Monday, May 9, 2011

HAPPY TIME RESTAURANT: 1384 Queen Street West - (416) 532-9565

Tristen outside the Happy Time Restaurant
When I was around 14 years old, a friend of mine and I went to our local video shop and we decided to rent the movie Ishtar.  We knew of its reputation of being one of the worst movies ever made and we thought it would be hilarious to watch it that afternoon.  So we brought it home, popped it into the VCR and sat back.  We very quickly realized why this movie had the reputation it did.  It wasn't bad in the same way that say Plan 9 From Outer Space or Troll 2 or the Star Wars Christmas Special was bad.  Those movies are simultaneously bad and hilarious (just like a good pun!).  Ishtar, on the other hand, well, it was just bad.  Like really boring.  And long.  And the more you watched it the more you wanted to turn it off and do anything else!

There occurred a decisive moment around 15 minutes into the movie, right around the point where the novelty of the joke wore off and I realized that I had to sit through another hour and a half of this garbage.  I didn't think it was funny anymore.  I wanted to turn it off.  So we did

Inside the Happy Time Restaurant
We learned an important lesson that day.  Ideas are easier than actions.  Saying that you're going to watch one of the worst movies ever made is much easier than actually sitting through one of the worst movies ever made.

The same feeling hit me as I began my stroll over to the Happy Time Restaurant for what was sure to be a memorable dinner with my best pal Tristen Brown.  I had walked past it many time and that only thing I knew about Happy Time  was that it seemed to be a place for people to get hammered, stand outside, smoke, and yell at each other.  I suddenly thought back to the lesson I learned from Ishtar and realized that there is a very big difference between saying you're going to eat at this restaurant and actually putting the food into your mouth. The only difference was that I couldn't turn off my decision to eat there.  Sure I could postpone it, but I had a responsibility to my readers to eat at EVERY restaurant in Parkdale, not just the reasonable ones.

The sweetest boy you ever did knew!
But first, a word about our guest.  Tristen and I have known each other since we met in the ice room at the old Helium nightclub where we both worked as bussers during our university years  He then became my roommate for 4 years.  A brilliant jazz trumpet player and illustrator, Tristen has since taken to the interwebby-thingy-madoodle and was recently hired by one of the premier international web development companies Development Seed in Washington D.C.!  On a side not, may I offer a quick word of advice to aspiring photographers?  Want to know whats more valuable in the early days of your career than having a big studio, all the equipment in the world, and a really really really nice car?  The answer is....a roomate who will basically do anything you ask for a photograph.  They are worth their weight in gold!

On to our Happy Time experience.  It didn't start well.  On the way there I received a phone call from Tristen asking where I was and how much longer I'd be?  He seemed nervous.  When I arrived he had already started drinking and had a story to tell.  Apparently one of the owners of the place came by his table to take his order.  Normally this wouldn't be out of the ordinary except for the owner was pushing her daughter in a stroller along with her.  Tristen had been momentarily confused since this was the first time someone ever took his order in a restaurant while pushing a stroller.  I thought it was hilarious.

The menu
So I turned around to look at the menu however Tristen quickly told me that there were only two options available to eat that day.  Chicken wings and fish and chips.  Perrrrrfect!  Tristen ordered the wings and I got the fish and chips.  We also got ourselves some mugs of draft beer.  We never asked what kind.

The atmosphere of Happy Time is about what you would expect.  A bar at the far end of the restaurant with bar stools in front, a pool table and a connected line of tables in the center of the room, and scattered seating around the perimeter.  The patrons were also what you might expect.  Loud, uninhibited, and wonderfully friendly!

The beer arrived and it tasted cold, clean, and great.  So far so good.  Right around that time two police officers came strolling in and went to talk with the bartender.  I tried to eavesdrop on their conversation but all I heard was the bartender saying repeatedly "No I haven't seen him around here in a while."  Cops left shortly after that.

Tristen's sauceless chicken wings
Food arrives!  My fish and Tristens chicken wings are both served on top of a bed of fries.  I get a little Dixie cup of tartar sauce and Tristen, well, he gets nothing.  The wings were sauce-less.  Should be interesting.

Ok here's where I think we should recall a little conversation we had in the last post about expectations.  For those of you who might not have read it, in the last post I spoke about how its impossible to separate your expectations and pretensions from your food experience.  One day if we did nothing but blind tastings it might be possible, but in the meantime I think its best to not even try.  We obviously had very very low expectations for the Happy Time Restaurant.  To be honest I was expecting to be eating 2 week old roadkill fish with McCain frozen fries, regurgitated bile-scented ketchup, and tartar sauce that...well, you get the idea.  I should also mention that right before our food arrived a couple of patrons were refused service at the bar and then started yelling at the top of his lungs at the whole restaurant.  Then they threatened to come back and beat the shit out of the bartender.  Like I said, expectations weren't too high but man were we having fun!

Daniel's fish and chips
We each ate our whole meal and enjoyed it!  My fish was moist and actually had a nice tooth to it, the tartar sauce seemed to be store-bought but still tasted pretty good, and the ketchup had no trace scents of bile anywhere.  Score!  Tristen said the same.  Even though his chicken wings were sauce-less, they still had a wholesome salty flavour and were nicely moist.  I tried a bite and he was right.  The fries were standard bar/pub fries but were pipping hot and tasted fine. 

We walked away surprised.  The beer was cold and clean, the food was tasty, owners were really sweet, and we had a really fun time chatting with some of the patrons.  And best of all, my meal (2 beers + fish and chips) came to 11 bucks!  Tristen's meal priced around the same!  We walked away from the place and feeling great and really happy, just like the name of the place promised we would.

The true test of the Happy Time Restaurant came later on when I was waiting for the food poisoning to set in.  So I went to finish up my night.  Went to a gallery show, came home, watched some TV, threw some old batteries at the passing neighbourhood kids, huffed some permanent markers, took a Benadryl, went to sleep, woke up the next morning....


Tristen and I agreed that even though we would not bring our family to the Happy Time Restaurant, we would happily go there with good friends for some late night beers and some tasty deep fried snacks.  We also both agreed it scored a solid 3.

Rating: 3


  1. I have mad respect for you for eating at the Happy Time. Did I mention this is my new favourite blog?

  2. I like your BLOG. Keep it up!

  3. You guys are wayyyyy too sweet! Thanks Jess and Nico!!!

  4. Awesome! It's nice to hear that you can't always judge a book by its cover. Glad it wasn't the awful experience you (and everyone reading) was expecting!

  5. Very memorable. Dan forgot to mention one of the patrons was refused service, yelled/threatened while leaving and a regular of the bar proclaimed sarcastically, "What a shame, he seemed like such a nice guy". Good times :)