It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and I've found a prime seat at one of the best places to drink in Toronto. The beer is cheap and free-flowing. The clientele, interestingly quirky. If I'm ever found holding an empty it is promptly taken away; what service! The catch is that I'm not at one of the trending patios in town. I'm in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, and it's time to get wasted.
Bellwoods Brewery Jelly King
In true hipster fashion, I've biked to the park. It's just past noon, and already most of the prime benches in the sun are occupied by sunbathers and readers. But finding a base of operations for today's festivities isn't the hard part - locating the rest of your friends is. Near the tennis courts, by the shady trees. Simple enough, but there are enough people spread upon the grass to make the simple task difficult, sober or not.
Finally locating my crew, I dump bike, bag, and body onto the soft grass. It's one of the first truly hot days this summer: pushing into the mid-thirties with the humidity. My personal stash of beer has begun to sweat despite the mere fifteen minute trek. It doesn't help that I absolutely must attempt to artfully arrange my beverages of choice for a picture. It would prove to be my last pictures of the day. Thankfully, my good friend, Richard, has brought his camera to pick up the slack.
I crack my first drink - aptly a seasonal beer from nearby Bellwoods Brewery. Jelly King is a soured wheat beer. It's floral, with a refreshing sourness that reminds me of drinking a complex lemonade - just without any fruit. I've noticed that the sour trend is starting to accelerate in the last year; I'm not complaining at all. It's the perfect beer to match the heat.
My drinking partners this afternoon are people I've known for the better part (if not all) of my adult life. It's an old boy's (and girl's) club; all of us came from the same alma mater, Western, within a narrow three-year timeframe. Nearly seven years after graduation, we've stayed a close-knit community. I still marvel at that fact. All of us have partied together. Drunk together. Eaten together. Some of us have worked in the same companies together.
At this point it's worth mentioning that I've been a very lazy foodie today. My original plan was to pop out to Bellwoods, or even Bandit if time permitted, for a full collection of craft brews. Sadly, even on a Sunday being a responsible adult can be hard. Just an hour ago I was working, leaving with just enough leeway to meet everyone on-time.
Instead, my bag contains a cross-section of the various drinks leftover from Wong-Kwo parties past. Despite our best efforts, I always find more drinks at the end of the night than what I bought as provisions. The next tall-can is a Rickard's Grapefruit Radler. Where sours may have just started to take off, radlers have been a summer staple for years. And for good reason. They're light, palette-cleansing facilitators to Muskoka chair conversations.
As if by magic, my empty beer bottle has vanished. An 80-year-old Asian grandma has stealthily deposited the recyclable amongst a bag of dozens more. I've always found this particular feature of the park amusing. How much money do they pick up on an average summer weekend? Is this their sole source of income? We pass the time by imagining increasingly ludicrous backstories, and stop at day-trader supplementing existing passive income with environmentally-friendly social enterprise. Whatever the reason, Bellwoods is cleaner than it could be thanks to these intrepid gatherers.
Crazy Beard Wild Apple Ale
It's at this point that we send runners for snacks and further libations. An alert for all food snobs reading right now: we aren't eating haute cuisine. With better planning, perhaps we could have packed a picnic. But day drinking in Bellwoods is not a gourmet experience in the traditional sense of the word. It demands the simple pleasures in life. In this case, kettle chips and more packages of gummy candies than you can shake a Pixie Stix at.
That we're eating junk food more suited for a group of pre-teens doesn't repulse our resident puppy. I'm suddenly the most intriguing person for our canine companion. We've all heard of the phenomenon where dogs and their owners look the same. In this case, it's also a matter of personality. Stark, the fluffy Aussie Shepherd currently perched on my lap, is a total bro. I catch him attempting to lap from my open bottle of hooch. The crinkle of the chip bag is a textbook example of Pavlovian reflex.
Now two big beers into the afternoon, I'm applauding more-sober Nick for planning the order of drinks to be had. The next can in my hand looks ... dubious. Emblazoned with a wacky, cartoonish representation of a lumberjack, Crazy Beard Wild Apple Ale would not be my first choice during a Beer Store run. The information on the side doesn't inspire confidence either: "apple flavoured malt beverage". It sounds saccharine-sweet. A one-way ticket to Hangover City.
But at this moment - at this softly-lubricated state of mind - it sounds simply like the next drink. I crack the can and sip. It's -- it's not bad, actually. It's sweet. It tastes vaguely of apple candy. There are complex notes of, well, nothing actually. It's apple-flavoured beer. No need to overthink things.
It's now close to 2pm. My attention drifts to a nearby drum circle that has picked up momentum. With it, a colourful cast of characters each seemingly picked from different decades. Indo-Chine attired, dreadlocked hippies gyrate rhythmically to their own beat, alongside punks, goths, and ... one drunk frat-boy. It all looks planned, but it can't be. Can it? One man, dressed with more safety pins and patches than real cloth, has just entered my peripheral bearing what appears to be a juggling stick. A flammable juggling stick. Did I miss the memo that it was bring your torch to the park day?
Old Style Pilsner
I can't sit anymore.
It's time to get the blood pumping. With enough beverages to render us unfit to operate heavy machinery, we decide that the best course of action is to whip a weighted object at each other for fun. Gloves and softball in hand, we head to the gravel-strewn baseball diamond.
Is that a bat in someone's hand? Surely this can't be a bad idea.
The obvious choice for this most manly of pastimes is an Old Style Pilsner. Next to PBR, it's the hipster brew of choice. Not a great beer. Not a bad beer. It's a beer that in earlier days may have just been labeled Beer. Cold, it tastes refreshing. Warming by the side of the batting cage, it slowly takes on a musty funk.
Throughout my sporting career, snatching high-flying objects from the air has been cause for anxiety. Maybe it was my sport of choice: rugby. Fixated on catching the soaring ball from the air often deviated one's attention from the 15 guys on the other side waiting to hit you. But today, running across the grass, I have an epiphany: I should have played buzzed. I think I'm a pretty darn good catcher of softballs. This is easy. Let's try this while holding a beer in the other hand. What could go wrong?
As the time creeps towards dinnertime, our group begins to go their separate ways. Gone are the college days; the ones where we kept as dedicated a drinking time-table as a class schedule. Sunday, now, is a day of responsibility. Richard has already left earlier to sign papers for a new condo. We're oddly grown-up.
Reluctantly, I follow a small group down Queen West. We need groceries. Thankfully, this stretch of road boasts some great artisan shops. The aroma of baked goods wafting from Sud Forno calls to me. It would be so easy to buy a flatbread or panini and call it a night. But I am in need of protein: quickly grillable protein.
Cumbrae's Butchers is a carnivore chef mecca. Slightly glassy-eyed and sun-tired, I'm feeling indecisive. My mind slowly works through computing the best combination of taste, sustenance, and price point. Pork chops should do the trick.
Suddenly, a new challenger appears!
Kim, who has been working as I've slowly sunk into un-productivity, has decided to stop by. Richard, too, is on his way back to the area. Why stop a good thing? We return to the scene of the crime, groceries carefully tucked into the cooler against the waning afternoon heat.
I've drunk my meagre collection of drinks, but Richard comes bearing a pack of Twisted Tea in hand to save the day. They're the adult version of instant Nestea, with a fake lemon flavour that masks all trace of alcohol. At this moment, though, it's a perfect pair to hand-torn hunks of baguette and manchego cheese acquired during our dinner provision run.
Finally, it's time to actually go. The sun won't set for another hour or two, but this day of drinking in the park has come to a close. Until next weekend.