Only one year old, and already The Avro is spearheading a strong sense of community on the "other" side of the DVP.
When east-enders Rachel Conduit and Bruce Dawson first started searching for locations to open a new bar, they had trouble. According to Conduit, landlords just didn’t trust that another watering hole wouldn’t “destroy the building and the neighbourhood.” Now, a year into their business, The Avro has done just the opposite—they’ve built it.
“When we first opened I was working a lot more behind the bar, and after about a month of that it was so draining, and exhausting, and uninspiring. I served people alcohol, and they had a great time, went home, and came in again. I’m sure all their memories blurred together, all my memories are blurring together. It’s the same day every day,” the bright-eyed blonde says at the dark wooden bar. “So I had this thought—I don’t want it to be your college buddy’s dorm room, I want it to be your inspiring artistic friend’s living room.”
For Dawson, a producer, and Conduit, an artist, that means a place where friends can come together for events like community bike rides, letter-writing parties, mixtape or preserve swaps, sketch comedy shows, DJ sets, movie screenings, or a concert from a local band. In only one year of operation, there have been about four dozen weekly activities and larger community events started by the bar. And along the way, The Avro and its “family” have become local leaders for Leslieville and Riverdale residents. “Most of the time it’s just, ‘Hey, you know what would be fun? Or what would be funny? Then we run with it and try to find a good cause, or some way to make it valuable or informative or rewarding for everyone,” says Conduit, who helped organize east end events like the Riverdale Art Walk and other art shows before opening The Avro. The Avro’s community engagement all started with a community garden she started as she and Dawson were renovating, and then a tobogganing excursion down Riverdale Hill later that winter, and snowballed from there. The next event, taking place on Saturday, just happens to be their first birthday party.
“There’s gonna be jugglers, magicians, a piñata… and I would love to have a pony there, but that’s just me. Even if it’s just Neil [Rankin, an Avro bartender] in an outfit.” Conduit jokes, but it’s that sense of community and fun that is giving the east end new air under its wings and new swagger in its step.
Take, for instance, another new project spearheaded by The Avro—the East End Icon calendar. Based on nominations and voting from the neigbourhood, Dawson and Conduit are going to produce a 12-month calendar featuring Leslieville’s loveliest lads, the finalist being announced at the party tomorrow. To fill the 12 spots they’ve received over 40 nominations and over 300 votes.
Born out of a girl’s night between Conduit and fellow bartender Emily Obrien, the project evolved from a “who’s hunky in the ‘hood” concept to a project that will highlight the area’s unsung heroes. Like Old Man Ron.
“He’s about 80 years old, he lives behind Real Hardware. He walks up and down the strip every day, shovels the sidewalks, volunteers at Nellie’s, just the nicest guy. He’s lived in the nieghbourhood for years, knows everyone by name, everyone knows him. He’s a delight. It was like ‘What kind of recognition does Rob get?’” she says.
Then comes Avro Fest on October 22, a night of local bands, local food, local politics, and a tribute to Jack Layton at The Opera House. The Avro has also kickstarted a trend of bars staying open until 2 a.m. along Queen East, sparking more nightlife in a traditionally quiet area. Conduit says those in the east end have always known about its gems and hidden qualities, but projects like the East End Icon calendar and Avro Fest, and more late-night closing times, are signs that Leslievillers and Riverdalians are becoming more vocal and outspoken about their past-the-Parkway pride (especially given the East vs. West partisanship that underlies Toronto’s real estate).
“I spent two months in the Annex and I couldn’t hack it. I don’t want to shit-talk any neighbourhood! It’s just too big, there’s too many people to have a connection. But I hate when it gets into that, I mean we’re all wonderful!” Conduit says, which would sound insincere if she wasn’t blushing and physically writhing in guilt. “It’s like a small town over here. There’s a strong sense of community, friendly attitudes, very giving open people… We keep it a really nice secret on purpose, that’s my opinion. But also it’s not for everyone, just like the West End is not for everyone… Maybe I am getting a little peacock-feathered. But hey, we’re great. We’re allowed to say we’re great.”