So after Troy's constant raving about how good this place was, I finally checked it out on Tuesday. A bit innocuous from outside, Patrick has done a great job transforming this ex-garage into an awesome little pub.
Peat smoke wafts evocatively in the air as I pull my seat up at the bar. The room I'm in feels pretty industrial, and far removed from the cliché of an Irish pub held by the 99% of the world that's not Irish. There's exposed metal, sharp angles and a clean feel, but none of this detracts from the impression that this is an interesting and unique place to sample a beer. Talking of which... the taplist is not earth-shattering, but a significant step above what you would usually suspect. Of course there is Guinness, as well as the smattering of Irish beers that no one recognises are just macros made by an Irish multinational. However, complimenting this is O'Hara's Stout, a few Ontario micros, and most hearteningly of all, a handpump! Perhaps this is the only cask ale I've seen in an Irish pub, so huge kudos to Patrick. Tonight its County Durham Tommyknocker - a session bitter that reveals itself to be in excellent shape. The cask rotates regularly, but all of the offerings so far seem to have been from the same brewery - not a bad thing, they're one of our best. Service is great, so top marks to Eoghan behind the bar. The food has taken some knocks in the press, but a few people have assured me that its pretty damn good. I can't really comment - my order of pickled sausages is just a bar snack, and you can't judge a restaurant on a pickled sausage.
As I leave we pass through another room with a far different feel. Stepping from one room to another is like shedding 200 years of history and entering the past. Dark oak reclaimed church pews surround tables. Muted browns everywhere, and the feel of time's heavy hand and a storied drinking legacy. How this has been fabricated from scratch so convincingly I don't know. I cross the oyster shells on the patio and wander on to the next bar knowing that I'll be back someday.
Not far from the Beaches part of town, far from downtown. Twelve taps, four of which would be considered craft beers, including from McAuslin.Staff clearly said no bottles and confirmed that later when I called. A very nice bar inside, and the bartenders though young were professional. This would be much better in warm weather with the large patio area. So not great selection of beer, a huge dedication to whiskey.Friendly enough with both a young and middle-aged crowd. Not a primary destination for beer aficionados, but acceptable if you happen to be in the area, which happens to me every few years.Probably more vibe in the summer.
This "cottage" has a great atmosphere, but a can be a bit cramped when at capacity, which I believe is often. You'll need to get there early or you'll be waiting for a seat, and there really isn't much standing room. The food was really good with excellent quality. Homemade pub fare and other homemade dishes. Although well seasoned and tasty, but the portions were on the small side. The Oysters were really fresh and one of the highlights here. The staff was knowledgeable and helped make accurate suggestions.
The Beer selection was fine with approximately half a dozen or so fresh craft brews, all served at proper temp.
This unassuming local is slightly off the beaten path from Toronto's other beer bars and restaurants, about a 10 minute drive east of downtown and well past Mill Street Brewpub in the city's distillery district. But the trip is certainly worth it as my girlfriend and I had a blissful experience here in November 2010.
We visited in the afternoon when things were a bit quiet. The atmosphere is unlike anything I've encountered in Ontario. A warming waft of smoked peat greets you at the door and invites you to relax inside the bar's rustic, comfortable interior. We sat by the window overlooking the patio, where the chalkboard of draught and cask offerings could still be seen. Authentic Celtic music provides the perfect backdrop for pondering the pictures of various Irish landmarks that hang on the walls. A ManU game was playing on the single flatscreen, and with only one other patron in the bar, we enjoyed a quiet conversation while marveling at the delicious food in front of us.
I had the bangers and mash with onion gravy after being told that the mutton stew was not available. My girl went with the local greens and roast tomato soup. Everything was ridiculously fresh and flavourful - the homemade sausages were tender and juicy, the greens had the perfect amount of vinaigrette on them, and the sticky toffee pudding was absolutely sumptuous. As we indulged in our desert, I remarked that I never wanted to leave. My girlfriend nodded in agreement. Between the calming music, the gentle chatter among staff and patrons, the endearing aromas of the cottage, and the stellar pub fare on offer, both of us were convinced that we could eat and drink here all day without ever tiring of the place.
For beer I chose the Durham Black Eye on cask as well as a pint of Hop Addict. I also spotted Scotch Irish Stuart's Session Ale, Church Key Lift Lock Lager, McAuslan Cream Ale, and Murphy's Irish Stout on tap. The cask was in great form and I was very pleased to find a Durham beer that I hadn't sampled before. The small selection will likely keep über beer geeks and tickers from visiting, but with a focus on premium imports, Ontario craft brews, and cask ales, the quality makes this a destination in my books.
On our way out we got a chance to speak with owner Patrick McMurray. I told him we had a lovely time and that we plan to return on future trips to Toronto. He said he was turning the patio into an ice rink for kids in the neighbourhood to play on. Clearly this man is dedicated not only to good food and drink, but also the community surrounding the restaurant. If you haven't been here yet, don't waste any more time: get down to The Ceili Cottage and take in one of the best pub experiences around.
Finally an Irish bar in Toronto that feels Irish! Very neat little place, spacious patio but you probably wouldn't know what it was if you weren't looking it. The room at the front is really neat, old school feel with the exposed stone walls. Bar area is awesome, very long L bar, wood on the walls, a piano, and peat logs smoking behind the bar. The beer list is pretty solid, a few good Ontario micro's, and Guinness/Harp/Smithwicks on. If those are your worst beers, thats not bad. The food here is excellent. I've had quite a few menu items and been impressed with all of them, although the highlight for me is the snack menu. A handful of items all for a few bucks or less. The pickled sausages are great and the roasted Ontario peanuts are probably the best I've ever had. The oysters are very good as well. This is local for me, and is definitely a great pub with great service.
Full Review on my blog - http://greatcanadianpubs.blogspot.com/search?q=the+ceili+cottage -
Patrick McMurray's life-long goal came to fruition as the Ceili Cottage officially opened on June 25th and it has almost instantly become a new hangout for the area residents of Leslieville. Situated at 1301 Queen Street East, just east of Leslie Street, the white building with black trim-work is surrounded by a white picket fence closing it off from the busy street and if not for the black Guinness umbrella's on the patio the Cottage is almost indistinguishable as a drinking destination, looking more, well, like a cottage.
There is a small entrance that greets you upon arrival and you know you've reached your destination as the Cottage's address is laid out in spent oyster shells in the cement. More shells have been embedded into the cement throughout the large patio, which can accommodate 40 patrons during the warmer months.
Walking into the dining room feels like entering a proper Irish local the way it would have been in the late 1800's (judging by photographs from the book: Dublin Pub Life and Lore). Large thick wooden plank flooring, barn like open wooden rafters, church pews, original brick and stone walls that have been cleaned up but have otherwise been left untouched and undistributed, are just some of the key pieces that put this room together. The tables in this room are very unique.
The back area, where the long 'L' shaped bar is located, is a large slender room with a piano, a century old church pew and a large cast iron bell above the bar. The main attraction in this room is the bar, which features a 2 inch thick Kilkenny Limestone bar top that dates back 4 million years. McMurray had it shipped straight from Ireland and the corrals and oyster markings are clearly evident in appearance. It is also here, behind the bar, that McMurray can usually be found chatting with customers as he shows off his shucking prowess. There are 16 bar back chairs that surround the long bar and gas fitted piping has been assembled to provide a unique footrest. Behind the bar are two large wooden shelving units that hold all the glassware, bottles of Irish whisky, plus a few extra trinkets and trophies and some copies of the book McMurray authored on oysters. In the middle of the shelving units is a chalkboard where the bartender informs patrons of what's on tap at the moment and above that is a large flat screen television that is normally playing soccer matches, muted of course.
When it comes to beer selection McMurray knows his stuff. "I decided that there would be no bottle service here at the Cottage," he stated. "The beer served here will only be available by the ½ or full pint, which helps to cut down on extra waste and it also ensures fresh beer." McMurray chose the four core Diageo brands: Harp, Kilkenny, Smithwick's, and Guinness to complement a number of local regional beers like Mill Street Organic, McAuslan Apricot Wheat, Church Key Lager, O'Hara's Stout County Durham Hop Addict, and Scotch Irish Stuart's Session Ale. McMurray also chose to install a cask engine in order to serve the increasingly popular segment of cask-conditioned ale, joining a select handful of other Toronto establishments. County Durham's Red Dragon was the first cask ale to be showcased upon opening and proved to be a hot commodity going dry just four days after opening. "I plan to rotate the cask here at the local, offering customers a variety of the style." McMurray also plans to introduce his Oyster Stout to the Cottage regulars soon, which is produced by County Durham. Each beer is also served in the appropriate glassware baring the logo of the corresponding brewery. Should there be no glass to match the pint the bartender will serve up the drink in an unbranded pint glass to avoid confusing the patrons.
The atmosphere inside the walls of the cottage is something special. Normally when you enter a pub for the first time if feels exactly that way - like the first time. A little awkward and overwhelming. But because of the atmosphere at the Ceili Cottage I immediately got a sense of comfortableness, and it felt like I had been going there for pints for years.
It's really hard to fully describe the Ceili Cottage in a way that I want and in a way that it deserves because there is so much to it. It is a place that needs to be experienced first hand and taken for what it's meant to be.
When George Orwell wrote his famous piece of his vision of the perfect pub, The Moon Under Water, he described a number of things that I strongly believe in when it comes to my thoughts of an ideal pub. McMurray and the Ceili Cottage have already, in a short time, and in my opinion, incorporated many of these qualities and that's what will keep me heading back.