Toronto Faves, 1990s edition

19 Jan

Cheek’s
1205 Queen Street West, c. 1990
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At the corner of Queen & Dufferin, where the Dufferin bus stops after passing under the CN Railway bridge en route to the Exhibition, there’s a small commercial plaza. Its tenants are a motley crew that includes QD Computer, Queen St. Pharmacy and Comesee New & Used Restaurant Equipment.

I hate to be negative, but these guys may not want to hold their breath. Over the years, turnover at the plaza has been unusually high, as one off-beat assemblage of businesses and organizations has given way, property by property, to another. Some corners seem cursed that way.

As a kid, my school bus used to drop me off at my mom’s work, which has moved twice in the past decade and a half, but has always been located within walking distance of the plaza. At its easternmost end, now the site of a beauty salon called Jane’s Hair, there used to be the most amazing fast food joint, Cheek’s.

Cheek’s had an incredible BLT, the likes of which I have never tasted in the 15+ years since the burger joint graced one side of the plaza. If my memory serves me well, it was served on a hamburger bun, with generous mayonnaise and Canadian bacon, and they would wrap it up in foil to go.

A Google search reveals there’s a Cheek’s Homemade Burgers & Good Eats in Bolton, Ontario. Could it be the legendary BLT lives on north of the 401?

Dark City
307 Danforth Avenue, c. 1995

If Cheek’s BLTs bring me back to when I was 8 or 9, Dark City, an east-end café no longer in business, reminds me of the beginning of my high school years. Around this time, the Toronto Star was proclaiming coffee houses “the nightclubs of the ’90s.” Key difference: these nightclubs didn’t ID.

Located on the Danforth, steps from Chester subway station and walking distance from one of my best friends’ home at the time, Dark City quickly became a regular hangout. Our first ventures there came out of tagging along with her older brother who was 17 or 18 to our 13-14. But it soon became the spot we’d go just us two to discuss ‘serious’ matters and plot summer travels (some plans actually materialized in later years!). I don’t think I ever ordered coffee here, as this was some time before I drank the stuff—we favoured Italian sodas and maybe the odd hot chocolate, although we did get hooked on the chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Looks like Dark City is still roasting coffee, but to my knowledge, it has been a while since the company has been in the business of serving it directly to customers. At the site of the former Dark City one now finds 7 Numbers, an Italian restaurant. My old friend tells me they serve a lovely Valentine’s Day special at a very decent price.

Ted’s Wrecking Yard
549 College Street, c. 2000

Midway through high school, I started volunteering at North By Northeast (NXNE). I couldn’t work at the clubs yet, but I helped out on the conference side of the annual indie music festival. It was through NXNE that I became acquainted with a few bands on the Toronto circuit. My favourite of these was zoebliss.

zoebliss (since reconfigured as madviolet) played at numerous clubs around town like Lee’s Palace, C’est What, The Rivoli, The Reverb and Ted’s Wrecking Yard, and I made it out to as many shows as I could. I wasn’t of age, and could never get into Lee’s. They had a stringent ID-checking policy born of an incident during which the bar was closed down for several days for serving minors. But a few other venues, including Ted’s, seemed more or less immune to such concerns. I normally had no problem getting in. I’d pay cover, order my Coke or Shirley Temple and no one asked any questions. Memorable performances I saw at Ted’s over the years include shows by Martina Sorbara (now of Dragonette), Lindy and Australians The Waifs. Fittingly, Ted’s is where I celebrated my 19th birthday. At midnight, I ordered my first round ever of B52s.

Ted’s was above Barcode, another bar dear to Torontonians. In late 2001, Chart magazine was among those to report that both bars would likely be closing down—the doors were padlocked and some shows slated to occur there had been cancelled.

For several years there was talk of the creation of a resto-lounge/boutique hotel concept at this site, to be called The Inn on College. Originally set to be opened in the fall of 2003, it’s my understanding that as of 2005, the project had still not come to fruition. If it ever materialized it didn’t last long. I passed by 549 College earlier today; a large “For Lease” sign appears in the downstairs window.

Uptown Theatre
764 Yonge Street, c. 2000

I was out of the country in 2003 when I first heard that the Uptown Theatre had collapsed, killing one person and injuring several others. It didn’t seem possible that a fixture of the downtown could have become embroiled in such a tragedy. Already the fact that it was being demolished seemed odd.

The Uptown was not just a public landmark, but a personal one I remember from the earliest age; it was located around the corner from the first building I lived in when I was born. I remember the main theatre in particular. It sat 1,000 people. Seeing a movie there felt like an event. Along with the Backstage Theatre on Balmuto Street and the Plaza Theatre in the Hudson’s Bay Centre (both of which closed in 2001), I must have watched dozens of films there over the years.

In 2001, Famous Players (which owned the Uptown) confronted legislation requiring that the historic facility be made wheelchair accessible. Sadly, the company opted to have the theatre teared down rather than invest the estimated $700,000 in renovations that would have been needed. To put the decision into perspective, this all happened at the height of mega multiplex fever; it must have seemed a lot of cash to spend on the three-theatre Uptown.

Of course, ultimately, a lot more than $700,000 is being spent in connection with the new project which has arisen on the site of the demolished theatre: luxury condominiums still under construction. What was once the entrance to the Uptown now houses a Sales & Presentation Centre for the condos.

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One Response to “Toronto Faves, 1990s edition”

  1. Nabila January 28, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    Ah, I have such fond memories of the Uptown Theatre. I remember watching Punch-Drunk Love there during TIFF and being amused that Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler were being so giggly and weird at the Q&A session afterwards. (Maybe I dreamt this, but I have a vivid memory of a conversation I had with Mr. Anderson about the Uptown being torn down. No, I’m pretty sure this was a dream.)

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