BAKER STREET STATION: A MOST COMFORTABLE LOCAL
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘Can I ask you guys a question?’, our server queries as TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis and I begin to stretch another lunch into early afternoon pints. We look up from our drinks – Bellwood’s Jutsu Citra Pale Ale for Cai and Elora’s Borealis Citra Pale Ale for myself – and stare quizzically at her. ‘What do you both do?’ Before we can answer, she elaborates:
‘I mean – what is it that you do for a living? A bunch of the staff are curious.’
I look around the dining room. The usual Thursday lunch crowd – an array of business owners, wealth management advisors, city staff, doctors, lawyers, and other downtown professionals – has gone back to work. The place is empty now. Except for Cai and me – perched at our regular upstairs corner high-top. With our regular after-lunch pints. ‘Because whatever you do,’ she adds with a grin, ‘it must be a great gig to be able to spend your afternoons here – chatting and laughing and enjoying yourselves.’
I smile, let slip a little chuckle, and reply: ‘Ya, this gig definitely has its perks.’ Cai looks at me, then up at our server, and embellishes: ‘We’re trying to build a magazine.’
It’s been three years since this exchange. At the very table Cai and I are seated now. Upstairs. Corner high-top. At Guelph’s Baker Street Station – the Royal City’s downtown gastropub with a killer rotating menu, a beer list that seems to go forever, and Bellwoods’ Jutsu on-tap on the regular. Between then and now, I’d surmise we’ve frequented this place near a hundred times. And, during the same period, we’ve grown this magazine you’re holding to what it is today. And I surmise that we couldn’t have done it without Baker – this most comfortable local.
I scan the room for familiar faces – of which there are usually more than a few. This day’s no different. I spot our friends Rob and Paul from Intrigue Media huddled around
a laptop. Ren from Beer.Diversity chatting with industry folk Lexi and Truth. Besties Will and Jenna (from Red Circle Brewing and
Elora Brewing, respectively) sharing lunch and laughs. Steamwhistle Harry hanging with gregarious (and fully-tatted) realtor, Aaron Zuccala. And wealth managers Will and Mike dining out with clients. Cai and I will make the rounds later. For now, though, it’s time to get into our routine.
Our regular server, Taylar (who’s also an emergent tattoo artist – working alongside the likes of local legends Allie Charbonneau and Steve Baker), glides over to our table for our drink order. ‘A Ladyfriend for me,’ Cai orders. ‘And a Borealis for me, please,’ I add. We chat tattoos for a hot minute (Taylar’s given me a couple sweet late-medieval manicules beneath my right knee, and we have plans for more ink in the future) before she leaves to pour our pints.
And we’re off to the races.
Over the next couple of hours, Cai and I order – and destroy – a few of our Baker favourites: the place’s famous onion rings (massive, served with shaved parmesan and garlic aioli); ‘Tuna Poke Nachos’ (fried wonton, edamame, ponzu, jalapeno, Japanese mayo, guacamole, scallion, sesame seed); the rotating ‘Baker Street Burger’ (this time with all-beef patty, short rib, old cheddar, red onion marmalade, garlic aioli, fries, and greens); and the ‘Tandoori Fried Chicken’ (bombay hot, tamarind chutney, eggplant masala, pickled vegetables, cilantro rice, naan, raita).
While I’m polishing off an onion ring (honestly – the best) and Cai’s got herself buried in the burger, I note famed guitar maker Tom Bartlett (whose instruments have been played by guitarists in such groups as The Hip, Metric, Sam Roberts Band, PUP, and more) coming in to eat with his family. I pop up from our table and deliver him a TOQUE toque – something Cai and I had been planning to gift Tom for a while. I don’t have a brand new one on me – so I leave him with the one I’ve been wearing. While we’re laughing about the absurdity of it all, I can see Will and Jenna over at our table – chatting with Cai.
And so the Baker game of musical chairs begins, with folks popping up from their own tables to visit friends at other tables. I check in with Rob and Paul, who are sipping wine and crafting a strategic plan for their next year in business. Ren, Lexi and Truth are busy planning a beer festival. Harry and Aaron are just doing what Harry and Aaron do.
I don’t dare interrupt Will and Mike’s meetings with clients – although I do catch Will’s eye and give him a smile. And so it goes. And it occurs to me that Cai and I are not the only folks who frequent Baker because it’s where we get to balance work and play all at once.
Indeed, that’s what this place is all about. A comfortable place to strategize. Scheme. Re-energize. And just show up – knowing full-well that the beer list is going to be awesome, the food is incredible, and the company is always your kind of people – no matter who you might be. I look down at my phone to check the time. It’s getting on past two; yet, while a few folks have moseyed back to work, the dining room’s still packed.
I guess folks are catching up.