the end of Wellington St., no Mart Ackerman. Gary checks his Blackberry again, “Gosh, guys. This is crazy, but Mart Ackerman was an 1856 bar in Toronto. It probably hasn’t existed for over 100 years! I must have read too quickly”.
Steve R.: “Oh wonderful, but what’s all that about Bains & Thompson?”. (Exasperation, which the good-humoured Steve rarely shows).
Gary: “Er, sorry, Steve, of course, I see now, it’s from the same era. I’m looking at an online account now. It explains the brewery became part of Cosgrove, well-known in Toronto for a long time and later absorbed into E.P. Taylor’s group in the 1930s, and later into 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 bar that exists today?”. And so the group found its way finally to a decent place for a drink before the game, for which they were late. Gary was thinking how the beers there, from Molson-Coors, were kind of a link back to Cosgrove and B&T via O’Keefe’s merger with Molson in 1989, etc. He made some some comments about it but the others harrumphed and didn’t want to know.
Later, at home, chastened but intrigued by this old Toronto bar, Gary checked further, taking time now to get the facts right. He found the saloon menu again, which you can read, here.
Just as he gleaned the first time, it offered English Pale Ale, Younger’s Ale (Scottish), Burton Ale, which was probably English too, and local ale and cider from B&T – well, they were local at one time. They were at Queen St. and Niagara St., just a hop and skip from Mart Ackerman’s, probably. He found striking early photographs of Toronto in the 1850s, hardly more than 30,000 souls then, see this link.
In the group of pictures is a photo of Wellington Street, and a map from the time showing that Garrison Creek wasn’t buried then, 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’s Saloon was in one of those buildings shown on Wellington St., maybe it was further west though, it’s hard to say. It says something, though, doesn’t it, to gaze at the actual street Mart Ackerman’s was on in the very same decade the menu was from.
He put this together 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 Toronto, they had fancy imported beer and Champagne and oysters too, for the ancestors of the bright young things at Bay and King. Don’t you see…?”.
One answered back, not Steve R. (he actually gets a lot of this stuff) but another one, who said: “Gary, next time, I’m choosing where to meet before the game, got it”?
I got it, yes, but a lot more than he meant.