Food + Drink,  Here + Now,  History + Community

Mom’s Basement: For Nerds and Nostalgia

The rush of warm air greets customers’ rosy cheeks as they step into the bar from the winter’s chill on Danforth Avenue. The glow from the fluorescent lights and TVs playing classic ‘80s movies surround the patrons as “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus echoes through the room on the sound system. The bartender says a friendly “hello” and welcomes them to Mom’s Basement; from then on, they’re home. 

Derek Van Dyken prepares a drink for one of his customers at Mom’s Basement. (Michaela Stephen/ On The Danforth)

Derek Van Dyken and Jon Bratt worked in the service industry for years and always talked about how one day they would own their own business. All it took was “a bad day” in early 2019 for them to realize that they were in a solid place financially and finally ready to open the bar they wish existed when they were growing up.

“That day we brainstormed for a bit and came up with Mom’s Basement Inc.,” Derek said. 

When Derek and Jon decided to jump from best friends to also being co-owners of a new business, the first thing they had to do was to find the perfect venue for their bar. They knew they wanted to be on the east end of Toronto but weren’t able to find the right fit—until they stumbled upon the ad for their current location on Kijiji. 

Located at 1430 Danforth Ave., Mom’s Basement is an accessible bar full of memorabilia that Derek and Jon have collected from their childhoods and thrift stores, as well been donated by friends. With movies, records and vintage board games found along the walls, the bar is a true museum of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. 

The walls are painted with emblems from movies, comics and skateboarding brands. Behind the bar, there are two prominent paintings skateboarding fans will appreciate: Powell Peralta’s Ripper and the skull logo for Tony Hawk’s skateboards. They’re large, bright and hard to miss—they sandwich an adapted headboard used for the bar, which is mounted with a deer head. Derek has done all the artwork himself, as he has a background in fine arts. Whether sitting in a booth or lounging on a couch playing Super Nintendo, patrons get a glimpse of an eclectic variety of artwork. Other highlights include Darth Vader and Tank Girl from the comics.  

It’s a stark contrast from some of the other bars in the area.

“Bars were very dark, for the last little bit,” Derek said. “What’s wrong with having pink and blue and orange on the wall?” 

One of the seating areas at Mom’s Basement. (Adlijana Halilagic/ On The Danforth)

Derek and Jon have their own specialty when it comes to contributing to the aesthetic of the business. 

“Jon’s more of the ‘90s guy and I’m more of the ‘80s guy,” Derek said. 

But even though their favourite eras may differ, they both grew up having their favourite hanging out spot be in the basement of their homes. 

“We both had basements where we’d put posters up and all that stuff and it became our little sanctuary in this adult world.”

Mom’s Basement has a 40-person seated capacity and is a true haven for those wishing to recapture the good ol’ days.

“It’s not the biggest place on the planet or anything like that, but it creates that warm, cozy atmosphere, which a lot of basements did create.” 

Since their soft open on Nov. 1, Derek and Jon have tried to be as open and welcoming as possible when it comes to representing all that those eras entail. They want their customers—whether they were alive during that time period or not—to know that it’s not just their lifestyles that they’re trying to represent. 

“I wouldn’t be able to tell you about what the football players and jocks and all the cool people at my school listened to because I didn’t listen to their stuff. But I am trying to be open to the idea that they also enjoyed their moment and their moments should be made available to them,” Derek said. “Let’s make sure everyone gets to hear something they remember and get to have that little nostalgic feeling because nostalgia is the most important thing.”

He isn’t kidding—within the first hour of being in Mom’s Basement, the bar’s soundtrack includes “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” by Irene Cara, “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco and “Sign of the Cross” by Iron Maiden. 

A group of friends play Super Mario World while hanging out at Mom’s Basement. (Michaela Stephen/ On The Danforth)

But Derek is proud that Mom’s Basement is able to let people go back in time in other ways; like not promoting their wifi password. Even though it didn’t exist in the ‘80s, Derek will give out the wifi password if he’s asked—but it only happens once or twice a month. 

“Part of the concept here is that all of our TVs are playing movies we all may—or may not—have seen, but they’re also all on mute and it promotes the idea of talk, to have a  conversation.”

The bar also has a variety of arcade, video and board games for customers to play, making it a great spot in the city for people to play their childhood favourites like Jenga, Operation, Super Nintendo, or even Pac Man without having to pay a bar cover or game fee. 

Derek hopes that when people stop in, they’re just as comfortable as they would be if they were in a basement as a kid.

“When you went into your basement with your friends, you didn’t really care about what [you did], you were with friends,” Derek said. “But you could relax and be yourself, enjoy the things you really enjoyed and just have that moment in life that no one could really take from you.”

Like every good hangout session, Mom’s Basement also has an excellent variety of refreshments and snacks. 

Derek said he likes to support small local breweries and carries their craft beers on tap and in cans. There’s also a great selection of custom theme cocktails which have names based off of hit TV shows and movies that were representative of that era. 

 As regulars and new faces shuffle into the bar, Derek always tries to recommend drinks to them based off their preference. 

A Flanagan’s Cruise drink at Mom’s Basement. (Michaela Stephen/ On The Danforth)

For beers, their custom-made Mom’s Brew has become a favourite for beer drinkers. They also offer a tart dry apple cider from Revel Cider, based out of Guelph, Ont., which is a great alternative for non-beer drinkers. If asked to recommend a cocktail, Derek finds out which liquor the customer prefers. One popular option was Flanagan’s Cruise, a tequila based drink with a sweet and sour kick to it. Bonus points with the bar staff if you figure out where all the drink names come from.

There’s definitely a drink that will fit your preference and no matter what drink is ordered, each is rested upon Mom’s Basement’s signature coaster: a floppy disk. 

If you’re looking to pair your drink with some munchies, Mom’s Basement offers what any good parent would provide to their kids and their friends—Kraft Dinner, Popcorn, Hot Rods, Twinkies, Nerds and Chips. 

In the near future, Derek hopes to expand the menu to add more cocktails and additions to the food menu. Fingers crossed that pop tarts find their way onto the menu soon.

Just like moms did in the ‘80s, Derek and Jon work really hard to be the perfect hosts. They chat with the regulars about how their day is going and welcome new visitors with a warm greeting. People keep coming back to Mom’s Basement because they recognize how much love and energy has been poured into the business.

Derek said he would be interested in working with local chefs and food businesses in the future to create pop up kitchens to make food for the bar. He also hopes to host events such as trivia nights or Street Fighter 2 tournaments and would love to do some charity work for the community. 

But for now, Derek and Jon are just focusing on continuing to run the business.

“We’re pretty happy with what we are right now.”

Mom’s Basement is open 7 days a week from 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday to Friday and on Saturdays from 4 p.m.- 2 a.m. You can find more information about the business at or by following them on Instagram (@momsbasementtoronto) or Twitter (@MomsBasementIn2). 

Feature photo by Victoria McMurchy

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