RAISING THE BAR: Corktowners gather at the new Dominion Pub & Kitchen at their soft opening on Friday night. Photo by Dennis Kucherawy.
By Dennis Kucherawy, Corktown.ca
“At last my pub is back again…” – With apologies to Etta James
You can’t blame Scottt Ritterhaus of the newly renovated — under new management, don’cha know — Dominion Pub and Kitchen if he feels like a Dad driving his kids on a long car vacation.
C’mon, Corktowners can’t be THAT thirsty? Then again, the bar/restaurant has been closed since 2014. That’s a long time in “beer years.” For many, including me, it’s traumatic to lose your local! I mean, Christmas is a month away. Sure would be nice to get an STP-10-W30-laced egg nog within stumbling distance of home!
Now, as of this week, it’s open! No longer do we have to take a streetcar for a beer!
Scott just shrugs and with a friendly smile admits lots of people have been, um, curious, he says — a soft understatement — adding a lot of passerbys have been peering in during construction.
As a resident of Sumach Street, I think it’s great. If I head north to the Regent Park Aquatic Centre for a swim, I can drop in to the new Sumach Espresso for an Americano If I want to go south to check out what’s shaking at the Distillery District’s Christmas market, I can pop in to the Dominion for a lovely Chambord liqueur or maybe even a deliciously refreshing “beer flight.”
For months, rumours have been swirling among Corktown residents and local folk from businesses in the neighbourhood. They suggested that big bad “corporate” interests had leased the ground floor of the historic Dominion Hotel from owners TRS Properties. The days, they said, of a quaint neighbourhood pub are over!
That’s not the case, says Scott as he shakes his head.
The fact is that yes, Fab Concepts are the managers of a dozen restaurants in Toronto and the GTA. The secret of their success is evident in its Vision Statement. It says, in part, it focuses on the guest and “giving back to the community.”
(Visit Fab Concepts’ website at fabrestaurants.ca to learn about their magnanimous charitable activities including its annual golf tournament that has raised $120,000 during the past six years. Beneficiaries have included the Sick Kids Hospital Foundation and East York General Hospital. It donates frequently to the Daily Food Bank and some locations run annual Christmas toy drives.)
“We planned to refresh the space while keeping true to its historic roots,” says Scott.
“We offer an ‘elevated’ pub experience from what you’re used to. The Dominion still has the warmth and comfort of your local with a little marketing extra. Our food is fresh and made in-house, rather than frozen.”
That includes 24 taps for craft beers, mostly local brands plus others such as Sierra Nevada, a pale ale, and popular Mill St. Organic as well as emerging labels.
The expansive, five level-shelf at the bar contains a wide variety of potables such as scotch, vodka and various liqueurs. I knew I was going to like this place when there at eye level — side by side — were bottles of Grand Marnier and Chambord, my favourites. (Santa, are you paying attention?)
MIXING THINGS UP: Dominion Pub & Kitchen bartenders (from left) Spencer and Chantelle prepare drinks behind the bar. The new Dominion has 24 beers on tap. Photo by Dennis Kucherawy.
Are the Keg and Kelsey’s competitors? “We’re offering a unique experience,” Scott enthused, “through our products and approach.”
Dominion Pub and Kitchen certainly got off to a great start last Friday night and Saturday with a soft opening for suppliers, partners, friends and employees from other Fab Concepts locations. What a fun vibe! Guests were ready to celebrate and party. With smiles, handshakes, pecks on the cheek and chit-chat galore, a new era began. The staff was very enthusiastic and attentive beyond the call of duty!
Ahriel, our waitress, who lives in the Bloor-Lansdowne area, enthused about Corktown. She is planning to move here since she loves what the neighbourhood offers.
Scott, a 28-year-old with his neatly trimmed beard and athletic build that reflects his hockey player (centre) background, is the son of co-owner Jost Ritterhaus, who heads up Fab Concepts with his partner Sean Bayley. (The surname “Ritterhaus” translated from German into English means “Knight House.” Hey! There’s a great name for a pub with a few round tables!)
It’s an independently owned, “multiple concept” hospitality concept company, he explains. Its head office is on East Liberty Street in Western Toronto.
As the company’s Grand Development Manager, Scott is in charge of the company’s present re-branding of all of its locations with the intent of ensuring their uniformity. Its logo is a stylized draft beer glass. A wooden collage of the image made of various wooden blocks forming words and other scattered letters hangs in the Dominion’s front lounge, on the western wood panelled wall.
Opposite it, on the eastern brick wall, is a wooden plaque listing the 24 beer and ale brands available on tap, hanging above a comfortable, leather couch that complements the other couch and armchairs by a brightly lit ten-foot Christmas tree.
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL: Head chef Drew (right) serves up grub at the new Dominion Pub & Kitchen. Photo by Dennis Kucherawy.
“We are creating and strengthening our top-of-mind awareness in the market. Our goal is to be a step above with our comprehensive beer and cocktail list plus attentive guest service.”
The menu is generally pub fare — burgers, salmon with vegetables, fish and chips — that is, simply, the same as the Pour House’s menu.
Scott says the company expects to attract a demographic of people ranging from the early 20s to mid 50s, many of whom have moved into the new condos such as River City as well as students from George Brown College’s new residence and campus.
Fab Concepts this year is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Its first restaurant was Redwood Grill & Bar in the “young and eligible” Yonge and Eglinton market. Today, its “portfolio” of 12 restaurants, many of them Irish pubs, includes such popular and successful establishments as Murphy’s Law, with its terrific roof patio, at Queen & Kingston; Bar Vespa in Liberty Village; Harbourfront’s Watermark; and the Pour House on Dupont Ave. in the Annex. Two “Against the Grain” brand restaurants are located at Corus Quay and Leaside.
Many are Irish Pubs such as Foggy Dew on King St. W.; Brazen Head, also in Liberty Village; and Pogue Mahone on Bay St. With Corktown’s Irish heritage, the new Dominion Pub and Kitchen should fit right in.
The Dominion Pub and Kitchen has big plans including, perhaps, an on-site brewery. Management also intends to bring back live music and entertainment. Maybe the Corktown Ukelele Jam will return or expand from The Paintbox Bistro on Dundas St. E. where it is presently ensconced. As the holiday season approaches, isn’t it time for a little “Mele Kalikimaka” Hawaiian Christmas music?
GRAND OPENING: The team at the new Dominion Pub & Kitchen celebrates their grand opening Monday. Photo by Dominion Pub & Kitchen / Facebook.
Despite the excitement, let’s be realistic. The new Dominion is located in the old Dominion Hotel. It is the site of one of Toronto’s first pubs. Although historic, the building was an eyesore. Ask any neighbourhood resident. It’s been shuttered since 2014 and only now is it coming back — at least the ground floor is.
This spring, TRS properties bought the building for $4.2 million. In turn, they leased the ground floor to Fab Concepts.
The second and third floors could be renovated into a lovely boutique hotel, as Streetcar Developments is doing in Riverdale with the New Broadview Hotel, most popularly known as the former home of Jilly’s strip club. In the spirit of the rejuvenated Gladstone Hotel near Queen St. West and Dufferin Sts., Streetcar intends to include a new, ground floor restaurant and 57 hotel rooms.
A similar initiative at the Dominion Hotel certainly would boost Corktown’s gentrification. The location is terrific. But TRS Properties has made no announcements (yet) as to how it plans to capitalize on its sizeable investment.
Let’s hope the success of Dominion Pub and Kitchen is a step in the right direction.