Wonderfully Strange & Strangely Familiar
The Toronto financial district’s newest haunt, Walrus Pub & Beer Hall, is the graduation of a traditional pub.
Walrus Pub & Beer Hall isn’t like the other pubs in its neighbourhood. This becomes clear the moment you step through the doors and lock eyes with a flock of stuffed birds, mounted on rotating mobiles within a glass case in the middle of the room. The macabre welcoming party’s hierarchical arrangement is a satirical take on the pecking order that pervades Toronto’s financial district, and just one of the intriguing concepts brought to life in the downtown hangout by Donnelly Group, a boutique collection of pubs, cocktail clubs and barbershops.
“This project speaks to the artful inspirations we find collectively as a team in our travels around the globe,” says Ricky Alvarez, Donnelly Group’s resident artist and founder of design studio, Tinto Creative. “We’ve streamlined our
chaotic, creative minds into this unique take on a traditional pub and cocktail bar.”
Artful avian taxidermy is just the tip of the iceberg, because over the three levels and 13,000 square feet, Alvarez and his “chaotic, creative minds” have crafted a multifaceted, multisensory experience that’s familiar enough to draw people through the doors, and fascinating enough to keep them coming back.
Guests entering off the street are greeted by hosts at a lowered, Scottish, turn-of-the-century oak desk, and given the options, including the open-air pub with high ceilings and custom hanging brass lights, the adjacent 40-foot bar, or the Ivory Room martini bar, which serves up vintage and contemporary martinis in a setting reminiscent of a London flat, with over 150 pieces of artwork and an eclectic library lining the walls. The upper level is slightly more casual, with pool tables, a greenhouse atrium that houses multiple custom shuffle boards and entrance to the 150-seat outdoor patio complete with its own bar.
Opt to take the stairs down, or enter via the underground PATH system, and you’ll find yourself in yet another space within the space. The lower level houses a beer hall with communal seating, six ping-pong tables, a Barber & Co barbershop and a café.
The ambitious property follows in the footsteps of other Donnelly Group locations like Belfast Love and Death & Taxes in Toronto, and The Lamplighter, The Blackbird and Clough Club in Vancouver. It’s the brand’s boldest statement to date, but the publican ways that define its brethren are apparent here as well. There are 30 beers on draught (including two rotating taps), classic pub games placed throughout the venue, a multitude of flatscreen TVs and a menu of elevated pub favourites.
It’s a pub, after all, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But it is nice to have something interesting to look at for a change, even if it feels like the birds are looking back.