Over the course of the last few blog posts, I’ve been trying to make the argument that “good” bars and restaurants need to incorporate thoughtful draught selection into the dining and drinking experience they provide. It’s something I feel strongly about and I hope that my writing as of late has contributed to the conversation on the subject.
Recently, however, I had an experience that made me realize that the inverse is also something worth talking about; namely places that do incorporate a thoughtful draught selection really ought to be held to account to provide a “good” restaurant experience.
I have a feeling that this post might piss some people off, but the thought came to me Saturday night when I popped into C’est What for a few pints.
I’ve been there plenty of times before, but this was the first time it ever dawned on me that C’est What is, to put it frankly, pretty awful.
Don’t get me wrong, virtually since the day it has opened in 1988 C’est What has been an ardent supporter of craft beer. And that’s never changed.
The problem is, nothing else has changed either.
C’est What seems trapped in the late 80s and early 90s in terms of everything from its well-worn interiors and dated, cheesy decor, to its concept of acceptable menu items that run the gamut from heavy to even heavier. For an example of the kind of “pub fare” they specialize in, one needn’t look further than this image from the front page of their website.
I guess that’s some sort of fried fish cakes served with…cherry tomatoes and globs of…tartar sauce maybe?
I don’t really want to pick on C’est What, but the fact that they’d like to present this as the first image you see on their website and thus likely feel it’s the best representation of their cuisine is somewhat troubling. It suggests to me, along with other indicators, that perhaps they’re not all that interested in trying these days.
But maybe it’s not entirely their fault.
Maybe, as craft beer fans who have willfully accepted “craft beer bar” as a separate, lesser category, we’ve let this happen to places like C’est What. Maybe just as better restaurants have woefully overlooked craft beer for the most part, craft beer bars are guilty of letting other parts of good dining experiences slide because they’ve found that their patrons will come for the beer anyway.
Well, it needs to stop. Why is craft beer often regulated to claustrophobic, woefully outdated bars? Why is OK that barVolo and The Only, two of the best craft beer bars in Toronto according to every list that has ever ranked such things (including the ones I fucking write) , don’t actually have staff that will bring a beer to your table?
Yes, I like craft beer, but I also like sitting in a nice place and being served. Why is it often so hard to bring all the elements together? And I’m not saying no one does, just that it’s too seldom the case.
Indeed, to be perfectly honest, despite the great beer I drank at C’est What on Saturday, I had a better experience the next night at Local Public Eatery–which is insane because, on paper, Local Public Eatery, an installment of a franchise pseudo-pub that lists Bud Light, Rolling Rock, and Shock Top among their “well known and trusted” tap selections and a place that seems to typify everything I hate about the neighbourhood it’s in, would be one of the last places I’d ever expect to enjoy myself.
And yet, they’re paying attention to more of the things that matter. There’s only a few beers on tap that are good and local (Left Field, Amsterdam, Nickelbrook, et. al), but, importantly, some attention has been made to providing updated “pub fare” and an actually welcoming and engaging atmosphere. There was no peeling paint, no wires and cords hanging from the ceiling beams, no shitty carpeting and zero patrons, notably, were hunkered down at the bar with a ball cap and headphones on, watching both their iPhone and an iPad, sipping a craft beer and sucking up free wifi–a demographic that seems to be welcomed with open arms at C’est What on a Saturday night.
The natural argument in response to my comments will presumably be along the lines of “C’est What and Local Public Eatery aren’t really comparable because they’re not really the same ‘thing,'” and while that is true to some extent, it is increasingly less the case. Thanks to the growth of craft beer in Toronto, better restaurants can no longer ignore the need for quality draught, and, ironically, places like C’est What that helped the craft beer scene in this city prosper now need to update their model or get left behind. As more and more restaurants and bars begin to understand the importance of a good beer lineup and incorporate it into the dining experience, simply having a great draught selection is no longer enough. One need no longer compromise when it comes to the bars they frequent. I for one certainly won’t and so, until C’est What decides to update their concept, I won’t be going back.