1601 Main Street, Vancouver

Pub #3: Steel Toad

Last week, I drank at Big Rock Urban Brewery & Eatery. This week: Steel Toad Brewpub & Dining Hall. You’ll find Steel Toad on the north side of East 2nd Ave at Quebec Street. Great location if you live in Olympic Village or your drinking buddy bails on you.

No need to drink alone. Just cross the street and find the temp construction workers for hire. Men’s men, they are, in their tool belts and dusty Timberland boots. They stand on the corner, swinging their hammers, trying to catch your eye, ready for an honest day’s work. Pick your favourite. Pay him to drink with you. And everybody wins.

Men like this used to work at Steel Toad, back when it was a steel factory. A certified historical landmark now, it’s been ‘lovingly restored’ (as opposed to those grudgingly-restored factories rebuilt with hatred and revenge). Built in 1918, the red-painted Opsal Steel factory made winches and pulleys for the logging industry, and helped us beat the Jerrys in WWII.

Times changed, plastic replaced steel. The factory closed and was empty for a decade. Then Tim Charron, Hart Price, and John Saunders swept out the skeletons and chased out the ghosts. In September 2014, they re-opened it as Steel Toad, a big, pretty barn with salvaged iron, glass, and refurbished wood.

First impression: the patrons are a mix of blue and white-collar workers…I’ll call them powder blue collar. Second impression: Steel Toad’s ceiling soars to the heavens. If they added pews, this could be a yeasty-smelling church. Through a giant wall of windows you see 10 massive, stainless steel beer tanks. There’s a double-sided bar in the middle, a 2nd-floor mezzanine where I think the beer priests live, plus a massive, 19’ projection screen to watch the Canucks lose in the playoffs.

My buddy Jeremy met me here for cold ones on a hot summer night. We’re both Irish(ish) so we like the sauce. But compared to him, I’m an apple-cheeked amateur. Jeremy’s a growler collector and an executive of the CAMRA beer advocacy group (Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia). He loves beer so much, Jeremy always carries an empty growler jug and a cloth bottle tote bag—even when he’s jogging.

Alas, Steel Toad doesn’t fill growlers. They’re not licensed to sell beer for off-site drinking. Boo. But they have two bike racks, and live music every night, whether you want live music or not.

As we ordered our first round, a ginger hipster crooned a jazzy version of No Diggity that made his man-bun quiver and inspired two little girls to dance jerkily around. No cover charge, though, which pleases my half-Scottish, full-cheapskate heart.

Beers are good and priced at 6.90 for 500mL or $3.50 for 250mL. We ordered lagers, blondes, and a delicious Berliner Weisse flavoured with raspberry. Yum. We skipped the IPA, though, because let’s face it, IPAs are an abomination, an insult to taste buds, and clearly some elaborate prank by scenesters.

We both loved Steel Toad’s Yorkshire Best Bitter (4%), which the Toad says tastes like ‘floral, earthy, and spicy hop flavour, fruity esters, and sweet biscuit malt’. To me, the Yorkshire Best Bitter tastes like the happy sigh you make when a friend drives his crying kids away.

The guest beers on tap include a Quebecois beer, Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel (French for ‘Mortal Sin’), which is probably 175% alcohol. If this was a church, it’d get thrown out for being so surly.

No dull pub food here. Chef Robbie Robinson trained at West and Le Crocodile. So the menu is much better than you’d expect, like a supercute dog that can stand on a slackline.

You can get Steak Bites with chipotle aioli and horseradish sour cream ($13); Chicken Liver Parfait ($14); Octopus Carpaccio ($19); Mussels & House Ale with chorizo, tomato, and capsicum ($21); and Half Rack of Ribs with a chorizo corn puree, potato salad, and deviled egg ($19).

They serve brunch, too, which sounds far too early to be awake. During Happy Hour (3-5 p.m. M-F), pizzas are $6 off, beers and wines are 5 bucks, and there’s a charcuterie & cheese mini plate for $6. Plus ginger-jazz-bun guy doesn’t start playing till 6:30 p.m.

Friendly, cavernous, beer-loving, Steel Toad even has an oasis-like courtyard out back with a flaming fire table thingy. Yep, this beer hall is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Hell, it’s so close to my place, I could crawl home...and since I broke my ankle, it might just come to that.

Oh, and the best thing about Steel Toad? If the place is packed and you have to wait in line, they’ll still serve you beer. Let’s see your local church do that.

Steel Toad
97 East 2nd Ave
Vancouver, BC V5T 1B3
604.709.8623  |  steeltoad.ca

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Ken Hegan
Ace Writer / Billionaire Playboy