Great draught selection is no longer enough


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.

Today's Special

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 Why is craft beer often regulated to claustrophobic, woefully outdated bars?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.

10 thoughts on “Great draught selection is no longer enough

  1. +1000 on this article. Similarialy, while I really like Bryden’s craft selection/support, and the food is good, the interior is really dated, crowded and uncomfortable. The bathroom is also not fit for a college dorm room. I find myself going to Indie Ale House way more these days and I have a hard time convincing wife/friend to go to Bryden’s.

  2. Largely with you on this one except when it comes to table service. I find myself going to the bar or cooler where ever I am because the menus are often slightly out of sync. “Oh sorry, we just ran out of that.” Find this especially at Sarah’s. Also, gives me a chance to talk to the barstaff on what is good or not. I’ve had too many problems with waitstaff that I’m a little gunshy when talking to someone who doesn’t know the beer that well. But that is another problem overwhelmingly in any bar/restaurant with staff not knowing anything about the beer. Anyways, definitely a fair point about beer places without good or dated food. So, does Castro’s get a pass because of their vegetarian/vegan ethos forces them to be more current?

  3. I acknowledge what you’re saying in general, but would defend my dear old Volos and disagree about the table service. My only caveat would be standing behind the commentator before me and having to listen to a ten minute discussion on beer whilst I was waiting to order my pint.

  4. I have no issues with no table service or who happens to be hanging out at the bar but I definitely agree about the food issue. I’ve been tempted to comment on some of your older post about this subject (that ‘the inverse is something worth talking about’). I sometimes feel bad about dragging my wife (who could care less about what’s on tap) to certain places that, despite offering me lots of choices, don’t really provide consistently good food for her.

    It’s a drag that it sometimes feels like a trade-off – although some places are doing a much better job (Indie Ale House comes immediately to mind).

  5. With regards to table service, I agree. I much prefer being served particularly if I’m tipping (and usually quite well at my regular haunts.) Why am I, the customer, doing the work? When it’s even only somewhat busy Volo is terribly laid out for customer fetching bar service. I just want to sit there and enjoy my beer. If I have to go get it myself then I might as well stay home and have a cheaper night. I had to go play fetch while in Europe last year and didn’t like it.

    For the food at C’est What, I like it for the most part. The specials tend to be a little more creative than the regular menu. I’d be okay if CW went higher end and I’d be okay if things stayed more or less the way it is (though I’d personally tweak the menu a bit for my preferences.) I like having different food options at different bars downtown.

  6. C’est What is great for exactly what it is, a poorly lit basement bar with a great beer selection, even if the food has gone downhill since my cuz stopped cooking there. Pub fare in general doesn’t speak that well to ladies (as some posters have noted above) or those focused on healthy eating. I think it is a bit of a fine line to walk; make a craft brew bar too nice, with great food and service and decor, and you lose the charm of the dive where you need to go to the bar to get a drink, and they advertise that their food is shitty. Too nice and you risk offending the target, beer-focused patron.

  7. I haven’t been to C’est What since last winter, but always enjoyed a couple of things off their menu. But ya – it never seemed to change with the times. Good beer + good food + good service is a pretty rare trifecta in Toronto.

  8. Finally! A place that services fried fish cakes and tomatoes with tartar globs. My search is over. You’re a godsend BJ. I assume I’ll be able to pair a Rolling Rock with this succulent masterpiece?

  9. i don’t see it ben. lets check the boxes for c’est what—pool tables, support for live local music with a top quality sound person, support for artists and their works, exclusively a VQA list, scotch tastings, a good spirits list, attempts at beer cocktails, fire place, comfortable chairs, a spring and fall beer fest, several casks, only one non-ontario craft beer on tap, thirteen rotationals, their own beers, free wifi, their own indie radio station playing local acts. Their beer list clearly states IBU’s, prices and quantities. which gets us to the decor. ‘cheesy, wires hanging, paint peeling’—honestly, i don’t see it. unfortunate web photo not withstanding, the menu is very good, affordable and diverse and incorporates many ontario beers in their recipes with all items made from scratch. again don’t see it and certainly wouldn’t put them in the penalty box because of it. FULL DISCLOSURE—-HOGTOWN IS VERY OCCASIONALLY ON TAP AT C’EST WHAT. Noel chambers, founder, hogtown brewers

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