The Brunswick House held one last hurrah before closing—but we totally missed it.
The Brunswick House is not the type of place you go for an evening hangout with your dad. On most nights, it reeks of Axe Body Spray and nostalgia, bros fist bumping one another over trays of beer.
But last night, the Brunny (as it is so affectionately dubbed by city regulars) held its last last call. And my father, who was once a Brunny bro during his time at the University of Toronto in the 80s, was the only person with whom I could adequately visit this iconic Toronto landmark.
The Brunswick House first opened as a hotel in the 1870s. Despite its history and proximity to my favourite brunch location, I had never been. It always seemed a bit mysterious with its high, dark windows, and the only glimpse I’d ever really had was when patrons would open the side door as they went to stand in the little fenced-in smoking pen.
So, on the Brunny’s final day, my dad and I made one last journey there together—him in his old U of T jacket, with a backpack full of potato salad and beer, on his way to a friend’s house for dinner, and me, armed with low expectations.
On the walk over, he shared some of the lore from his days at the Brunny.
“Small dude from small town USA, this was kind of a funky, cool place,” he says. “And you got blitzed. Because you had to order giant trays of beer. And it was cheap. It was so cheap.”
He also remembers the trays of sandwiches they would provide to patrons to soak up the booze. That is, if you hadn’t picked up a schnitzel “the size of a cow” from some place across the street. The sandwiches—egg salad, as he recalls—were only edible after a few drinks.
According to him, the Brunny’s “floors were sticky, the tables were sticky,” and nights, after polishing off a few trays of beer, often ended up blurry.
Despite the textured memories, Dad says he won’t miss the place much. He hasn’t been back in over 20 years, and in that time it has changed ownership and become more clublike than the beer hall he used to visit. Besides, he has better memories in other bars—some of which are also dearly departed—where he had better conversations and better beers. After graduating from U of T, he also graduated to better drinking establishments.
Around 6 p.m., we arrived at the Brunny to the sound of a band playing outside and patrons dancing with the umbrellas. Just as we walked up, the crowd dispersed and musicians in little hats drifted away.
We tried to open the door, but it was already locked.
“You missed it,” a man on the street corner said. (Talk about an early last call.)
We instead hung out with our new friend, a man on the street corner. He was, supposedly, a regular at the Brunny. He says that they’re going to let the old-timers have one last drink later in the week. “Don’t know why though,” he added. He told us some jokes, and mused about the future of the old drinking hole. He’s heard the rumours that it will become a pharmacy. “That’s bullshit,” he has decided. “It’s too small.”
In the end, he doesn’t seem that sad about the place closing either.
I never got a chance to see inside, and my dad didn’t get to say goodbye, but we still shared a laugh—although not a tray of beers—with a local.
“That’s the Brunny,” Dad said as we walked away.