What does it say about Canadian culture when a girl can’t even find a decent biker bar in the whole of Toronto?
Meet you at Tim’s … I guess.
Culture is a strange thing. It varies from place to place, within subcultures, and can divide within them. In the case of bikers, this can be by brand, riding style, wealth, age, gender, or perhaps even whether we drink beer or coffee. You think I’m kidding?
This past summer I met a woman who moved here from the States. The vintage Harley rider from California asked me the strangest question that I could not answer. I’ve been pondering it ever since. “What’s with the Tim Hortons?” She wondered.
It’s not the first time I’ve been stumped by a question about our culture. I was forced to look at something I’ve come to take for granted, that I think is normal. One stranger made me realize that it’s not. What happened to the glory days when bikers were badass and met in bars, put back a few and then rode to the next bar or party and had some more? I realized when facing that stranger that she had a point.
It’s not that she meant her people got drunk and rode, but she said in California bikers meet at bars all the time. There’s a thing called a biker bar. She moved to Canada for a job, and just can’t get with the coffee culture. And I have to agree. The difference between a bar with ambiance and a Tim Hortons’ parking lot is huge. Socially and esthetically, they’re worlds apart.
And before we get too far down this road, let’s consider that you can legally have a beer and still ride. The same is true for coffee. For those who add a burger and fries, and the amount of time it takes from when you order till when you’re wiping the ketchup from your chin, you could even have had a second one and still be good to drive – unless of course you’re me, and you drink neither beer nor coffee.
Personally, when I ride I drink the usual: black tea with milk and honey. I do think that riding has had a life-long effect on my alcohol consumption because I’m a cross between a lightweight and a cheap date. I’ve never found that drinking and riding mix. Given the choice of waiting for slow public transportation or not drinking, I choose to ride. My neighbourhood bar, The Black Eagle, sure doesn’t profit on me.
Here in Toronto, motorcycle riders started gathering years ago on a particular night at a pre-determined spot. When I lived downtown at Yonge and Wellesley, bikes gathered near Ryerson University. Now I live in Leslieville, and on Thursday nights the Leslie and Lakeshore Tim Hortons with the big parking lot fills with two wheeled vehicles. But where do they go on a Wednesday night? They show up at some vintage car gathering that meets in suburban mall parking lots, right next to the Tim Hortons. I started thinking about how different biker culture might be in the sunshine state compared to here. Must be because … what?
I found a biker bar while riding in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in western New York where roads twist, rise and fall, giving people like me a thrill. It really is gorgeous riding country that reminds me of the Bavarian foothills of the Alps. Farmland stops where forest begins climbing the hillsides, too steep to farm. The word picturesque comes to mind. The back roads are well maintained and lack the traffic that can irritate a person like me. I like to take the corners fast, then slow in the straight lines. In other words, I try to enjoy the scenery, ride to stay alive, and keep my licence off the endangered list!
I was led to the Whiskey Hill Saloon, a biker bar in Cassadaga, New York, “home of Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots.” The kitchen serves a varied menu and the bar’s well stocked. They even have lodging available. I enjoyed my visit to this biker bar, nestled in a small town in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed to me. And they serve snowmobile riders in winter. Can you believe?
This year I picked up a copy of their local biker magazine containing a Biker Friendly Directory that is surprisingly large, covers all sorts of businesses in western New York, and advertises more events and biker bars than I would have imagined. Numerous businesses host one night a week specials. Ride The Southtowns on Wednesday and hit Tailgaters, Four Aces Bar & Grill and Moonshiners Pub & Grub, all offering live music, special designated motorcycle parking and more. The once a week Blues Bikes & BBQ at the Armor Inn in Hamburg sounds fun too. All this and more, just south of the border.
Where are the biker bars in Toronto, or southern Ontario? I know a few common destinations. At Cathy’s Country Kitchen at 5th and 52, the parking lot fills with motorcycles on sunny weekend days, and is open from six a.m. to three in the afternoon. In Belfountain, just beyond the one and only hairpin curve outside the GTA, bikers gather for ice cream or motor over to the fancy Belfountain Inn for something gourmet. The main street of Campbellville, a small town located at the top end of a very scenic twisty road, gets inundated with motorcycles when the weather is good. Again, ice cream or a family restaurant. But none of these are bar runs.
Perhaps visiting the Cremore Springs Brewery and having a meal in town would qualify. But as for biker bars, in Toronto, one might find a mix of motorcycles at The Black Bull on Queen West, or perhaps outside Stratengers on Queen East. But that in no way compares to the hordes that gather at Tim Hortons.
I think the woman from the States is right. There’s something different about the culture here. Biker bars in Toronto are a thing of the past—or so it would seem. We are meeting at Tim Hortons, and not just Thursday nights. We meet in the parking lot, stand around with our coffee or tea, make small talk while looking at each other’s rides, or while planning them. Are we happy with that? Or is this what happened in Canada’s largest city where there’s barely a bike shop to shop at? You tell me.