Taking trips together to New York, Chicago and San Francisco, brothers Kyle and Glen Kristenbrun fell in love with classic Americana, so much so that they decided their family’s next restaurant project would have to be an ode to the great American bar. When they shared the idea with their dad, Tom—former Argonaut, chartered accountant, onetime co-owner of the El Mocambo and the man behind the now-closed institution and celebrity hotspot Bistro 990—he told them it sounded a lot like Bemelmans, the New York–style bar he once ran in the space that now houses Hugo Boss at 83 Bloor Street West, and threw his sons a key to a storage locker. Inside, they found a pile of perfect old-school decor: an antique cash register, oversized saloon-style chandeliers, two deer statues and an old Bemelmans sign. Thus was born Museum Tavern.
Situated in the space above brunch spot Over Easy (another Kristenbrun eatery), Museum, whose patio faces the ROM, is styled as an American brasserie: copper-plated ceilings, checkered floors, sleek banquettes, marble tables and a covetable wrap-around bar accompanied by leather-tufted stools with proper backs. In the kitchen, executive chef Stephen Gouzopoulos (previously of L’Unità) prepares classic American fare with international twists. The most imaginative dishes fall under the menu’s small plates category, such as tuna poke cones with avocado, pickled cucumber and sriracha mayo ($16), salmon tiradito with aji amarillo, roe, cilantro and citrus ($14) and stuffed chicken wings with bacon, blue cheese and hot sauce ($16). Under the supervision of pastry chef Cora James, all breads are made in-house, appearing in plates like lobster rolls with mayo, chives and double-smoked bacon ($18) and duck buns with hoisin, green onion and sriracha ($12). Mains, meanwhile, include Great Lakes fish and chips, pan- or deep-fried, served with house tartar sauce ($18), Tamworth pork chop with fingerling potato salad and barbecue sauce ($27) and lamb sirloin with bulgur, Greek salad and charred lemon ($29).
To say the bar is stocked is an understatement. It’s hard to tell what head bartender Moses McIntee (formerly of Lucid) is proudest of: the soon to be over 100-strong list of scotches or his elaborate house cocktails. The latter include Peach Cobbler with Bacardi Superior rum, peaches, lime and saffron-sage syrup ($12), French Tonic with Cointreau, Jerry Thomas’s Own Decanter bitters, lime, falernum and tonic ($12) and Apricot Bourbon Sour with Maker’s Mark bourbon, lime, black pepper-apricot syrup, bitters and egg white ($12). The drinks menu also includes oak-aged spins on classics ($14) like negronis and sazeracs and a list of summer favourites ($12) like mint juleps and caipirinhas ($12). With its nostalgic decor and extensive drink list, it’s easy to imagine Museum giving that other faux-old joint down the street a run for its money.