Duffy’s Tavern is located in the heart of Bloordale Village. There’s little denying the desolation of the neighbourhood, but the bright, unmissable sign lights up the corner of Bloor and Margueretta: “Since 1949!” it declares, alongside the bubbly white letters spelling out its name. It’s hardly intriguing, but certainly welcoming–especially in light of the garish pink neon of the gentlemen’s club just across the street.
Just past the entrance is a dusty piano, adorned with framed pictures of old-timey whiskey advertisements and a building license that dates back to the 1880’s; the building itself is, indeed, that old. A well-used jukebox is nestled in the corner. There are also four flat-screens each playing a different sport above the bar, barely audible over the strains of Metallica’s ‘Unforgiven.’ The effect is wholeheartedly masculine, totally unfanciful, and tinged with a kind of sentimentality that comes with its age.
The tavern is more than fifty years old, after all. Nothing about its antiquity is contrived or trendy–in fact, Duffy’s seems to go out of its way to be as unfashionable as possible. Its history has lent it a character that’s genuine, from the four-leaf clover stickers on the wall to an unbearably gaudy striped sofa (apparently occupied by Quentin Tarantino himself years ago, during a quick stop before heading to the strip club across the street).
Further in is a staircase leading up to a space with a stage and basic sound system for live acts. Or stroll downstairs, where there are three pool tables. Combined with the four televisions and bartenders willing to shoot the shit, it’s not difficult to be entertained here.
“It’s like we’re presenting our living room to you,” Harrison, the owner, explains. Having taken over the bar five years ago, he sees Duffy’s as a perfect metaphor for the neighbourhood. “I grew up around here. I didn’t want to change much. What would it look like if I was to buy the third-oldest establishment in the city and run off with a quick profit? No,” he says, wincing at the very thought. “There needs to be respect.”
Previously a popular rendezvous spot for pimps and drug dealers, Duffy’s has since cleaned up in what’s certainly an appreciated effort. He’s retained most of the regulars here–some of them having frequented Duffy’s for 35 years–while bringing in new business from now-pacified neighbours. There are plans to expand to the building adjacent, which would bring the tavern’s capacity up to 600 people, along with a 100-seat patio and kitchen.
Duffy’s Tavern is a neighbourhood joint in the sense that I doubt any of its patrons live beyond a five block radius. At first glance, this seems to be a bar good for convenience and little else: one wouldn’t exactly go out of their way for the pint or pool game it offers. It won’t impress everyone. But if friendly service and a cozy watering hole is what you’re looking for, it will never disappoint.