After nine years on Church Street, the Churchmouse & Firkin is getting a facelift. And this one promises to be younger and fresher than ever, deepening the popular hangout’s bond with loyal patrons and increasing its connection to the Village streetscape.
The renovation will impose the “cool Britannia” feel typical of the Firkin brand, swapping the previously moody atmosphere of a traditional English Pub for a brighter, more open-concept interior. Many authentic British pubs are typified by a dark and dim enclosure, a retreat from the toils of the day. But Toronto Villagers look forward to watching the goings on — the street fairs, festivals and queens who make Church Street famous the world over.
The second floor has been opened up, with the faux leaded-glass window decals removed, and a lounge area with comfy couches and chairs is planned in front of a large picture window. Every detail has been rethought, with only the dark wood wainscoting averting the wrecking ball (at time of visit).
Unlike many restaurant chains, this complete redesign didn’t originate at head office. The design team was heavily influenced by the suggestions of a longtime employee and proud Village resident.
General manager Andrew Dunn (pictured above) remembers the pub’s early days, way back in June 2004, when the Churchmouse’s owners first renovated the Victorian-era building once occupied by Vagara Bistro.
“Things were certainly different when I started working as a bartender here,” he says. “Church Street was all about fun, flexibility and freedom.” His voice trails off.
No one likes a gossipy barman. Loose lips sink ships, after all.
The renovation comes at an interesting time for Church Street, as more and more independent businesses are finding rising rent and the decentralization of queerdom a challenge. But Dunn remains confident.
“It’s just the natural progression of a neighbourhood,” he says. “Businesses are adapting as the younger generation is spreading out in the city. It’s a good time for us because we’re able to redefine our space based on what our regulars want, and that means an overall upgrade. After nine years, we feel like we’re putting more energy back into the community, and we’re trying to do our part.”
The dissolution of a singular gay village isn’t the only change to affect the clientele in the last nine years. A little thing called Grindr has changed the way clients interact with each other, something Dunn has witnessed firsthand.
“Customers used to wait in line to sit at the bar. Now there’s always empty seats.” Dunn describes the glow of illuminated screens throughout the restaurant with mixed feelings. “People used to talk to each other much more.”
Most memorable moment in the last (almost) decade? A couple of regulars got engaged in one of the front booths on the main floor. According to the Firkin Facebook page, the men are quite distraught that the renovation will disband the seats where their special moment took place. But maybe there’s another way to look at it. Maybe this is an opportunity for a whole new set of memories for the next decade to come.
Happy birthday, Churchmouse!