As a boy growing up in London, Ont. with a father who hailed from just outside Liverpool, going to the pub to watch English Premier League soccer was part of the fabric of Dave Flute’s life.
Even when he strayed from the family tradition of supporting Liverpool FC in favour of backing Chelsea, the family watched. Games were just peppered with a little more banter and good-natured ribbing from dad Paul about how his son must have been dropped on his head as a child.
So when Flute moved to Toronto in 2008 for school, he researched the city’s soccer bars. Soon after, he called home to tell his twin brother Joe the good news. In Scallywags, the sports bar near Yonge and St. Clair West, he’d struck gold.
“I never had that experience with any other bar, but you know when you watch that show ‘Cheers’? We would go every Saturday or Sunday morning. My brother and I would go regardless of who was playing … and then we started recognizing the people who were doing the same thing as us, so we started becoming friendly with those people,” Flute said.
Scallywags was known among local soccer and rugby fans as having the best atmosphere for games. It was home to the Toronto chapter of the Liverpool FC Supporters’ Club from 2004 to 2019, but welcomed fans of all stripes for all kinds of matches, even those that kicked off before sunrise.
The brothers grew closer and closer to the pub. The staff knew them well. Even if they couldn’t always tell them apart, they knew one liked Chelsea, the other Liverpool. Those teams will go head-to-head in the Premier League’s marquee match of the weekend on Sunday.
But the Flutes won’t be watching at Scallywags.
The haven for local sports fans closed in June because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many expats and second- and third-generation Canadians to mourn the loss.
In a post on the pub’s Facebook page, owner Jeff May called Scallywags, which opened in 1997, a “special place to many.”
“It is with regret we are posting to say we are closing permanently,” he wrote on June 23. “We would like to thank all of our many loyal patrons and staff for their friendship and support throughout the years. We will always be grateful.”
Ryan Jordan, a board member of the local Liverpool supporters club, had been going to Scallywags weekly since moving to Hamilton in 2013. When Liverpool won the Premier League title this year, ending a 30-year drought, there was no hugging, high-fiving or tears of joy into his pint with friends. Scallywags closed three days before Liverpool became champion, and there was an element of hollowness to the celebration.
“For me, I came to Toronto knowing nobody,” Jordan said. “It’s like my social club … it’s where I met most of my friends in Toronto and the surrounding area. You go in there knowing that you have at least one thing in common and then kind of bridge from there.”
The last game Jordan watched at Scallywags saw Liverpool ousted from the Champions League, losing to Spanish club Atletico Madrid. It was a sour defeat. Months later, he got an early heads up from May and some Scallywags staff that it would be his last memory of the place.
“It was pretty emotional, I’m not going to lie,” Jordan said. “He thanked us all and said it just is not feasible.”
The supporters now call the Madison Avenue Pub home, but between the new location and restrictions in place because of the pandemic, it’s not quite the same, Jordan said: “It’s been a foundation for me, too. I can’t even imagine not having the pub as part of my life.”
Scallywags was a brief but influential part of Kelly Casey’s life, too. She was still making the adjustment after moving to Toronto from South Africa in late January when she walked through the doors for the first time, to catch a rugby match. The place screamed yellow to her, with its bright decor.
“It’s like a beacon — it was one of those type of places,” she said. “I went in there and I watched my first rugby game in there on my own, and I met my Canadian family there. It was full of people who were second- or third-generation Canadians watching rugby and a few ex-pats hanging out.”
Within a month, Scallywags helped her make new friends and settle into the city.
“It wouldn’t have been the same without it,” she said.
Breakfast at Scallywags wasn’t what you would call gourmet, Casey said, but it was part of the tradition.
“You’d get in there and everyone’s tired and everyone looks a little bit grotty,” she said. “You would get your fried breakfast and your first pint in, and you were set for the day. You could stay there all day long and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Toronto’s rugby community is smaller than the soccer contingent. Seeing a jersey in a pub was a signal, Casey said.
“You could connect with people,” she said. “It was networking at its most basic.”
It was also a home away from home.
Flute, who eventually moved back to London, Ont., connects the games he saw at the bar to pivotal life moments.
In 2018, he watched Liverpool play Real Madrid in the Champions League final to support his brother, who was going through a tough time. A year later, their mother joined them for Liverpool’s Champions League final victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Dad Paul died from bowel cancer between those times.
Paul had loved to visit the pub and his sons, and Scallywags meant even more to Flute after his passing. He felt close to his dad’s spirit in the atmosphere they had delighted in so many times before.
“It kind of felt, even to (my family), like home as well.”
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