Pub Review: The Rhino

The Rhino
1249 Queen St. W. (west of Dufferin)
(416) 535-8089

One thing I’ve intended to include on this blog since I started it are reviews of some of my favourite (and maybe some of my not-so-favourite) bars & pubs in Toronto. So for this first in an occasional series of reviews, and it seemed fitting to start off with my local haunt, The Rhino.

For close to 13 years now I’ve lived in Parkdale, a neighbourhood of Toronto that used to be quite affluent but that fell on hard times a few decades back. Gentrification has started creeping into the ‘hood in the last few years, but back when I first moved here, The Rhino was pretty much the only place within a reasonable walking distance of my place to get a decent beer and food that was a step or two above typical greasy spoon fare. Not that they served anything fancy – it was your basic pub grub staples like burgers, sandwiches, pizza and pasta – but it was tasty (well, usually – more on that in a moment) and cheap, and there was a selection of microbrews available to wash it down. It’s a theme that they’ve stuck with ever since.

One big problem with The Rhino, however, has been the inconsistency of both the service and the quality of the food. The staff turnover seems to be quite high, so aside from the family members who run the place and occasionally wait tables, we’ve rarely been served by the same person more than once, and as a result, the service has ranged from friendly and attentive to indifferent and glacial. Once, my wife and I popped in for a beer and a quick bite. We sat down, got glasses of water, and waited fruitlessly for our waitress to return to take our order. After 30 minutes, we could only assume that she had either been kidnapped or simply chose to knock off early for the night, so we left.

The food has had similar ups and downs. While it’s never been gourmet quality, we have been served some really tasty meals there. Back when we ate meat, we were both fans of the Thai Chicken Pizza, made with juicy chunks of chicken and spicy peanut sauce. The fish & chips is usually a safe bet as well. But we’ve also suffered through some pretty bad meals: overcooked burgers, undercooked french fries, soggy nachos, hard poached eggs under cold Hollandaise sauce.

So why do we keep going back, especially now that places like Mitzi’s Sister and the Cadillac Lounge have opened in the nabe? I suppose it’s partly a slightly misguided sense of loyalty. After all, they’ve been in Parkdale as long as we have (longer, actually), and they were there for us when our only other local options were smoke-filled dive bars serving unmarked draught (spelled “draft”) to drunks that like to pick fights for no apparent reason.

And the beer selection is certainly a big asset, especially since they decided a year or so back to expand their bottle list to 200+ beers. None of them are especially rare, but the prices are amongst the cheapest in the city, and the draught selection – recently enhanced by the addition of a handpump for cask ale – features a solid line-up of a dozen or so local micros, also at dirt cheap prices.

It also doesn’t hurt that the food prices have remained relatively unchanged since we started going there over a decade ago. There were hints that the menu (and presumably the prices) would be changing a year or so back when it was announced that they would be undergoing a facelift of sorts, presumably to keep up with some of the cool new kids on the block, but those renovation plans seem to have died – or at least been put on hold – and the menu and prices remain unchanged.

So while I’m well aware that it ain’t perfect, it’s still my local, and as long as I live a couple of blocks away, I’ll still be stopping in for the cheap beer, the variable food, and the comfortable, familiar atmosphere. That’s what The Rhino is all about, and that’s what I love about it.

(Note: The photos for this review were taken by my lovely wife, Sheryl Kirby, for a review of Rhino that she wrote a couple of months ago for a new arts & culture website, Toronto Bits.)

2 Responses to Pub Review: The Rhino

  1. I went there for some cask ale with a couple of friends las Saturday. No cask. disappointing.

    I’ve only been there once before, and found it to be a bit cavernous and not realy comfortable. Good selection of beer, good prices, but there’s something lacking. I live further east on Queen, at Niagara, and there’s nothing at the Rhino to convince me to take that little extra effort to get there. The cask pump would have done the trick, but if it’s not reliable …

    A good place to check out for beer selection and atmosphere is the Cloak and Dagger at College and Bathurst. They’ve got cask, Wellington Arkell, unfortunately (it’s one of the blander casks around), but at least they try.

  2. I’m a bit concerned about the cask ale at Rhino myself. The staff doesn’t seem to know much about it, and until they put “What is Real Ale?” info cards on the tables a couple of weeks ago, there was no indication on the menu or elsewhere that they were even serving it. Hopefully, they can sell enough of it to keep it fresh, and also keep it available all the time.

    And I won’t argue with you about the atmosphere being a bit cavernous. If I hadn’t been going there for so many years & didn’t live in the neighbourhood, I probably wouldn’t be as keen to visit very often. But when a place is 2 blocks from my house and has some of the cheapest microbrew in town, I’m willing to cut them more slack. 🙂