One doesn’t receive a lot of bad news in the world of beer drinking. Aside from the occasional headache after a night of sampling too many bourbon barrel aged stouts or discovering that a hard to find beer is sold out, beer drinking is a pretty satisfying hobby. So when I found out on Tuesday morning that Bar Volo on Yonge St. would be forced to close its doors this September to make room for the latest in a series of downtown condo developments on Yonge, my 5 stages of grief over the loss of the most important beer destination in my life began.
In the past day or so, I’ve read articles and comments from beer lovers reflecting on the first time they discovered Bar Volo, which I no longer remember, while others have lashed out at the continuous annexation of beloved local haunts by condo developers, which I understand, as the GTA struggles with population growth. After my initial shock, I passed through the anger phase and am now bargaining, because I think that this development may not be such a bad thing, but more on that later.
For now, I am just thinking about the countless great nights I had at Toronto’s beer mecca. There was the time that 4 fellow Nova Scotians and I showed up very early on a Friday evening, the only way to secure a table, and drank more varieties of beer than we had tasted in all of our combined years growing up in Keith’s Country. The owner of the soon to be launched Bar Still Well was there to pick our brains that night, and there is a strong chance that seeing the quantity of beer we East Coasters consumed as we spoke convinced him to go through with the plan. During another Saturday afternoon, a group of us participated in a blind IPA challenge that featured 24 nameless IPAs, piles of scorecards, several delicious beers, and a welcome bitterness that lingered in my mouth for days. When beer loving friends visited from out of town, I never had to think too hard about where to take them. The 30 to 40 rotating taps at Bar Volo made it impossible to walk out unsatisfied.
How great was Bar Volo? Well, despite its diminutive size, it has been one of the approximately 50 bars in the world to host the famous Cantillon Brewery’s Zwanze Day, featuring the annual release of the brewery’s special edition Lambic Beer. The first time I discovered Zwanze Day at Bar Volo was about 4 years ago. It was my introduction to sour beer and it changed the way I thought about beer. The IPA craze was well underway and I was busy sampling every IPA I could find when I tried my first Lambic. Since that day, my life is a continuous search for new beer flavours. On our travels to Belgium, we visited a number of the top rated beer drinking locations both In Bruges (wink) and Brussels, and only one pub had a Cantillon beer, and in just one variety, despite the fact that the brewery itself is located in Brussels. On Zwanze Day 2015 at Bar Volo, I tried 5 varieties. Who needs a trip to Brussels when Bar Volo’s doors are open?
The Silver Lining
The news that Bar Volo will close its doors in September is tough to take, but its owners, Ralph Morana and his family, are not going anywhere. Currently busy preparing for the opening of a new project in Little Italy, the family’s extensive beer knowledge and industry connections are the real assets. They run the annual Cask Days festival that features over 300 cask beers over one wonderful weekend and their Keep 6 imports is a online shop to order hard to find beer. The only missing element now is a new location for Bar Volo, and with the search comes a chance to address the elephant in the pub, that the idea for Bar Volo had grown too big for the Yonge St. location the place has called home for the past 28 years. On it’s special tap takeover days, the lineups at Bar Volo went around the corner. To visit on a Friday night means showing up at 6 pm.
Yes, I made it a point to introduce everyone I knew to Bar Volo but had to do so sheepishly. The standard experience was to show up, queue in line for a beer, often a long line, and then stand around for 20 or 30 minutes waiting for a seat to open up, hoping that my guests didn’t mind the wait. And now that I am a Dad, I can forget about stopping into Bar Volo for a pint after an active day outside. The only time I remember doing this, I had to leave our stroller outside the front window – never the wisest thing to do on one of Toronto’s busiest streets. Perhaps the next location will have double the space, both inside and on the patio, finally allowing the place to start table service. Currently, each new beer requires another trip to the bar. These are the things I hope for in Stage 3 of 5 of my grief, as I try to bargain my way out of this predicament. And now, I need a beer. Let’s see what’s on tap on the famous chalkboard.