We count down the 12 Days to Christmas, why not the 17 Days to St. Patrick’s Day? If there’s one holiday that should be a season of cheer, it’s this one, we say. Here’s Edition 1 of the Vacay.ca St. Patrick’s Day in Canada Countdown — where we name 17 of the best Irish bars in the land!
Day 1: The Irish Embassy, Toronto
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
TORONTO — Started in 2001 by an immigrant from Cloon, the Irish Embassy lives up to its name. In a circa 1873 former bank building, this hopping restaurant reputedly was the daily choice of the consul general of Ireland. It also hosts local Irish residents, visitors, dignitaries and students looking for work. The Embassy is so Irish, in fact, that it’s said everything but the floorboards are from the Emerald Isle.
The patrons, though, are a mixed bunch, and several of them are wealthy — not surprising since the bar is on Yonge Street, in Toronto’s Financial District and close to the Entertainment District. You’ll catch sight of hockey celebrities and TV personalities downing a few pints while watching the late games wind down. The Irish Embassy serves up food after midnight, making it a favourite spot for night owls looking for Chips and Garlic Mayo ($10) or Traditional Irish Lamb Stew ($16).
Irish or not, the Guinness-braised Beef Short Rib ($19) with maple turnip puree and turnip chips is a delight; “gorgeous,” as Vacay.ca Food Columnist Janine MacLean declared upon her first bite of it. “The Irish Embassy probably has the best food of any Irish bar in Toronto,” she says.
A good thing — since you can’t survive on Guinness alone. No matter how much you might try.
Quote from an Irishman: “You pour it with a lot of love,” says bartender Ray Daniel, from County Kildare. He was talking about Guinness and the best way to dispense a pint of it. During his career Daniel has poured more pints of that black gold than “I want to count.” He’s been bartending at the Irish Embassy for close to five years, after moving to Toronto from New York. “We Irish are filling up the island down there, so thought it was time to move north.”
You know it’s authentically Irish because: The staff are Irish. At least half of them anyway, according to manager Colin Campbell. Founder Pat Quinn (not the hockey world’s Pat Quinn) would hire several Irish students and hospitality workers to work in the kitchen, on the floor and behind the Embassy’s bar. He passed away a couple of year ago and his son, Gavin, keeps up the tradition.
Cost of a pint of Guinness: $6.85 ($7.74 after tax) — and it’s a solid pour from Daniel and his co-workers.
St. Patrick’s Day plans: Singing, dancing, cavorting and a whole lot of scallywagging on a Saturday night. Campbell says the lineups on St. Patrick’s Day usually start at 10 am (the Irish Embassy opens at 11 am) and he expects there will be a long night of serious drinking for 2012. “Last year, we went through 30 kegs of beer. There’s 7.5 cases of beer in a keg, so you do the math,” he says. On a normal night, the bar would go through about two kegs. “It’s our busiest day of the year by far. By far.” Expect the drinking to start early as rugby fans hurry in for the Six Nations matches. In the NHL, the Boston Bruins’ game versus the Flyers will be on the TV screens at 1 pm. The Maple Leafs are in Ottawa on Hockey Night in Canada at 7 pm. The Embassy will have live music. The celebrations actually consume the entire week, beginning on March 11, when Toronto holds its St. Patrick’s Day Parade.