Opening up her own beer bar has been Katie Whittaker’s dream for years — and this week, in Kensington Market, the longtime bartender lit the tealights along the wood bar at Thirsty & Miserable on 197 Baldwin.
But dreams, once realized, aren’t always what they seem — not only does Whittaker, the sole proprietor, and for now at least, the only employee, get to chat to friendly patrons about all things beer — she also has to fend off loud drunks who haven’t quite figured out that this new bar isn’t the same as the old Cuban spot that used to serve up cheap bottles of Bud.
When I was there, a 6″4 50-something man lumbered over to the bar, towering over tiny Whittaker and demanded a beer.
“OK, what kind would you like?” she asks.
“OK, but what kind?”
“Um.. well tap beers are about $6,” she replies
… Anyway you get the picture.
Whittaker handled it well, serving him an IPA in the hopes that it’s bitter punch would turn him off and persuade him to leave. The plan didn’t quite work out. He drank it like water, and then wandered to the back of the bar to socialize with some hipsters.
The whole thing doesn’t sound that scary — it’s regular stuff for bartenders and owners I suppose — but as a mere patron, it freaked me out to think of Whittaker behind the bar on a lonely night with a much more menacing drunk or two on her hands. I told her as much, and she agreed, but then pointed to a baseball bat she keeps beside the well-stocked bottle fridge. It’s hard to imagine her actually wielding the bat — it’s twice as thick as her arm.
But from the looks of a recent post on the bar’s facebook page, the native Cornwallian’s is keeping the onslaught of rowdy patrons in line, at least somewhat:
Thirsty And Miserable: Sometimes you have to kick people out of your bar for harassing the ladies, and sometimes someone will bust your toilet flusher, and sometimes the blind guy and the weird slut with braces will drum on your bar screaming Deicide songs (even after you politely ask them to shut up) and then practically fuck in front of a full bar of people, and sometimes the kid from Bangladesh will drop his passport and steal her leather jacket, and sometimes the annoying guy will order pint after pint of Mad Tom without tipping but it’s alright when it happens in the company of friends.
But she does plan to hire more staff once things pick up, and the mix of her simple philosophy: serve good beer and her frugal nature means the bar is sure to be a hit with craft beer junkies on a budget. So basically every university student and artsy hipster in town.
The bar is charmingly divey — dark red walls lit by tealights, a few black and white photographs, a simple pared-down bar and lots of good, cheap bar — eight rotating taps and a double-door bottle fridge that Whittaker is adding to so fast she’s already scrawling new beers on the printed menu of over 30 bottles. Just in, eight bottles of Beau’s Coffee Dopplebock, a rarity from its Wild Oats series, which shows Whittaker is winning over beer reps quickly.
The biggest dive component is the aroma of the neatly kept but seriously fishy basement washrooms thanks to the fishmonger’s next door. That part is not so nice.
As for food, Whittaker hates bars that make you do things like eat and pay for it, so she offers four simple dishes, tucked in her freezer, at prices that will ensure patrons never order the stuff:
Mmm. Yummy, but I think I’ll stick to the Blue Cap Chimay.
Verdict: A tiny Kensington watering hole patronized by a crowd as eclectic as the ‘hood. The iconic Belgian imports and Canadian crafts on tap will satisfy most micro-beer palettes, and Whittaker knows her suds. Plus hot makeouts on the bar are allowed — makes me hanker for the POF-filled single days of old.