PJ O’Brien stands out for the bright yellow and blue color scheme on its exterior, but since the financial district slept during the long months of restrictions, so did the bar.
Now Toronto’s iconic yellow Irish pub has finally reopened after being closed to all bans and has a fresh, sunny paint job on it.
Although the name of the place is PJ O’Brien, it is owned by the Quinn family, including Pat, Anne and Ben, who took over the place in 2000 and decided to keep the name.
It was originally opened in 1966 by a friend of the John Maxwell family who also opened Allen’s on Danforth.
“They didn’t have televisions and they weren’t allowed to wear hats on the premises, two things I loved about the pub, but based on customer demand when we took them over, we were allowed to install televisions and hats,” Pat Quinn, Jr. reports blogTO.
“However, we named the extension next door in 2007 after my late and great father, The Pat Quinn Lounge.”
The family also run another of Toronto’s best-known Irish pubs, the Irish Embassy, which usually attracts lineups on St. Patrick’s Day.
During the lockdown, PJ O’Brien was unable to work outdoors as the restaurant previously did not have a terrace and her request to set one on neighboring Leader Lane was denied.
With the time they got, the Quinns decided to give the bar a full cosmetic makeover with the help of carpenter Barry Murphy.
They gave the bar new washrooms, banquets, and kitchen equipment, although the cosmetic refreshment on the outside was most noticeable in its famous blues and yellows.
“We have at least 100 people a week who have their picture taken next to the Guinness watch on the side,” says Quinn.
After 18 months of temporary closure, the bar reopened on October 2 for a wake and celebration of life for someone who died during the lockdown that had to be postponed due to government restrictions.
“Our famous Irish stew, fish and chips, chicken curry, steak sandwich, and soups are as great as ever,” says Quinn.
“We will soon be offering our full homemade menu with other great fish dishes of the day and many other specialties every day such as corned beef and cabbage, liver and onions, osso bucco, lamb shank.”
Of course, they’ll still serve up decent pints of Guinness to accompany all of this.
“We look forward to seeing all of our great regulars again,” says Quinn.
After such a long journey, Quinn is just grateful that PJ O’Brien is still there.
“We’re very hopeful of getting back to normal by mid-2022, but for now, break even is a big win,” Quinn says. “The name of the game just stays there.”