London Culture Tour: Dive Bar Edition

A group of regionalists walk into a bar.

What constitutes a dive bar these days is open to individual interpretation. Once a derogatory term for a drinking establishment that only the seediest of individuals would frequent, the term is now worn as a badge of honour and has led way to a renaissance of these unique cultural spaces.

Having never spent much time in these drinking establishments, the unknowns of local dive bars has always held a certain appeal to me. Wanting to better understand these anchors of local economics and establishments from which community can form, I proposed the idea to some fellow localists to spend a day touring a selection of these places. {{more}}

Not too long ago, a group of self-proclaimed 'regionalists' and I decided to embark on an alternative ‘cultural tour’ of the Forest City (London, Canada). While many people make fun of ‘dive bars’ for their decor, location, clientele, and the beer/food that they serve, I honestly think that they provide an interesting perspective on the communities, people and history that make up our city. While at times not the prettiest of places, low-budget bars are full of interesting people with stories to tell, some of the coldest beer in town and often very good food.

Our tour began in the Old East Village and finished up in the SoHo neighbourhood. The day was long, and our commute was by bus, car, taxi, and our own foot power. By the end of the evening, the number of participants taking part in this excursion would grow from three to ten as we picked up new tour members along the way at each establishment we visited.

Although there are many establishments within the Forest City that are likely to fit the definition of dive bar, we only had so much time and money to spend on our tour and had to limit the places we visited. What follows are the highlights and some of the most interesting observations from those establishments.

Town & Country Bar & Grill

Located in Old East Village, this bar has $2.00 breakfasts on Sundays with the purchase of a beverage. The breakfast is a good quality 'greasy spoon' style. Next time, I might bring my dirty clothes as there is an onsite (and licensed) laundry mat.

St. Regis Tavern

I suspect that this is one of the oldest bars in the city, although a new iteration of its former self. The decor isn’t as rough as I thought and the service was fantastic. The two women working on our visit are possibly the nicest employees we met all day.

The Richmond Tavern

Having been here many times before, there are not many surprises to be had at the Richmond. However, I do manage to experience my first pickled egg. Aside from this new culinary experience, nothing is out of the ordinary. The beer, as always, is the coldest in the city.


I really enjoy our trip to Clicks. Looking past the lack of food choices (none), I think this place has potential. The beer is the coldest we had all day, the room is clean, cosy and it seems like it could become really popular if they changed a few things. Not sure I'd go back without a group of people though.

East Side Bar & Grill

Having grown up in the East End, I knew that this bar existed but never patronized it. From the outside it doesn’t look like much but the inside is very different. Decent live music, good service and amazing ribs. I wouldn’t actually classify this as a ‘dive bar’ after visiting it. It is the sort of place I could see myself going to for dinner and a beer once in a while if I lived in the area.

Playtime Cafe

Visiting Playtime is like you have unexpectedly stepped into someone’s living room; when we came in, everyone else went outside. The decor is exceedingly interesting and they have $1.00 hotdogs. The best deal of the day.

Nick @ Trax Bar & Grill

This place is small. It has an interesting meat/cheese/pickle plate (not platter) with really fresh bread, very cold beer and an espresso machine that seems out-of-place. We don’t spend too much time here as, for some odd reason, I feel fearful for my life.

Victoria Tavern

We finish up our tour at the Victoria Tavern, apparently once known as ‘The Bucket of Blood’. Aside from the grumpy server, the lack of food choices and a deck of cards with clearly more aces than it should, this is a great little place. The food isn’t bad and they serve Iron Spike beer – a nice treat to round off the tour. I’d head back here for sure.