What is 144 square feet, has the world’s smallest dance floor, and serves phenomenal cocktails in a prohibition-era-style speakeasy? Canada’s Smallest Bar, Standing Room Only in Guelph, Ontario! Trust me when I say that you want to reserve a seat at the coolest new Canadian bar. Hurry, though. Spots fill up quickly. Despite being open for only 2 weeks, Standing Room Only is already a neighbourhood favourite with regulars frequenting the watering hole. Once you step through the red velvet curtains you’ll see why.
Hospitality and history are at the heart of Standing Room Only. The intention from the get-go was to create a quiet speakeasy. Every detail has been meticulously thought out by the co-owner, Doug Todd, and his wickedly talented designer friend, Melanie Gyles of Toronto’s Mad Design Company. From the unique top hat light fixtures and bottle toppers, a nod to Guelph’s famous Biltmore Hat Company, to the fabulous whiskey-barrel bathroom sink, to black and white classics playing on the screen or the 10-foot tall ladies behind the bar, to the multilingual floor greeting, or to every bar stool, the sliding ladder, and the sleek S-shaped bar that Doug built himself, this is truly a special destination to visit.
A Speakeasy with Real Prohibition-Era Roots
Located in Guelph’s historic Ward neighbourhood, the area is no stranger to prohibition-era goings-on. Local lore has it that Al Capone, the notorious American gangster, walked these streets, often disappearing through Guelph’s maze of underground tunnels. During construction, a Guelph historian popped in to say she had reason to believe there were tunnels underneath the new speakeasy. It is true that historic Albion hotel sits atop tunnels and that they run between homes on Alice Street. It is also rumoured that the former gas station, now the Standing Room Only speakeasy, was designed for running stills. Another story arose from an older gentleman who worked at the gas station as a 12-year old sifting coal. He confirmed that card games took place below the gas station office but revealed nothing other than his joy in the building being revived as a community gathering place. Curious to learn if the rumours were true, Doug and Mike started investigating to find out if the whispers were true. You’ll have to pop in for a drink and inquire for the rest of the story…
The Man Behind Canada’s Smallest Bar
Doug Todd is both a dreamer and a doer, and cannot be summed up with a singular title. He lives life according to his own rhythm, as is evident in his journey thus far. Born into a hardworking and creative Ukrainian family from northern Ontario, his grandfather changed their last name, “Todosinchuck”, worried that they wouldn’t be able to get work. His roots are the inspiration for his love of history, something he is passionate about honouring at Standing Room Only.
Doug was raised in Mannheim, Ontario, and left Waterloo Region in the early 90s, apprenticing as a tool maker out of high school before becoming one of the original knights at Toronto’s Medieval Times. He tumbled through his 20s – while joisting on horses, that is – delighting crowds and relishing each night’s performance.
From there, he went into business for himself as a licensed pyro-technician, creating large firework displays and working on movie sets. It wasn’t long before his reputation for quality work had him scooped up by a Mississauga businessman. What was supposed to be a 3-month stint turned into 9.5 years of running a shop that fixed failing water treatment facilities, including Walkerton’s May 2000 water crisis.
After being recruited by a few other Ontario companies, he returned to self-employment and entered the medical field, manufacturing lead shielding for x-ray rooms and became a radiation shielding specialist. By all intents and purposes, he’s now retired, but this latest business venture at Canada’s smallest bar, Standing Room Only, is the culmination of his skills, interests, and talents.
Did I mention he’s also a former musician and has built 2 tiny homes? His dream is to buy and renovate a 1929 Ford short bus.
Act I: The Beginning Stages of Standing Room Only
So how did the idea to open Canada’s smallest bar come about? Mike Watt, a friend of Doug’s and Guelph businessman, asked him to co-purchase a bright yellow former Shell gas station and autobody mechanic’s shop in the residential Ward district. Originally they considered opening a distillery since Doug also happens to be a hobby distiller. But between Guelph’s water and the building’s low ceiling heights, the idea was tossed out. It is a very real possibility they will still open a distillery somewhere in the city though.
Aware of Doug’s handy skills, Mike asked if he would help fix the building instead, to which he agreed. Many hands make light work and Louis Macerollo was integral to each step of the building process. While in construction, a barber shop was slated to move into the tiny former gas station office space, but those plans fizzled out. The two friends began brainstorming once more, this time considering an ice cream shop with a roll-up window. Then lightning struck when a friend jokingly suggested that a bar would be great in there. Doug agreed to the project with Mike and the cards have been aligning ever since.
During the design process, Doug Googled “smallest bar” and found Montréal’s 150-square foot El Pequeño, a Cuban-themed bar in the heart of Vieux-Port. He immediately grabbed a measuring tape and discovered that their new space beat the record by 6 square feet. The wheels really began turning and Doug’s laser-focused energy took off like the Road Runner down a dirt road. When he decides to tackle a project, it’s always executed with precision and pizazz and this would be no different. Next he Googled “smallest dance floor” and came across one that was 7-square feet. Naturally, he accepted the (self-assigned) challenge and designed an infinity dance floor measuring a mere 4-square feet. That’s 2 huge record breakers in 1 very small space, but who’s counting!
Doug knew that the right people needed to be involved to tackle such a special project. He reached out to artist Melanie Gyles, requesting a fusion vibe of the 1920s, steam punk, Willy Wonka, Dr. Seuss, and a dash of classic Disney. She nailed the vision, and the bar you see today matches the original mock-up.
“When making experiences, attention to detail matters.”
– Richard Branson
The first detail that draws your eyes as you step into the tiny cocktail lounge are the 10-foot tall ladies behind the bar, the original Rockettes. From there it’s a visual confectionary as you continue to look around. So many details are sprinkled throughout the space, from the copper accented ceiling to the multi-lingual “cheers” floor. It’s not wonder there are already return customers. One visit isn’t enough to absorb everything, let alone taste the menu!
Working with a small budget, Doug got creative. Drawing on his expertise in metal fabrication, he built nearly everything you see in Standing Room Only. From the sleek s-shaped bar and the chairs that line it, to the gorgeous whiskey barrel bathroom vanity, to the top hat light fixtures, the rotating bar, and the sliding metal ladder, he had a hand in bringing this idea to life. To the shock of an electrician who exclaimed that Doug was crazy for trying to create a curved electrical piping when he asked to borrow a tube bender. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
As you turn to leave, make sure to check out the brick-patterned wall for a who’s-who that’s visited Canada’s smallest bar. Already you’ll see Dan from Platinum Blonde, who also happens to be Doug’s brother, as well as Dan’s wife Natalie, the host of the Shopping Channel. Rumour has it that Sandy Horne from Canadian new wave 80s Burlington band, The Spoons will be making an appearance, as well another notable 80s band, When in Rome.
Although much of the bar is a fun labour of love, it takes a community to build something special. Whether it is Melanie’s creative genius, or the beautiful branded barrel table by Guelphite Eric Petersen, or any other number of contributions by those who love this idea as much as he does, Doug expressed gratitude at how the project has come together thanks to helping hands.
Act II: Opening Night at Canada’s Smallest Bar
Opening night was a surprise to everyone, including the owners. At 4:43 on Wednesday, January 4th, Mike & Doug received word that everything was approved. Mike promptly told Doug, take all of the signs off the windows and be ready to open tonight before heading to the LCBO to buy enough stock to get them through the night. Doug frantically prepared the space, sweeping out the last bits of construction dust, and at 6pm they sold their first 2 drinks!
Though the bar has been built and ready since the end of summer 2022, it took the city working through some hesitance to approve a bar opening in a residential area. Rest assured, this is not the bar you head to to get drunk. The menu isn’t cheap, however you get what you pay for. It takes time to craft each delicious drink and the performance of spinning glasses, smoke, and fire, are all a part of the unique experience. The patrons so far have been in the 50+ crowd, though the doors are open for any of-age visitor. In fact, the neighbourhood has been extremely supportive of the new watering hole, as was evident from one 80-year-old gentleman’s enthusiastic ravings who popped in during our interview. Another testament to how Standing Room Only is fitting in is that since the building was painted and the lights went up, the tagging and bricks thrown through windows has stopped. Everyone seems to love their new neighbour.
When the Guelph Today article came out, Standing Room Only was closed. The creativity gene runs in the family and Doug’s daughter was performing at the Centre in the Square. He popped over to the bar afterwards to check on the stock for Thursday, only to find 2 people waiting outside asking if they could peep in. Their delightedly dropped jaws and exclamations that Doug must not be from Guelph, represent just how standout this space is for Ontario. As Doug says, “It’s very Las Vegas, very New York…it’s not Guelph”, I say “yet”!
No stranger to hosting parties and creating the atmosphere for a great time, Doug states that their tiny bar wasn’t created to make them rich. As long as bills are covered and people are enjoying their time at Canada’s smallest bar, that is all he hopes for. It’s safe to say from the warm reception thus far, that they’re on the right path.
When people enter Standing Room Only, Doug notices an immediate change in their mood. I can personally attest to this, even though I experienced the bar without the buzz of other patrons. People become “one big happy family”, meeting neighbours they never knew, creating connections within the larger community, and mingling with other patrons. It’s one of the perks of a small space and flows contrary to conventional Canadian bar-going where groups usually stick to themselves. Instead, at Standing Room Only seat mates are asking the stranger at the other end of the bar what they’ve ordered, as they take in the smoke and fire mixology show. Building a sense of community, though it’s been open less than a month, has been a major highlight for the owners thus far.
Waiting in the Wings…More to Come!
Remembering that Canada’s newest smallest bar is less than a month old can be a little bit hard to believe with how established it’s already becoming. The most exciting part? They haven’t unveiled all of their plans for you just yet! Without giving too much detail, stay tuned this summer for a communal outdoor space that I’m already dying to see. Rocking swag is on the way, including coasters and shirts among other sweet merch. Keep your eyes peeled to the ceilings over the bar where another spectacle will be appear. In fact, within only a month of being open, Standing Room Only claimed 1st place in 2 of Guelph’s best cocktails categories: the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned!
What Can You Order at Canada’s Smallest Bar?
You’re in for a major treat when you place an order at Standing Room Only. Though Doug insists that his tastebuds differ from most, preferring to taste rather than mask the alcohol, I can promise you that you will love his creations. Take, for example, the signature “Toddfather”. From the performance of its preparation, complete with swords and decanted smoke, to your own participation blowing away the swirling fog, to each sip of the sophisticated cinnamon-dusted liquor, it is perfection. In fact, within only a month of being open they claimed 1st place for 2 of the Guelph’s best cocktails: the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned!
The menu is in the final stages of production. In the meantime, inquire about soon-to-be favourites like the summery vodka tequila blend, a coffee-flavoured sipper that’s straight liquor, or the intriguing Hennessy and green tea cocktail. Not sure what to order? Trust the knowledgeable bartender will craft a drink particular to your liking. Perhaps most entertaining is another act that’s yet to be unveiled: the physical menu itself. I won’t spoil it for you, but Doug shared how the menu will be presented and I can safely say you haven’t seen a menu like this before!
In addition to one-of-a-kind cocktails and stocking specialty bottles such as Pappy Von Winkle, a rare bourbon which can retail around $1,000 per bottle, customers can sip equally magical mocktails, beer, wine, and cider.
Plan Your Visit
Canada’s smallest bar, Standing Room Only, is located in the “Royal City” at 60 Ontario Street in Guelph. Found in a residential area, the parking lot is as tiny as you’d expect for a venue this unique. The bar is open 7 days a week, from 4 pm to midnight. If you’re not sure what to order, try the “Toddfather” which is their signature drink, a godfather with a twist and a tribute to Doug’s father. Full sensory cocktails are Standing Room Only’s speciality, however there are equally entertaining mocktails for the alcohol-free crowd, as well as beer, cider, and wine. The building houses two other businesses, an art gallery and a cafe – both well worth a visit during the day. For questions, contact Standing Room Only on Instagram.
Want to Explore More Record Breaking Destinations?
Without intentionally setting out to visit record breaking tiny spaces, this time last year I visited the delightful World’s Smallest Cinema in Stratford, Ontario. You can attend screenings and events there or book out the whole theatre and lounge for your own private party!
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