Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Battle of Two Pilsners in Toronto: Ontario Craft Beer Week

a Scott Fry post:

I’d have been unbearably remiss as a brew-tonian if I didn’t brave the big smoke to attend at least one Ontario Craft Beer Week event this past week. With an incredible array of events including tastings, concerts, meet-the-brewer and appreciation events across Ontario, OCB week is to beer lovers what comic-con is for nerds... in a word – tasty.

We dropped into An Sibin Pub (“an sibin,” we’re told, is a name for an illegal Irish pub serving some kind of potato liquor. This pub, from the delightful Irish waitress to the sea shanties that played over the speakers all night, was a great find) for an event called the Battle of the Pilsners. Never ones to shy away from a battle or a pilsner, we went to enjoy some samples from Steam Whistle and King Breweries.

Most excitingly, we found they were serving unfiltered versions of each beer. Many home brewers and beer enthusiasts alike will esteem the superiority of unfiltered beer, claiming it has more robust scent and flavour profiles, is (usually) naturally carbonated, and is even healthier for you (filtering removes some B vitamins from the yeast, that remain in unfiltered beer). Filtering is done to clarify the beer and give it that golden glow we’ve come to expect; a practice much more common in North America than it is in Europe.

I love the chance to try things in a “back to basics” form. In an overly processed world, beer, for the most part, retains a quite natural form. Your basic beer has few ingredients, no additives or preservatives, and goes through little in the way of processing (lucky us). But there are still steps, some of which people would call unnecessary, that some beer is subjected to (filtering, pasteurization, false carbonation, etc.). For this reason, it can be fun to see what a beer is like prior to any additional steps. Having toured Steam Whistle’s historic John St. Roundhouse, and being no stranger to the iconic green bottle, I was chomping at the bit to try the unfiltered version - and it did not disappoint. Both of us that tried it agreed the hops were more recognizable, the smell slightly stronger, and the overall flavour truly enjoyable (even an arguable improvement over its filtered brethren)!

King Brewery showed up with a great pilsner of its own. Arguably more complex, the filtered and unfiltered versions were not as easily differentiated as they were with Steam Whistle. Notably hoppy, and easily recognizable against other domestic pilsners, I did get a slight hint of metallic taste, which was confirmed by the other taster. The beer certainly peaked my interest in the hyper-local King Brewery, which I will be sure to explore someday soon.

Lesson learned: always take the chance to explore your favourite beers in their alternative forms. Simple differences like drinking beer fresh from the brewery can mean a whole new experience. Events, like the Ontario Craft Beer Week, are often opportunities for breweries to showcase these alternatives, and should not be missed.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Top 5 Dive Bars in Toronto

Top 5 Dive Bars in Toronto (2014 Update)

A post by Ed Arsenault

2014 Update: I updated this list to reflect my personal preference change over the last year. Off the list from last year for various reasons are Two Bite Saloon and Sneaky Dees. I have been given a ton of suggestions on what should be included on this list and while most are excellent dives and true  to the spirit of a dive bar, they have become so popular that they miss the mark on catering to a local crowd. I want this list to be for tourists to use when they visit Toronto to have a chance to drink with the locals. As always I still love getting feedback on this list, so please feel free to shoot me your input. 

What is a dive bar? As best as one could try to define a dive bar; it is an informal pub that caters to a local community. Sounds perfect for a guy like me right? So whenever I visit a city I try to scope out a few of these places and keep a note of my favourites for when I return. 

So in no particular order here are my top 5 dive bars in Toronto.

1. The Done Right Inn – 861 Queen St West

What is there not to love about a bar that accepts Canadian Tire money? The Done Right Inn is located on the skirts of Trinity Bellwoods Park, one of the major parks in the downtown core. After an afternoon of playing tennis, soccer or just lazing under a tree in the park this bar is a short strut away to get hydrated and refreshed. Don’t expect to break the bank here either, beers are cheap if they even remember to charge you for them. For entertainment you can participate in epic matches of foosball or get your social on out on the large backyard patio. The type of crowd you can expect is that of typical Queen West culture; writers, musicians, artsy fartsy types and of course beards. If you’re ever in the Queen West area be sure to check this little dive out.

2. Mayday Malones – 1078 Bathurst Street
Street view of Mayday Malones

Referenced after Sam “Mayday” Malone from Cheers, you know you are going to be in a bar where everyone knows each other’s name. Unfortunately they won’t know yours for your first few visits. Located up near Bathurst and Dupont this bar is notorious for being a regular’s bar. That shouldn’t stop you from trying to become a known face though. With dart boards, TV screens showing all kinds of sports and a karaoke crowd that can actually sing this bar seems to hit the mark on multiple levels. Not to mention they have a quaint little patio out back that reminds me of being on a back deck. They carry the generic beers but have an atmosphere that is blue collar and fun. And the food ain’t half bad either.

3. Pour Boy Pub – 666 Manning Ave
Street view of Pour Boy Pub

This gem of a place is for the poor man. I don’t know how they get away with selling beer so cheap but they do and I love it. This is the place to go to with a few friends and grab some pitchers and snacks. Don't expect a five star treatment here, chances are they will forget about you, but that's to be expected at a dive. Pour Boy Pub has more of an intimate setting then the rest of the dives on this list because they have very dim lighting, close seating and chill music playing. There is no set crowd here as it varies nightly, but I guess you could define the crowd as economically savvy beer drinkers. The downstairs section can be easy to mingle in but the upstairs is more of a secluded area to sit with your friends. If you are lucky enough try to grab a patio seat and enjoy the sights and sounds just off Bloor St in Korea Town.

4. Tall Boys - 838 Bloor Street West
Street view of Tall Boys

Let's get serious about Ontario craft beer for a moment. If you are on a mission to try some of the best beer that Ontario has to offer, then this is where you will want to be. With over 70+ Ontario craft beers served up in tall cans and a handful of rotating draught lines, you will always have something to tickle your fancy. Expect great service during the day and sub par service at night and always expect great tunes. The food is exceptional considering it is just your run of the mill pub fare. A drink and food menu sourced locally makes this dive bar a celebration of Ontario, and this guy loves it!

5. Ted's Collision and Body Repair - 573 College Street
Street view of Ted's Collision and Body Repair

Blink while walking and you will miss this place. Unless of course you are walking by it at night, in which case you couldn't possibly miss the loud rock pumping out of this place. Dirty, dingy, candles in empty liquor bottles, mismatched furniture and a patio with graffiti decor; this is the very definition of a dive. Nothing special on tap here, just cheap beer and cheap shots. Service? what service? hit up the bar if you want a drink otherwise sit down, shut up and enjoy the atmosphere! Oh, one other thing, don't eat here...

So there we go, my top 5 dive bars in Toronto. If you think my choices suck and another dive bar should have made this list please feel free to comment and let me know! 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Real Man Travels Presents: The 19th Hole - Wooden Sticks

Imagine standing on a tee block looking out onto one of the most famous holes in all of golf……. Now imagine if you could do it 12 times a round. Wooden Sticks Golf Course, located in Uxbridge Ontario, you can play twelve signature holes, taken from some of the biggest named golf courses, all in one place. St Andrews, Augusta National, Oakmont, Pine Valley, Troon, Carnoustie, and TPC Sawgrass…….this course provides an around the world golfing experience an hour’s drive from Toronto.

TPC Sawgrass' Island Green #17 with St. Andrews inspired #18 in the background

Today’s foursome:  Myself, My Dad, and 2 other local fire Chiefs
Scoring Format/Event: Tournament 4 Person Scramble, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs Tournament
First Impressions:
Pulling up the short laneway, Wooden Sticks seems like a modest golf course, and its proximity to a residential development gives you the impression that you might be seeing homes along every hole (completely the opposite). After dropping our bags you get your first view of the first hole “Church Pews” inspired by Oakmont and you get a sense of what this golf course is really all about. Definitely a nice curb appeal, but it didn’t knock my socks off.  B-
After a quick tour of their small pro shop, we found the bar easily. One of the interesting things about Wooden Sticks is they offer their own beer, wine, and vodka, under the Wooden Sticks name. I hymned and hawed over there Blonde and Amber selection but selected a tasty Mill Street Organic Lager instead. The patio just off the bar really drives home just how special some of these holes are with a view hole 10, and 18, both inspired by the holy grail of golf, St Andrews, Scotland. B+

Any doubts I had about this place from the curb were erased as we played. Truly a 'sight to see' from some of these elevated tee blocks. The fairways and greens are in perfect condition, and some challenging pin placements made it a truly unique golfing experience, even for my dad who golfs a few times a year, he really liked the idea of playing some of the most famous holes in all of golf. Beyond the signature holes they have done a wonderful job of isolating the course from anything that might tell you how close to a town you are. Every so often you will have to stop your cart for a wild turkey passing through, or delay a tee shot for a couple of deer making their way down a fairway. GPS Carts give you an accurate distance and an on board cooler keeps all drinks cool between the 3 bar stands placed strategically around the course. A large option of tee blocks provides a varying level of difficulty for the amateur or the scratch golfer. A+

Any round of golf at Wooden sticks comes with 2 meals, and the food they served for our tournament may not be the normal menu so it’s tough for me to tell you what to get when your there. But the BBQ chicken and ribs they served for dinner we 'dynamite' and every plate I saw was clean. Lunch was the usual burger, with a chicken parmesan option as well as salads. Nothing to do flips for, but all around better than some restaurants B+

A weekend round at Wooden Sticks will run you $150+tax and will include 18 holes of golf, shared power cart, use of practise facilities, and 2 meals (one before your round, and one after). I’m not going to tell you that it is a steal of a deal, but it’s definitely worth it. You get your money’s worth here, and if you enjoy golf treat yourself once to this course.  A+

Augusta Leader Board located at hole 4 at Wooden Sticks Golf Club

Final Thoughts:
This course has been on my golf bucket list for about 5 years, and scratching it off feels great, but now I want to go back and see how I can handle it on my own. Like anything good in life, anything worth doing is worth doing twice. Wooden Sticks provides the feeling that I can only describe as that of a 4 day vacation. For the first time I can remember I didn’t look at my watch, or my cell phone for 4 and a half hours. All I wanted was to see where the next hole was taking me on my golf globetrotting tour.  When I came back to work everyone wanted to know how it was, what I saw, how I shot. Just the name Wooden Sticks will perk the eye brows of any golf enthusiast. Wooden Sticks was everything I had hoped for and more.

Final Grade : A

Allow me introduce myself to the regular readers of Real Man Travels, I’m Chris' younger brother, Sam ( @SamWEWilliams @SWrealmantravel ). I am also our mother’s favourite child. I am an NFL junkie, Golf addict, and someone who shares my brothers passion for traveling.
When Chris and I talked about me joining the Real Man team we racked our brains trying to find the right way to do it. You see Chris and I usually travel together, and most of the stories he has shared are among my favourite trips. Then it hit us, Golf!!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Two Tales of One City - Detroit

 A Guest Post By Scott Fry   

     When you talk about cities that have a bad rep, you pretty much start the conversation with Detroit, every time.

    Common associations include steel, crime, declining manufacturing induced poverty, and a giant fist (no jokes). I managed to find myself in Detroit twice in 2008, and despite bad reps and giant fists, ended up having some amazing experiences in the Motor City.

     The first trip down was on purpose, to check out the Detroit Redwings take on the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The second trip, by unlucky coincidence (or so I thought), was for a conference. 

Trip#1: A low budget affair, saw 7 guys pack into two university beaters and haul down the 401 to see what Hockeytown had to offer. We loved hockey, and the leafs hadn’t made the playoffs in 4 years and wouldn’t be making it for another 5, so we figured Detroit was our best chance for some good puck within a 5 hour radius.

     We didn’t plan to spend much time in our room so we went price conscious, choosing the less-than-refined Holiday Inn Express & Suites (now the Holiday Inn Express Detroit Downtown). I’m glad to see the hotel looks a heck of a lot better following a much-needed multimillion dollar reno in 2012/2013 than it did back in 2008. Nice job HI.

     With a place to lay our dizzy heads after what was sure to be some rambunctiousness, we picked up our tickets from StubHub (an awesome way to get tix), grabbed a fantastic dinner at Miller’s Pub near the Sears tower and struck out on the town

     The hockey game was unbelievable. I’ve been to games in a few towns and I doubt there are any more knowledgeable hockey fans than those in Detroit Rock City. It’s not everywhere where a 40-something year old lady can recount Stevie Yzerman’s point total by year, but we found her in the nose bleeds at Joe Louis arena. Hockeytown, through and through.

     One thing I noticed Detroit has going on is a solid casino scene. There are not too many guys who would stick a nose up at a night at the MGM Grand, even if it’s not on “the” strip. While tame in comparison to Las Vegas, the MGM Grand Detroit has a solid suite of gaming and entertainment, without crazy crowds or lines.

Trip #2 Came with less excitement. A business trip with the boss. But the accommodations were fine and expenses were paid so I kept an open mind to make the most of it.

     On trip #1 I recall one of the guys commenting “don’t worry guys, next time we’ll stay there,” pointing at the General Motors Renaissance Centre, a massive and stunning multipurpose hotel-shopping centre-conference hall. To my luck the conference was held in none other than this crown jewel hotel, and it lived up to the hype. Refined, comfortable and well-appointed rooms, a dynamic conference centre and excellent dining awaited.

     My open mind came in handy as after meeting some good people at the conference on day one I was invited to a concert that night. With nothing to do in a foreign town, I said sure, without asking the details. Good move. The venue: Saint Andrews Hall, a 100-year-old church-style structure. The band: none other than The Roots, a old school fav of mine! $10 cover and an open mind, equalled a surreal and unforgettable experience. 

     The next night saw a trip to The Greektown Casino, a old, multilevel casino with charm and atmosphere to spare. We popped back over to the MGM Grand to grab dinner at the incredible Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina, in my opinion, a must go when in Detroit. Anywhere else a Puck restaurant would be priced-out of contention for the likes of me, but in Detroit, the prices are reasonable while retaining the quality you would expect. Don’t miss out.

     The lesson here, don’t buy into hype alone. With the right people, the right guide book/website, and the right mindset, you can find an unreal time in almost any town you visit. Detroit, regardless of reputation, made finding that good time incredibly easy for us. 

Scott, (@ScottFry)  formally of the Ontario-focussed travel blog, is passionate about all things that make up a good life. Beer, friends, travel, sports, food, beer... he believes that the good life does not come to you, you must pursue it and make it conscious. Scott is in the process of returning to blogging and will be sure to stop by Real Man Travels whenever possible.  

Monday, 3 June 2013

Marten River


If you have been thinking about getting away camping with your family, you really should. Especially with all the great parks and private campgrounds here in Ontario to choose from. Camping makes you stronger as a family, opens up a new world for your kids and it creates lasting memories. Obviously I’m telling you from experience. The picture above is one of my most favorite pictures in the world. The 4 days my daughters and I spent at Marten River was like heaven on earth. The site we had was right on the water next to the beach, we spent so much quality time hiking and fishing along just hanging out with no pressures of the world to interfere.

 Here are some facts about Marten River

·         Marten River is situated about 40 minutes north of North Bay, Ontario. Right off of HWY 11.
·         Authentic Logging Village on site
·         Great Fishing
·         Trappers Outpost located just outside of park, has all your camping needs and more


 On a beautifully sunny August day, we went on a 4 kilometer hike which involved a couple rolled ankles and temper tantrums, but overall the kids were great. It took us roughly 4 hours to complete the trail, not counting the time taken for a picnic at the riverfront.  There were however a couple of times that I didn't think we would make it to the end. But thankfully I had my secret weapon, a package of delicious red licorice; it gave the kids the motivation and energy to keep going.

First off, I put the boat in the water. With no plug. The result was an hour worth of work bailing the boat out.(Lesson learned) My luck had took a turn for the better and we caught and landed 2 Walleye and a Bass. We had a wonderful shore supper that night.

TIP: when you take your kids fishing, you don't fish, you do everything else you are the Captain of the boat, baiter of the hook, line untangler and fish handler. So make sure you bring a lot of patience

Our campsite was truly beautiful. Here are some other fun things that we did on our camping trip.

·         Bathed in the river like pioneers, the water was a bit chilly.
·         Sat down at everyday for an Ice Cream at Trappers Outpost
·         Many hours Spent at the beaches and playground

Are you going camping? Tell us more below in the comments section.