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The Bar That's the Toast of Toronto

March 30, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — To say why one bar is your favorite is like explaining why you love your wife. Once you get past appearance and public personality, it's entirely a matter of spirit and soul.

However, in my case, the question of the bar is made a bit easier by residing in a city where drinking in public is still morally suspect and therefore too often a joyless act. There really isn't much competition.

The Neighborhood

So when I have the urge for a real beer, the comfort of an honest, straight-malt Scotch or the solid warmth that only a well-mixed martini can bring, I can be found in a building situated between a car wash and a parking lot on a block of Toronto where warehouses define the neighborhood.

The place, Joe Allen, is a unique establishment with a definite character and special mood.

Because of restrictive laws here, there are no bars as such. Nearly all must be restaurants as well.

Joe Allen has a restaurant, and a very good one, but the bar and what goes on there makes it a special place. And what goes on is civilized drinking and talking, both the result of the talents of owner-manager John Maxwell, a New Yorker who knows good booze, good music and good conversation.

The bar is his place, not the customers'. You have to trust him, and it is a trust well placed. Joe Allen has 36 brands of beer, the longest and most esoteric list in town. Prices range from $2.60 to $4.

The Drinks

Mixed drinks are poured by hand, without those eyedropper-size shot glasses that plague saloons worldwide. The martini is truly a proper martini, a five-ounce delight. For those who think anything less than a single-malt Scotch is heresy, Joe Allen has 14 brands of this blessed liquor, ranging in price from $3.50 to $5.50.

There is, of course, more to a saloon than booze. At Joe Allen there is the ambiance: high stools at the long, polished bar; quiet, professional bartenders; the people. Toronto Blue Jays baseball players drink here and so do the town's ballet dancers, opera singers, artists and actors.

Joe Allen, 86 John St., telephone (416) 593-9404.

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