The smell of beer and stale cigarettes is pungent yet comforting. The pub smells like the history it has invested in downtown Toronto. The interior is decorated in Heineken bottles filled with spring flowers on top of each wooden table, a colourful display that brightens the dimly lit bar, as jazz music plays in the background. His eyes brighten as he sits down in the creaky wooden chair. His smile deepens the creases of the crow’s feet that outline his eyes. The cheerful glow of a normally dark bar reflects Fred Newman perfectly with his approachable smile and friendly personality.
“I’m from Toronto, born and raised in this pub… almost literally,” he laughs, his raspy voice sounding similar to the voices of the jazz musicians featured on the pub’s Seeburg jukeboxes. Newman didn’t always work at the pub founded in 1944 by his father. Born in 1945, he didn’t begin working there until 1965. He had his first job at the age of 11, delivering the Toronto Telegram throughout the city, hoping all the while that he could someday work at the family pub alongside his father. Almost immediately after his first shift at the Imperial, he was known as “the man… or boy, rather, who poured the beer.”
After completing an accounting degree, Newman joined his father at the bar and dedicated himself to a lifetime of working at Imperial Pub. The Newmans had a glowingrelationship with the regulars “at the best job in the world.”
The Imperial Pub hadn’t always had the happiest of times. Built in 1920, the building was opened as a hotel and beverage room. In 1944, Jack Newman bought the landmark and focused on the beverage room, which had two separate areas: one for men and one for women. “The only way a man could get on the women’s side of the bar was if he came in with a woman. We always protect our women, here,” laughs Fred, motioning to the young girl behind the bar.
In 1971, following the opening of the second floor as a library for students, the dividing wall was removed to comply with the new bar restrictions. Ryerson students began pouring into the bar for after-class drinks and enjoyed the use of the library in a more liberal setting. Fred’s popularity with the students has always been that of a local celebrity. Even today, students chant his name as he arrives on the second floor: “Oh, you didn’t know? I pay them to do that,” he jokes.
In 1998, the city handed out expropriation notices to 11 businesses surrounding what is now Dundas Square. Newman doesn’t agree with the city’s approach to reprieving surrounding buildings and admits that he has benefitted from the renewal. “I’m still against the city expropriating private property, but Yonge Street was pretty rough, and they didn’t try to negotiate with anyone. They basically said, ‘Here’s the price… you’re out.’” When asked about the fear of the city attempting to overtake the location again, Newman smiles confidently: “trust me, we now have a very good relationship with the city.”
The renewal of Dundas Square has shaped the bar’s demographic, from streets filled with second-hand stereo shops to CityTV and a growing student housing district. The regulars at the pub have gone from businessmen after a day’s work to students meeting for beer and homework.
Fred has all the key characteristics of a bartender from a sitcom. From his small, athletic stature to his welcoming smile and vibrant personality, not a single patron feels like a stranger here. Not to mention, the bar makes it easy for him: an atmosphere that emanates history in its stale smell, comfortable leather couches and jazzy jukeboxes, inviting the public inside for a cold one. Working in a family bar, Newman and his son take turns working night shifts alongside the university students and pub regulars. “Not everyone can have the experience of working in a family business, but I did. And it is the finest life experience,” shares Newman glancing over his shoulder at the young cook polishing glasses at an empty table. He loves his job at the pub and is a prominent public figure among the locals: he and his pub are the gatekeepers of history in Toronto’s ever-changing, bustling Dundas Square.