Posted 27/Oct/2006 04:14:00
In the thirteen years that I've lived in my neighbourhood, I've seen lots of businesses come and go. People too. Parkdale, in Toronto's west end, has a certain charm if you're open to it, but for many, it's a place they work hard to get away from. Created originally at the turn of the 20th century as an upscale neighbourhood, it's now a mix of low-income apartments, beautiful but neglected old houses split into crumbling flats, and a new wave of folks intent on renovating the place back to its former glory.
There's a certain grittiness to the area that scares a lot of people away; the mix of artists, new immigrants, low-income families and gentrified homeowners make for a colourful mix. You can pass a crack-addicted hooker, a hundred-thousand dollar SUV full of interior decorators, and a Tibetan family in full traditional dress, all in the same block.
Oddly, we all seem to get along and live together without too much culture shock, bound by our shared fear of the spreading condo boom pushing us all out. More hip bars, boutique hotels and swank stores are opening every month and the older neighbourhood hangouts are beginning to disappear.
One holdout appears to be the Rhino Bar and Grill. Located at the east end of the strip, it's one of the first places the hipsters encounter once they're brave enough to make it past the psychological barrier of the train bridge that defines the edge of the neighbourhood.
Rhino is a bright, airy space with plenty of seating. They've been serving up no-nonsense pub grub since the late 80s (when they were the only decent restaurant in the area) with little change to the menu or the prices. You can still get a massive plate of nachos for $5.95 or fish and chips for $6.95. The bar's signature Thai Chicken pizza remains a favourite. On weekends, there's brunch fare, and always a great dessert menu.
Regulars and locals keep the bar busy most evenings (it's a great place to watch sports on the big screen), but recently Rhino has made some changes to attract a more sophisticated clientele. It's now one of the few free wireless hotspots in the area, and the tables are filled in the afternoons with locals parked in front of laptops, a beer or a coffee at their side.
The recently expanded beer menu, with over 200 offerings, has also attracted attention in a neighbourhood where the big brewers rule and micros can be hard to find, particularly when even Rhino's imported beers are very reasonably priced.
In an area with a lot of creative types, both of these are welcome changes. The bar remains true to its roots – regulars are still greeted by name at the door – but newcomers are made to feel just as welcome. The walls will always feature local art, there will always be some Metallica on the jukebox, and the food will always be big and cheap and filling, but it seems Rhino has become a leader in smoothing out the edges of the gentrification spread. There's something here for everyone, old and new, and their acceptance of the inevitable "progress" means Rhino will continue to be a Parkdale landmark for decades to come.
Rhino Bar & Grill
1249 Queen Street West,