Regulars

Regulars

The corner of King and Bathurst is the new selfie spot you may not have heard about. Sure, it has food, cocktails, beer, and hockey, but browsing through Instagram these are all secondary to the neon lights and decor that will greet you at this hip new bar. It's the place to visit on a weekend night with a group of friends and snap away under all the bright lights and pop art.

Regulars, a sister bar to Yorkville's comic book-inspired Figures, aims to give off that Cheers vibe: a spot for locals and visitors to hang out, relax, and be treated just like a regular with a hint of the Hollywood golden age. The central concept is important and as such, the menu tries to get some of that comfort food bar grub style and pair it with fancy cocktails to appeal to the young trendsetters of the King and Queen West condo booms. And appeal it does! Weekends are packed with good-looking men and women, sipping wine or cocktails and posing for photos under the garish neon lights.

This place is perfectly situated to draw in crowds from across the west end who are looking for something a little more than the neighbourhood pub and something a little less than the upscale restaurants. Is it a bar, a pub, a sportsbar, a restaurant, or a club? Only time will tell and until then, Regulars is just going about its business trying to appeal to everyone.

Atmosphere Inside

As mentioned, this is the new "It" spot of west Toronto selfie seekers, and for good reason. Chances are that if Regulars pops up on your social media feed, you'll see a good-looking, well-dressed friend posing in one of the many sections of the bar to appeal to precisely that goal. When you first walk up the old bank steps and into the high-vaulted space, you'll notice it's open and bright. And colourful! Comfortable booths line the western wall, with huge windows behind them, and these double as bottle service booths come late night party time.

In the center is a large bar with an ever-changing marquee and the inspiration is clearly modelling on Cheers. Wooden floors, brick walls, and brass pillars and rails accent the space that provides plenty of bar seating. Alongside the bar are long rows of high seating for peak times.

On the other side of the bar is a narrow green room full of table seating and walls completely adorned with pop art from every celebrity you can think of, from Drake to Elvis.

Mismatched vintage lighting fixtures and old Hollywood picture frames are everywhere you look. A fake pile of money rests in one corner for impromtu drunken photoshoots, under a green sign screaming, "Money doesn't buy happiness". At the far end, near the kitchen, there's something like a laser mirror wall. It's hard to explain, and although fun to look at, isn't as popular as other areas of the bar. A bit out of place is the massive television showing sports against the far wall, and another above the bar.

The music is loud, even in midday, and plays a constant stream of hip-hop and R'n'B, with a few pop songs in the mix. Obviously, it is meant to appeal to anybody who unironically calls Toronto "the 6ix" and is a fan of The Weeknd. If you're curious about the crowd Regulars is attempting to lasso, look no further than the music they play: very young, hip, and with lots of disposable income.

Menu Offered

The attempt at an appealing menu is admirable. It ticks all the boxes people tend to look for, including a special section just for cheap snacks which are available for late night dining. The prices are a bit steep in some areas for what you get but it's worth a perusal of the 2 pages of food offerings.

Starting at the top are the appetizers which try to please both carnivores and vegetarians alike. The cheapest app on offer is the "Regulars" Poutine for $11 and includes black truffle and garlic gravy. The second poutine, for $14 is the Loaded Vegan poutine with tofu, corn, edamame salsa, and porcini gravy. Interestingly, both poutines are served on waffle fries, with a serious lack of cheese. Is it truly poutine if there is no cheese? That's a question for the ages. Perhaps the Regulars Poutine does have some, but from photos alone it's clearly not enough. In typical bar fashion, there are wings for $15 a pound, Herbivore Tacos for $13, and fish tacos for $17. At the high end of the apps are the Nova Scotia Lobster Nachos, for a whopping $21. Keep in mind, these are just the appetizers. Perhaps the price tag would be reasonable if the serving was as bounteous as other pubs but it appears to be a single layer of blue corn chips with the usual nacho accoutrements, and lobster.

Regulars has a full salad section which is perfect for the image and health conscious young professionals that are bound to lunch at this locale. They range in price from an easy $9 to $19. For a secondary charge, you can add one of three proteins to any salad. Buttermilk fried chicken comes it at an extra $8, teriyaki salmon at $11, and grilled AAA steak at $15, on top of the price of the salad. The Candied Bacon Caesar is a familiar favourite with the cheapest price tag. Crisp Egg Cobb with delicious sounding applewood smoked tomatoes is $13 and the Vegan Bowl with quinoa, farro, veggies, fruit, and sweet pepper coulis is a mere two dollars more. Finally the Teriyaki Salmon is $19 and comes with marinated vegetables, edamame, wakame, and white miso vinaigrette.

Main dishes are varied and draw on old English style pub food, with an elevated twist. All Day Breakfast gives a plate of artisanal sausage, bacon, hash browns, a sunny side egg, and sourdough toast all day, every day. It's a bit strange that they specify a sunny-side up egg but certainly they can accommodate other ways of cooking the egg? The price is steep at $15 for a basic breakfast and only one egg, but chances are that if you're here ordering breakfast, it's probably the weekend and you're desperate for the greasy comfort food after a night out. Mac N Cheese Lasagna is $16 and uses black truffle again bechamel and ricotta to get that rich, soft flavour. For another dollar, the $17 Vegan Curry consists of chick peas, quinoa, coconut milk, and for that spicy Thai twist, Bird's Eye chilli broth. A Portuguese Half Chicken is $19, Fish N Chips for $21, and Entrecote for $29 which features a triple-A striploin with green peppercorn and cognac jus.

But that's not all the menu has to offer! Seven sandwiches also grace the pages, ranging in price from $11 to $21. The All Beef Hotdog hits the mark at the low end of the price range and is followed by the Sourdough Blat with bacon bark and avocado for $14. At $16 are both the Chicken And Waffle and the Herbivore Burger. The former is as the name states, and the latter is a brie-stuffed portabello mushroom with truffle aioli. Jumping on board the poke craze, Regulars has its own Poke Wrap for $18, stuffed with salmon, pickled mushrooms and seaweed, and jicama and edamame. And of course, there is the signature Regulars burger which is nothing short of massive with a prime rib patty couple with the Herbivore Patty and all the accessories of a good burger. At $19, it seems like a steal. Again, it's the lobster that tops the heavy end of the scale. For $21, any seafood lover can grab the Nova Scotia Lobster Club. All sandwiches are served with seasoned fries, or a salad for an extra charge.

If you happen to be in later at night and aren't looking for a full meal, Regulars also boasts a Snacks menu where all 10 items are a simple $6, no matter what snack you want. These bites range in taste but all linger in the pub comfort grub category. There are mozzarella sticks, mac n cheese fingers, devilled egg, Jamaican patty, cassava chips, edamame, avocado toast, fries, pork rinds, and black truffle poppers.

Dessert offerings are simple and all $8. The four choices are cookie and ice-cream, warm butter tart, peanut butter and jelly eggrolls, and soft serve ice-cream.

Appetizers

There are a lot of tasty sounding options on the appetizer menu so it took a while to whittle it down to the Loaded Vegan Poutine, partly because it sounded different and partly because it has tofu and corn, both of which I love. Unfortunately, it was incredibly underwhelming. I don't have anything against waffle fries exactly, but I know there are all, no matter what, mass produced and cooked from frozen. Part of what makes a good poutine, and various poutine joints around Toronto (as well as the province of Quebec) can attest to, is the need for fresh cut fries to really make it right. Frozen fries are inherently bland so you need a lot of seasoning to make it work.

The chili-tofu had no bite and seemed dry and chewy. As someone who frequents Chinese restaurants all over Markham and Scarborough, perhaps I'm just a little too picky about my tofu. The porcini gravy was nice and savoury. There just didn't seem to be enough of it. I can see why the ingredients would be very good together, but someone there was a zing lacking so the dish as a whole came off as brown and bland, which is certainly not their intention. The lack of anything as a cheese substitute certainly took away from one of the best parts of poutine: that ooey-gooey melted cheese that pulls everything together.

Main Course

After the disappointing app, I decided to go with a sure thing: a sandwich. Considering how many choices they have, I assumed they must have excellent sandwiches. It's not that the Mains options weren't good, just none really stood out as unique. So, after perusing the menu, I settled on the Sourdough Blat, as a fan of both sourdough and bacon. (Blat stands for bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato.) Now, I'd never seen "bacon bark" on a menu before but assumed it meant really crispy bacon and that is a hidden weakness of mine. It's always difficult to find a place that really can get that sharp snap of bacon without drying it out too much or burning it. Needless to say, I was excited. Any meal that pairs fresh bread, bacon, and avocado is a safe bet to me. As simple as it may seem, the balance can be hard to achieve but when it is, it's delicious.

Let's say the sandwich was good. It wasn't superb but it would take a certain genius to elevate an avocado BLT to gourmet standards. The bread wasn't soggy and the sauces had a nice smoky yet sweet flavour to them. It lacked a bit of the tang and chewy stodginess of a true British or Irish sourdough but for the sandwich contents, it was just right. However, the bacon was not particularly crisp which was a slight letdown. The side fries where perfectly cooked and the seasoning mix reminded me of the A&W mix, so if you're a fan of them, you'll love the fries here.

In North America especially there seems to be a trend towards sandwiches packed with ingredients that you can barely fit your mouth around. Regulars goes easy on the fillings but not the taste. At the price point, it is a satisfying plate of food that will hit the spot.

Sweet Dot At The End

After seeing a few desserts on social media and looking at the choices on the menu, I thought the warm butter tart with whipped cream would be a grand slam. I love butter tarts, and whipped cream. Out of everything I ordered, this was the saddest. While the vegan poutine may not have had all the depth of flavour I was seeking, at least they tried to make something interesting and appealing. There was obvious effort involved. The dessert however, was lazy, even in its rather lacklustre presentation.

I don't know whether or not the tart crust was premade or baked in house from scratch but it tasted stale and generic, and was very thick without the nice flake of a good crust. The whipped cream again could have been whipped in house but tasted bland and synthetic, and lacked the firmness of a good whip, and not just because of the hot cast iron pan holding the tart. The filling of the tart was almost non-existent, and really runny. I can't say I've ever had a runny butter tart before. There were some raisins and a pecan or two. Butter tarts are so quintessentially Canadian and to mess one up takes guts.

Drinks & Wine List

Seeing as how Regulars is mostly a bar first, and restaurant as a second thought, it's no suprise that they have a big alcohol menu. With a nice selection of red and white wines, the price per 5oz glass is $15 no matter which vintage you choose. The reds are from all over the world, with many from Italy, USA, and France, with a few from Chile. White wines are primarily from USA and Italy as well, but there is a Riesling from Ontario and a green wine from Portugal which was a really pleasant surprise to see on a menu in Toronto. Sparkling wines are $12 a glass, from Italy or Spain.

On tap are 9 typical beers, all for a price of $8 or $9 a pint. It ranges from Budweiser, to Lost Craft, to Goose Island, to Stella Artois and Guinness. But if those aren't enough of a selection for you, they have another 9 options in bottles and cans, ranging from $7 to $9. You can pick up a pedestrian bottle of Corona or go a little wild with a few craft offerings like Lost Craft Sirius or Brickworks 1904 Cider. There will be a brew for all your hockey watching needs.

If a pitcher is more your style, there is Budweiser beer sangria for $45 and serves 2 to 4 people. In case you're curious about this drink but can't convince your wine imbibing pals, you can also order a single glass.

Where Regulars really gets some kudos from patrons is from their shooter and cocktail menu. They have three signature shooters which are available as a single shot for $6, or 5 shots for $25. There's the Five Card Charlie with vodka and craft bartender darling, creme de violette. Stardust is almost a riff on kir royale with added creme de cacao. Godfather's Son is literally the Godfather cocktail in an easier to drink form, with hazelnut liqueur instead of amaretto. When you hear people talking about Regulars, chances are they'll mention the shooters or cocktails.

The cocktail list is nicely packed with a variety of drinks, all for $15 regardless of how many ounces of booze it contains. To get the most bang for your buck, go for the Cuban Connection which has unique coconut-infused Campari, with sweet vermouth, coconut rum, and dark amber rum. You'll find a cocktail for every major liquor family. There's the Big Red which features bourbon, The Rosenthal featuring gin, Maiden of Macau highlighting vodka and lychee, Mahjong Margarita with tequila, Bullish Behaviour with two vodkas, and The Flamingo featuring tequila again.

I chose the Maiden of Macau to see what Regulars cocktails are made of, and was particularly intrigued by the garnish: straight cash. I can't say I'd complain about a drink with a side of cash! Unfortunately, and oddly, they had no St. Germain despite it being a key ingredient in two of their signature drinks (and with an LCBO a block away). I took my server's suggestion for a better choice and went with The Flamingo.

Regardless of your opinion on inedible garnishes like the paper crane here, this was a solid cocktail. The flavours were balanced perfectly and there was a nice smoothness to the mouthfeel with all that egg white. The Ancho Reyes gave a neat kick that you may not expect from the look of the drink itself. With a blend of passion fruit, creme de violette, and tequila with the Ancho, the heat brings out a nice flavour without being overpowering and having you grab for a glass of water. I can see having a really nice night, lounging in Regulars with a few of these to sip on.

In case you're wondering what draws people here, I can safely assume it's the drinks.

Service and Staff

When I arrived in mid-afternoon, the venue was mostly empty save for a man at the bar and a few tables of girls, relaxing. Service was prompt and friendly, but not overly so like I'd heard from a friend. There was no forced familiarity or handshakes; just a nice girl with a pleasant attitude who made me feel at ease. The bartender was also friendly, smiling as she made drinks, and clearly enjoyed her work.

Food came out really quickly and there wasn't any point where I felt ignored. When a bar is trying to pride itself on giving people that "locals" feel, it's really important to carry that through with the service. And I can safely say, they do. While I didn't walk out feeling as if they were my besties, it was a comfortable experience where I felt like a valued customer.

Selfie On The Go

Despite the disappointing dessert to end the experience, I left feeling decently satisfied and in a good mood, especially because as I left a hostess gave me tips about other cool things to take photos of inside. The staff are proud of their bar and the positive attitude is infectious. I can see why locals would visit.

The only big issue with Regulars is the confusion about exactly what kind of place it is. With neon Instagram worthy selfie spots, it's more likely to attract new people every week rather than repeat customers. Young Toronto is, if nothing else, desperately seeking selfie. People will go anywhere for the latest trend to post to followers. While this certainly draws in people, I'm not sure it works to keep them coming back. The food at Regulars is definitely not its strong suit so while they'll always get reservations, unless there's something done, it will not be known as a top Toronto restaurant.

It's a bar, plain and simple. It just happens to sometimes serve food for drunk people. But even as a bar, it seems a bit confused. Is it a nightclub? A local pub? A cocktail bar? A sports bar? It's unclear exactly what they're going for. It's definitely not Cheers, that's what I know. I understand the desire for showing sports games, especially during the slower winter months, but the big screen seems really out of place when there isn't a Leafs game live. I can't imagine the clash of people that appear here on a Saturday night when a big game is on.

That said, maybe it works! It certainly is a model that has been moderately successful elsewhere with just the right venue. I can see it being able to draw in both the men and the women and that's a good balance to have.

While King West isn't short of places to eat or drink, Regulars has a cooler, younger vibe and a more down-to-earth attitude than the swanky hot spots a little further east that I can see lasting for a long time.

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