Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The Wicket bar on Bloor
My old, wonderful buddy Nigel Naimool is something of a legend among Toronto bartenders. The most outrageous and vivacious of the city's bar scenes in the last quarter century frequently found Nigel at their vortex.
He was tending bar in the last days of the wildest times of the Sticky Wicket, which was owned by the entrepreneurial impresario Stan Anderson. Tucked away on Spadina Avenue, just south of the Annex, in the mid 1980's, The Sticky Wicket was a continuous, raucous party with a wild assortment of denizens that included my rowdy, reprobate friends and notables such as the late marvelous, cantankerous Shakespearean actor John Colicos, and it's where the depressive, alcoholic poet Gwendolyn MacEwen's liver was gradually drowned to death by my dear friend Matthew, who also bartended there and was one of the architects of its bacchanalian climate. Well, I suppose that last bit makes it sound more like Charles Bukowski's LA than Miller and Hemingway's Paris, but Gwen usually drank in the afternoons and the party took place at night; almost every night.
Flaky, sexy neophyte fashionistas mingled with low-rent Gordon Gecko wannabes, gregarious foreign expats, aspirant actors, pretentious bar stool philosophers, Gypsy pot dealers, dizzy academics, desperate barflies, crazy writers and musicians, and all sorts that became an incestuous, extended, intimate group relationship. Hmm...that description may not do justice to how much fun the Sticky Wicket was at its pinnacle, but somehow that bizarre, unplanned formula created a consistently entertaining atmosphere, the likes of which Toronto's bar scene hasn't seen since.
When the Sticky Wicket came under new corporate, unfun ownership, Nigel moved on to the Bamboo Club, making it the hub of Queen Street West's cool scene in the final days before that neighborhood was completely taken over by preening trendoids and hipster slime. During his stint at the bamboo, Nigel is the only bartender I've ever known to whom I had to complain that he was putting too much booze in my cocktails. Back then, the place had an uninhibited reggae casualness and the electricity of great music, hot, friendly babes and a cool zeitgeist.
But time moves on and now Nigel's recently opened his own bar that hearkens back to some of the old Sticky Wicket's jovial, semi-debauched insanity which is evoked in its name, The Wicket.
Squeezed in among a funky, eclectic little stretch of Bloor Street near High Park, The Wicket combines sleek, yet comfortable design with local pub atmosphere. A couple of weekends ago, my great pal Skippy Stalin and I popped into The Wicket to have some drinks.
Though The Wicket's modern design is very different from The Sticky Wicket's English pub decor, much about Nigel's new establishment felt very much like being in its namesake of old, with a significant, but natural variation. As some decades have passed, and given the High Park neighborhood's demographics, the mean age of the patrons seems to have increased along with Nigel's from Sticky Wicket days. Nigel is one of those bartenders who is a "draw" and it seemed like most of the patrons knew him. As the evening progressed and the alcohol flowed, that intimacy increased exponentially.
As readers of this blog know, when Skippy and I get together, the spectral presence of mischief always seems to be nearby. The Wicket being an apparent Mecca for lascivious middle aged women in the High Park area didn't do anything to mitigate that equation.
However I can gladly report that on this particular occasion, I had absolutely nothing to do with instigating the conversation about the pleasures of having one's anus probed with the tongue that ensued between Skippy and a plump but not unattractive woman, while I was sandwiched between them at the bar.
I'd guess the woman is in her late 30's to mid 40's, and she wore an oversized pendant on her necklace which seems to be a fashion approach favored by women 'of a certain age.' The noticeable tramp stamp on the back of her neck is a feature now frequently seen on women for whom time has rendered unflattering comments on a decision they made in their late teens to do something wild and spontaneous.
I can sense your scepticism about my professing innocence about the scatological turn the conversation took. Yes, I may I like to pepper my conversation with expletives while I'm drinking, but that sort of thing Skippy and that woman discussed takes the term "potty mouth" to a literal place of which I want no part. It's not that I'm a prude, however I've seen what comes out of rectums and there's no way that a tongue that's spelunked The Forbidden Zone, even mine, is getting clearance to come back to the proximity of my mouth or my wine glasses.
I suppose the exception might be if the gorgeous Rosario Dawson were to make me an offer like that, the way she seemed to be into it in Kevin Smith's Clerks 2. But that was obviously a fantasy movie, since there's no way in a real world the stunningly beautiful Dawson, even nerdified for the sake of film art, could be convincingly lovestruck with Brian O'Halloran's Dante.
As this was going on, I noticed a heavy set woman walking around, going up to various attractive women standing around the bar, and fondling their breasts. This naturally struck me as being particularly sexist. If I went around doing that sort of thing, there'd be police on the scene and I'd be getting denounced as the Jian Ghomeshi of the blogosphere. Still the women on the receiving end didn't seem to mind at all, and truth be told, the double-standard that favors women in that regard isn't something I found objectionable.
While the fondling had distracted me, Skippy and the woman with whom he was conversing stepped outside for a cigarette. I don't know exactly what turns their conversation took outside, but I gather it didn't go particularly well, since upon her return, she decided that in repayment for a scotch I had bought her earlier, she would make an amateur, and somewhat unflattering attempt at psychoanalysis on Skippy and me. Virtually all of her factual assumptions were completely incorrect, including that we were both married. I assumed she meant both Skippy and I to respective women, but perhaps she meant Skippy and I to each other. In either case, she seemed to get very upset when I informed her that not only was I not married, but I had no interest in matrimony. It's possible I may have used the analogy of how I may like fillet Mignon, but I don't want to eat fillet Mignon for every meal for the rest of my life.
In any case, she seemed to get rather perturbed and took her leave of us, leaving Skippy and me to ponder the mysterious ways of the other gender.
Tonight being New Year's eve, and with The Wicket being only recently open, I think it may be low key, but you never know. I don't know if I'll be there tonight, but if you happen to be around Bloor Street West and Indian Road, stop into The Wicket and say hi and happy New Year to Nigel for me.