Tavern still soaring

COME FLY WITH ME: The Pilot Tavern is turning 65 this year and is going strong says managing partner Al Stuart. When he took over the bar his new wife made a key suggestion that helped expand the Pilot’s customer base.

After 65 years the Pilot is going strong

It may be 65 years young in November but don’t expect the Pilot to retire any time soon.

Established in 1944 on Yonge St., the Pilot moved to its current Cumberland St. location in 1972, bringing with it the original art deco-style bar.

For Al Stuart, managing partner of seven years it was his love of the Pilot that got him into the bar business.

In 1987, Stuart and some old high school friends played a pick-up game of hockey. It was at that game where they decided to buy shares in their favourite pub, the one they frequented during their Jarvis Collegiate days.

That high school camaraderie among Stuart, Chuck Higgins, Steve and Joanie Conover, Arthur Potts, Ted Gruetzner and even non-Jarvis alumnus Hillar Pinna is reflected in the nightspot’s present philosophy.

“The Cheers slogan where everybody knows your name, well here everybody really does know your name,” he said. “It’s not just a song, it’s fact.

“Our slogan is, ‘Altitude, not attitude’.”

Now the sky’s the limit, and Stuart said it’s not just one breed of flying ace that comes into the hangar.

“Instead of being a place where some come for a drink after work and then go off somewhere else, we’ve actually become sort of a destination spot,” Stuart said. “It’s an interesting dynamic to see who does it, the older generation like me or younger than me.”

The real touchdown comes from upgrading the pub’s facilities. It was Stuart’s wife who made a key suggestion when he became the pub’s full-time manager in 2002.

“I was newly married,” Stuart said, “and my wife said: ‘The Pilot’s kind of a neat place (but) if you want to sell a lot of beer, you need to get a lot of guys. (To) get a lot guys, you need a lot of girls, and to get a lot of girls, you need nice bathrooms.’

“We went from being 70 percent guys and 30 percent women to being over 50 percent women just by fixing up the bathrooms.”

Seven years later, with its Flight Deck patio, second-floor Stealth Lounge, artwork and aviation theme — done to honour Second World War RAF fighters — the Pilot is Yorkville’s favourite hangar and is a six-year sponsor of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Though the 51-year-old Stuart jokes they’re not hosting Brad and Angelina galas, they do their fair share of parties for groups like the Rotterdam Film Festival during TIFF.

But he’s modest about being on the Hollywood North radar.

“We started on the C-list and we’re moving up to a B-list situation,” he said with a grin. “Things like TIFF, the jazz festival, the Leafs — those aren’t the things that make or break us financially.

“Our business is the consistency, loyalty of our customers that have been coming here for years and years and years.”

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