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Oldtown Bodega is one of the best-kept secrets on the east end, so secret that there is no signage indicating that you've arrived, just the promise of incredible drinks and the sounds of people having a fantastic time. And also possibly getting their haircut, because the bottom floor is a barbershop.
For the summer of 2022, Oldtown Bodega opened its extended patio up with a vintage boom. If you're unfamiliar with Toronto summers, restaurants and bars in the city can extend their patios onto the road and sidewalks for the warm months; it's a terrific way for businesses to increase their seating and customers to bask in the sun. Oldtown Bodega is one of those bars that has permission to sit on King Street.
With Covid-19 restrictions easing and increased capacity options, Oldtown could get more creative with their patio. You'll see a few sets of unique seating options, and each piece of furniture sourced has its own story (if Matt, the owner, is there, you'll recognize him with his friendly smile, big beard and bigger personality, make sure to ask him). The wood tavern seating (from a bar called Buckhorn) had Matt driving all the way to Calabogie, Ontario. There are diner pieces from a chicken and chip shop in Haliburton, big wood tables from Montana's found by a storage locker hunter and even tables from a subway in Bancroft. Many of the little table orbits sit under big, vintage umbrellas with beautiful tassels.
You can finally get their full cocktail offering on the patio; they do all the classics with a full ounce and a little insider secret; if you're happy ordering any four cocktails, you can request them in an Instagrammable crystal skull. Oldtown's most popular cocktail is their take on the Paper Plane, inspired by MIA's song Paper Planes. Their beer selection is sourced from all over Ontario, and you'll recognize some of your favourite breweries on their menu.
Oldtown Bodega has been open since 2018; Matt and his family live above the shop, and when they first bought the building in 2017, they had to completely gut it for it to look like the beautifully cozy bar it is today. Originally they wanted the space to be a New York-style bodega as an homage to Matt's time as a student in New York. They launched as a coffee shop for a year but were treading water but once they got their liquor license, Oldtown Bodega became the incredibly special bar it is today. The building used to be a Cash & Carry, where Theodore Loblaw first worked in Toronto in the 1890s. He would bike all the way from his little hometown, sleep on the couch upstairs during the week, then bike back home on Fridays.
Just like the patio, the interiors are all sourced secondhand, mainly by Matt's wife and Oldtown co-owner Maura, who is a morning radio host by day and Kijiji wizard by night. You might recognize some of the furnishings from the Rick Mercer show where Matt used to work. The exquisite menus are also hand-drawn by Matt every week; you wouldn't think that this is the first time they've owned and operated a bar!
The spectacularly friendly staff at Oldtown Bodega makes this bar extra special; it's essentially a bunch of adults who love doing what they do and making meaningful connections with their customers; the bar exudes pub energy, and folks love to chat to one another. The beautifully flaky empanadas from The Empanada House also make it special. Don't leave without trying them.
Oldtown Bodega is located at 402 King St E, Toronto and is open from 5 p.m. until late, Wednesday to Saturday.