John Oakes surveys the job site at the Belsize Public House and lays out plans for the next two weeks.
His crew, who are renovating the interior of the Longest Yard’s digs, reframed the entranceway, so winter’s cold air doesn’t flood the dining area of his new pub. But what Oakes is really waiting for is prime patio season, for which the Belsize Public House is to be open for the second week of June.
He’s planning a limited menu, as he says he needs to make a good first impression.
“This neighbourhood is not transient — these are going to be our customers for years to come,” he says. “We’ll open with a smaller menu, execute well and grow from there once we get our sea legs.”
Oakes purchased the Longest Yard from Debra DeMonte, who ran the tavern for 30 years. He currently owns the Harbord House, close to the University of Toronto campus, and says he’s bringing the same feel there to the midtown pub.
“I understand a lot of people were worried when we came here because the Longest Yard was a neighbourhood hub. That’s what we want to be.” he says. “We want to be the place where people celebrate their big victories, small victories, and feel if they need some commiseration, they’ll find it here, as well as some great, homemade food.”
Google has automatically tied a phone number to the Belsize Public House, and unfortunately it’s Oakes’ cell.
But he takes it all in good stride whenever the phone buzzes with a new customer’s curiosity.
“I keep getting phone calls, ‘Are you open, yet?’,” he says, with a broad grin. “I say, ‘I know you’re calling about the Belsize, but not quite yet. Why don’t you come by and bring a paint brush?’”
Joking aside, the theme of the Belsize will be a little more rustic than the previous sports bar motif. Reclaimed red pine from a barn in Listowel, Ont. is being driven in to the city for the installation. A large map of Canada, made out of the license plate of each province and territory will adorn the walls, as will a frame map of Algonquin Park and a cross-cut saw.
“I wanted this place to reflect Canada and my passions, which are the outdoors, canoeing, that kind of thing,” Oakes says.
A few of the Longest Yard’s old tradition will remain. The new pub will be closed only on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and weekend brunches are still on the menu.
“Deb’s a friend. She’s been awesome, and a great operator here,” Oakes says. “I hope to follow in her footsteps.”