It took two years, but Rachel Conduit and Bruce Dawson’s vision has now outgrown the confines of their first watering hole, the tiny Avro on Queen Street East. While Leslieville’s much-loved and almost always packed local—known for its Caesars and strictly birthday cake menu—will keep doing what it does best (showcasing smaller, quieter acts), the pair are excited for the possibilities at The Handlebar, their much larger new bar in Kensington Market. At 109 seats inside and 19 on the front patio, Conduit tells us they’ll be able to “support more projects, bring in bigger, louder, acts and even be a North by Northeast venue.” Indeed the long, dark, narrow room—it has at various times been Teranga African Bar and Restaurant, Southern Po’ Boys, a food shop and vacant—boasts a stage at the back and a sort of arty dive bar vibe.
Inside, not all that much has changed since becoming Handlebar (The Grid ran an in-depth piece on the process). An original, huge and gloriously cheesy mural remains, as does the leopard spot burnt-wood paneling. Conduit, a die-hard cyclist, has mounted salvaged, gold-painted bikes (the work of Bike Sauce and The Good Bike Project) on the walls. The décor is vintage kitsch—1970s goldenrod rec-room finds, tables and chairs from Craigslist and Value Village—making for the kind of place where a spilled pint won’t cause a fuss and where a patron in flip flops and shorts will be as comfortable as one in something slightly more sparkly.
The menu here is a little more expansive than the Avro’s, offering a different hot dish every night ($4–$6) courtesy of Dawson, an avid home cook. So far the duo has served chicken curry, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, Korean barbecue pork tacos and a gooey ham-and-Swiss cooked on a George Foreman grill, behind the long bar. Despite the distinct lack of a kitchen, once things are running smoothly, Conduit plans on inviting guest chefs to cook once a week (she’s thinking of investing in an induction burner down the road). After all, with so much amazing food and produce right at their doorstep, it only makes sense. Conduit’s future plans also include a seasonal cocktail menu and “sexy booths” for the back room. For now though, it’s all about the beer (six on tap, ranging from Beau’s Lug Tread to Budweiser), pitchers of “Handlebrew” ($15/60oz), cocktails ($5.50), music, bikes and their new extended Kensington Market family.