Sonic Boom owner Jeff Barber’s new venture is Get Well, a new Dundas West bar with 30 varieties of beer and free classic arcade games.
It’s Monday at 11 p.m. and Get Well’s co-owner Alan Kelley thinks he’s in the clear for a slower night, taking a seat at the bar to catch up with the regulars. But at the chime of midnight, thirsty people start pouring in, the space fills up, and he jumps behind the bar to help the bartender make drinks.
Smack-dab in the middle of summer, co-owners Jeff Barber and Tim Oakley are as surprised as Kelley that without any promotion—and without a patio—Get Well has taken off so nicely (they’ve reached capacity the past two weekends). “We just wanted the doors open, and still had a ton left to do. No advertising. No promotion. It’s not just that it’s busy; it’s the feedback. People love it,” says Barber. Barber, who is also the owner of Sonic Boom, Toronto’s biggest independent record store, attributes the success of the store, and now the bar, to the talented individuals that surround him.
Kelley has been there every night since opening and does not foresee this changing. In charge of the ordering, day-to-day managing and staffing, the latter came easy, with years of “working in bars; working with bartenders; being served by bartenders.” The bartenders in the city are a real community, and you’ll recognize faces from landmarks like The Communist’s Daughter, Cold Tea and neighbouring Unlovable.
Oakley, who is the window display designer and in-store decorator at Sonic Boom, is pleased to take credit for the whimsical décor and, most especially, the initial design of the king-size bar that stretches 28 feet in total. He groans, recalling the hours the trio spent, together with his uncle Tom and the group’s friend Rob Greene, building the bar-top by hand: gluing together the hundreds of uniquely sourced and uniquely coloured pieces of repurposed wood. “It took forever finding the wood. It took forever cutting the wood. Forever flattening. Planing. Then five coats of varnish.”
Even more time was spent scouring flee markets to procure the bar’s mismatched furnishings. The most eccentric pieces, two golden dragons the likes of which you might find in a movie set Chinese restaurant, stare out at patrons from behind the bar; the one on the left has piercing green eyes, the eyes of the right one glow red and dart back and forth. The dragons were uncovered at Aberfoyle Antique Market.
Dolly Parton and Captain Fantastic, the beloved pinball machines, were picked up in Hamilton. The rest of the bar’s signature row of old-school arcade machines, including crowd pleasers like Gallaga, Space Invaders and Tetris, were sourced from across the border, usually found in someone’s garage collecting dust, and took several trips to Buffalo to obtain. “They were all set in American currency,” remembers Barber. The games are free for the time being, and patrons can grab coins at the bar.
When prompted for what sets Get Well apart from the trend of bars on the Dundas West and Ossington strips, they unanimously agree on its ever-changing unique craft beer selection—the priority from the outset. They estimate, to their own surprise, that in under a month they’ve already tapped 30 different types of beers, most recently adding a cask to the selection.
The bar’s most refreshing quality is that it offers more space than most of the neighbouring Dundas and Ossington watering holes. “It’s a bigger small bar,” says Kelley. “Intimate, but not crowded.”
When you combine the added space with the kitschy seating, jukebox, and game machines, it’s no surprise that Get Well has landed so smoothly. It already feels like a permanent fixture on the strip.
Get Well, 1181 Dundas Street West. #DNW 647-351-2337.