Choosing to write about the Gaslight — Megan Jones’ and Tim Pritchard’s local sweetheart of a bar nestled in the Junction Triangle — presented me with a new challenge. It’s the first time I’ve ever decided to profile a place without experiencing it myself or meeting the owners beforehand. I contacted Megan because the Gaslight was recommended to me by a highly trusted source — Sandy De Almeida. When Sandy tells me a place is worth a look, I know it’s going to deliver.
And deliver it does.
From the moment Megan unlocks Gaslight’s door for me one sunny, windy afternoon, her bright, warm smile coupled with the homey, cozy feel of Gaslight — with its well-loved furniture, light turquoise accent wall, and eclectic décor — puts me totally at ease.
“Sorry about the noise — Tim’s catching a football game,” she says, grinning, referring to the announcer’s voice and cheering crowd piping through the sound system.
Moments later, her partner — in business and life — Tim appears. The two of them go through the easy motions of making themselves coffees, offering me something to drink, and we make small talk about the mutual friends we have in the industry.
“I hear you just had a baby,” I say to Megan.
“Oh yeah, just two weeks ago. There she is!”
Sure enough, sleeping soundly in a basinet resting snugly in a corner, there is a tiny, brand new human, rocking some seriously enviable slippers that look like pandas. This is Isabella — Megan and Tim’s first kid. I can hardly believe that they’re as gracious and fresh-faced as they are — to sit down and talk with me, a total stranger, while balancing running their business and caring for their first newborn.
Megan and Tim, I quickly see, are great people, and their little family growing around the heart that is the Gaslight is life goals, personified.
Both Tim and Megan have held positions at some of the city’s most beloved spots. The enduring industry relationships they’ve built over the years had, I’ll learn over the course of our conversation, a big hand in helping the Gaslight go from dream to reality.
“I’m from Brantford originally and moved to Thornhill for university, then slowly made my way downtown,” Megan tells me. I also find out that she — like me — was a serious dancer back in the day, training with the incredible Vlad’s Dance Company. But then she — like me, and many other artists who often start serving as a means to support our craft — eventually developed a true love for hospitality.
“I started working in the industry in the Bier Markt on the Esplanade. Which was great. I think corporate is a really good place for people to start because you get proper training on simple and important things. Like how to carry a tray — which I dropped many a time working there,” she laughs. “And just formal etiquette — how to greet a table, all those things. I’m glad that I started off in a corporate place.”
Eventually, Megan’s focus switched to cocktails — she was hired on at the legendary Barchef when the business was still in its infancy. Not a bad place to cut your teeth behind the stick.
“That was a really big opportunity for me, to learn from those guys,” she says earnestly. “At the time, of course, they were part of a really small group of people actually doing cocktails in Toronto, so that was really cool.” Her Barchef education led her to compete in cocktail comps, which furthered her industry network. She worked a stint at Carlo Catallo’s then-brand new County General (alongside Aja Sax), but eventually ended up at Reposado which, at the time, was also a new and unique venture on the scene.
“I was really lucky, because I got these really unique experiences working for really great people at really great times,” Megan says genuinely. “The experience at every bar was different, and I got to learn really different things. But the people I met at Reposado — the type of bar it was, everything — was awesome. I would’ve never left there if I hadn’t opened up my own place.”
Tim was born and raised in Australia, but moved to England at the age of 18 and spent the next three years traveling around Europe. He came to Toronto at the age of 21, also with artistic intentions.
“When I first moved to Toronto I was trying to be an actor, but obviously, things went a little differently,” he says with a small laugh.
Tim started in the industry at a young age in back-of-house, washing dishes. Over the years, he climbed the ladder and has worked nearly every FOH position since.
“I worked at a café, I worked at a restaurant, I worked at a bar. I got experience all over,” he says. “I can wash dishes, serve tables, make coffees, make drinks, and chat with people.”
Running the gamut of industry experience helped him immensely in a city where — despite a glut of bars and restaurants — it can oftentimes be hard to find dependable work in reputable places. The independent f&b community can be fickle — boîte owners are notoriously exacting about who they hire, especially if the person is new to the local scene. In this industry, building trust is something that can take time.
“When I was starting out [in Toronto], I was amazed at how hard it was to get a job. I’d hand out 100 resumes, and nobody wanted to hire me,” he shares. “But once I finally got my foot in the door and started working, I would get job offers all the time. ‘Come work for me! Come work at this place!’ That’s how I ended up becoming a career server-slash-bartender — through those experiences.
“And it’s not just limited to people seeing you at work,” Tim elaborates. “It’s about going out and being social and meeting people that are in the industry. If they like you and something comes up, they’ll be sure to recommend you. The networking aspect is very important.”
“That’s the beauty of this industry. Everyone looks out for everyone. I mean, drinking helps with socializing,” Megan adds, and Tim laughs. “But it’s an industry where you can meet so many great people. We have lots of fun — we feel like we’re all part of ‘it’ together.”
Tim’s networking landed him at long-time Toronto favourite, the Communist’s Daughter. It was through that fateful opportunity that Tim and Megan eventually met.
One night, out drinking at the Commie, “I gave him my number… And I was quite drunk,” Megan says, sighing at the memory. “I guess that’s the tale of bartenders falling in love.” The two of them share a look and a laugh. “We have a special place in our hearts for that spot.”
“Good ol’ Commie,” Tim adds warmly.
Securing their space
After dating for four years, the pair decided to go into business together, and make their mutual dream of running their own bar with their own original concept a reality.
“The whole idea was to open up a truly neighbourhood place,” Megan says.
“We didn’t want to be a niche spot,” Tim elaborates. “We didn’t want to be just a cocktail bar, or a fancy restaurant. We wanted to be your local, that anyone who lived around in the neighbourhood could go to. It didn’t matter their age, didn’t matter their social standing.”
They decided that the best approach was to look for a space in neighbourhoods that didn’t have a high concentration of bars and restaurants, to better their chances of standing out in the community. How they ended up at their current location in the Junction Triangle — an area ripe and ready for more bar options — is serendipitous.
The Gaslight was formerly restaurant Zocalo — the pair stumbled upon it while hunting through untapped ‘hoods for places up for grabs. They fell in love with the space — it was a manageable size, it had a lovely patio out back, the Junction Triangle was up-and-coming — but there was absolutely no indication that the owners were looking to sell.
Fast forward a year later, and Zocalo was — incredibly — on the market. Hardly believing their luck, Megan and Tim pounced on it, and the young couple managed to finance the purchase entirely on their own. The way they talk about it, they still can’t believe how it all fell into place with the exact property they’d been dreaming of.
“We were working with a small budget, but it was fine!” Tim says energetically. “Because we wanted a small place. We had to be patient and look around for an entire year to find the right balance, but in the end, it really worked out.”
Getting by with a lot of help from their friends
Although they were able to finance their venture independently, Megan and Tim are very vocal about how they never could have done it without the extensive guidance and help of their friends and former employers.
“We were lucky,” Tim says frankly. “A lot of times, bar owners don’t want to give you insider information.”
“That was not our case,” adds Megan.
“The people that we worked for were very helpful, in terms of anything and everything. They would say, ‘Anything you need, any questions, come to us.’ A lot of the things that you don’t see coming — that can screw you up when you’re first opening — we were warned about by our old bosses. If we didn’t have that support system, it probably would’ve tripped us up.”
“The owners of Reposado, in my case, were great,” Megan says graciously, “and for Tim, it was the owners of the Commie and Luna Cafe.”
The pair also cite Dustin Keating — owner of Track & Field, and one of Megan’s best friends — as being an invaluable resource. And they had extensive help from a close friend in renovating the space — a friend who taught them the importance of being handy.
Over the course of their three-month renovation, “he would ask us what we wanted, and then he would show us how do it,” Tim recalls. “A lot of the time he would say, ‘Listen, this isn’t an arduous task — rather than pay someone, I’ll just show you how to do it.’”
“And we were never — I especially wasn’t — handy before we started to do this,” Megan says with a giggle, “but as long as you’re willing to put in the work, you can cut a lot of costs by doing things yourself.”
Feeling the local love
With the Gaslight, Tim and Megan have struck a balance that’s brought their original dream of opening a true “local” to life. The Gaslight’s menus have interesting offerings without being overwhelming; they use quality products without seeming out-of-reach with their presentation to anyone in the neighbourhood (and beyond).
“We try to do a little bit of everything. Everyone is welcome,” Megan says. “If you do like cocktails, we make cocktails — we do in-house infusions and all those sorts of things. But we have a short list, and we keep pretty much to the classics. We also offer craft beer, but we don’t have a million taps. Food is also a focus, but again, it’s a small menu.”
“We try to stay as local as possible,” Tim adds. “Where we source our produce, and get our beer — we try to get them all from local areas.”
“The neighbourhood has really embraced us, and we’re really lucky that it has,” Megan chimes in, getting up to check on Isabella. “We have great regulars from all walks of life. This is a really up-and-coming neighbourhood, and really diverse. We have everyone from young families, to hipsters, to artists…”
“There’s some really cool artists’ studios around here,” Tim tells me. “It feels like it did on Queen Street 15 years ago, when it had all those artists’ lofts before they became condos. We still have people here who are doing cool stuff.”
“It’s just a really nice neighbourhood to be a part of,” Megan says, sliding Isabella into Tim’s arms, where she settles in with a tiny sigh. “You don’t feel like you’re lost in the shuffle here, so we’ve gotten to know our customers really well, which was important to us. It was important for us to feel a part of this community. I’m really happy to be part of this area right now.”
Giggin’ on Glee & ballin’ for the Blue Jays
I ask the pair what — in their fantasy lives — they’d be doing if they could be doing anything else in the world.
“Well, I was, at one time, a dancer,” Megan responds. “I guess if I had a chance in another lifetime, I would be a professional dancer in New York City.”
She thinks for a moment. “That, or one of the cast members of Glee.”
I find out through Tim’s answer that he’s a fellow baseball fan, although he nearly throws me out when he finds out I love the Red Sox. We reconcile by agreeing it could be worse — I could’ve said the Yankees.
“I would — in an ideal world — be the starting shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays,” Tim says with stars in his eyes. “I mean, just being the water boy would be awesome. Just to be able to go to all the games, and travel with the team — that would be incredible. Of course, playing would be better!”
A family moving forward
“I guess the whole point of the Gaslight was to create some kind of little life for ourselves,” Megan muses. Tim and I both smile and point to Isabella, who Megan has taken back into her arms. She laughs.
“Yeah! Literally, a little life. So this,” she says dramatically, holding up her baby like Simba in The Lion King, “is the future. I mean, she’s so new, so right now, I definitely think she’s going to be something that takes up a lot of our time.”
Tim laughs. “Yeah,” he agrees pointedly.
“My goal for the Gaslight would be for it to be here for a long time,” Megan continues. “So we have to keep building it and refreshing it. We have awesome staff, so we have to make sure they stay happy. But this is our industry. I have no plans of doing anything else.”
Tim echoes the sentiment. “Nope. This [industry] is our home.”
“Maybe we’ll open something else up in a different part of the city, or in a different city all together — who knows! For now it’s about making sure we don’t mess this one up,” Megan says with a wry grin.
“And making sure Isabella grows up to be a good person,” Tim adds affectionately. A smile spreads across his face as he looks at his daughter. “Not a little shit.”
The Gaslight is open seven days a week from 5pm — 2am.
When I finally managed to go in and experience the bar myself a few weeks after this interview, I had the pleasure of being served by bartender and tall drink of water Sam Dobie. Go in & say hey. He tells great stories.
And try to po boi pierogi — they’re life-changing.
Marta S is a freelance writer and bartender living and working in Toronto. If you or someone you know would like to be profiled by Behind the Boîte, email her at email@example.com.
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