Vintage Toronto Ads: Dressing Up for Danakas

Originally published on Torontoist on May 18, 2010.

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CFL Illustrated, October 11, 1976.

The man on the left was not a happy fellow. If given a choice, he would have worn his comfortable corduroy sports jacket and checked trousers to the business dinner, but the boss insisted he had to wear a tuxedo as very important clients were attending and the firm had to put on its classiest face. He shuffled off to his neighbourhood Tuxedo Junction at the last possible minute and discovered all that was left was the Prince Edward ensemble. He put on the outfit, stared in the mirror and sighed. Not only did he feel uncomfortable in so formal an outfit, but he thought he looked like a fifth-rate celebrity guest starring on a game show. No, it was even worse than that. This was the same tux his cousin Murray was married in, the cousin who told so many embarrassing, cringe-inducing stories at the altar that half the wedding party fled before the ceremony was over.

While waiting for his dinner ride, our sullen friend picked up a book a friend gave him featuring local restaurants and their prized recipes. He flipped through the pages of The Flavour of Toronto until he reached the section on his destination this night, Danakas Palace.

Mirrored ceilings, wood-panelled walls, richly upholstered furniture, a brightly glowing grill pit: all combine to create a palatial background to an elegant meal. Specializing in steaks and seafood, the Palace has named its delicious seafood platter in honour of Canada’s prime minister…Many theatrical and athletic stars have followed his example. Good wines are a specialty and service is attentive.

He gazed at the recipe for the Prime Minister’s Seafood Platter. How to eat like Trudeau…two lobster tails, six scampis, six prawns, six shrimps, eight crab legs, eight oysters, eight scallops, two ounces of breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic, an ounce of dry white wine, three ounces of butter, three teaspoons of lemon juice, and a pint of vegetable oil. The crab and lobster were baked, the smaller crustaceans sautéed in garlic and wine, and the remaining seafood fried until golden. Arrange the lot on a silver platter, douse with cognac and set aflame. The dish had possibilities. Maybe, he thought, he would buy a rose from a street vendor, place it in his label like PET, then enjoy the delights of the sea.

His ride wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, so he pulled out the box of restaurant review clippings he filed away as potential date destinations. Buried near the bottom was Joanne Kates’ opinion in the Globe and Mail from a year earlier. His heart sunk when the headline read unfulfilled promises.” Danakas Palace got off to a bad start with Kates for producing ads touting its “famous” charcoal broil — she felt it was “strange that a restaurant should be famous in time to make that claim when it opens.” Meant to be the first in a chain of restaurants, she felt that “it’s fitting that a chain begin with a nod to progress. All guests are treated to garlic bread wrapped in that modern wonder, aluminum foil.” The food didn’t impress her, as out of the highly-touted eleven fresh vegetables, only two appeared on her plate (of which one, creamed cauliflower, was mushy and lacked cream). Bouillabaisse featured stringy, tough fish; trout was over-fried; black forest cake was leaden. She sighed that the chain would probably do well, as “it has the ingredients that seem to sell nowadays: underground parking, décor that at first glance looks first class, a la carte dinner for two with wine and tip for about $40, and above all, mediocrity.”

As his ride arrived, all he could hope was that it wasn’t going to be a long night in a stiff tux with middling food. The deal-making possibilities of the evening had better be worth the potential misery.

Additional material from The Flavours of Toronto: A Gourmet’s guide to restaurants and recipes, edited by Kenneth Mitchell (Toronto: Four Corners, 1977) and the October 27, 1975 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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And now, for your eager eyes, the seafood platter at Danakas Palace that Pierre Trudeau  liked so much the owners renamed it in honour of his position. Whether the story is true or not, it’s not surprising a seafood platter would receive such an honour, as restaurants in the vicinity of Danakas Palace loved showing off their ensembles of lobster, shrimp and other sea creatures in full-colour ads targeted to business executives and tourists—a show of hands from anyone who’s ever actually eaten the “award winning” seafood platter showcased in every Toronto visitors guide by Fisherman’s Wharf since the dawn of man?

It often seems like a seafood platter is designed to look attractive and draw as much money out of a customer as possible. I won’t deny having succumbed to the allure of a broad sampling of delights from the deep. During my university days at Guelph, there was a restaurant in the upper reaches of Stone Road Mall called Legends that accepted school meal plans. At the time, it was one of the few off-campus spots that took meal cards, so it often wound up being the destination for special events among my residence-mates at Arts House. It became a running joke that I’d always order the most expensive thing on the menu, which was the seafood food. A further running joke was that the platter was never the same twice—a good night might bring heartly samplings of crab, grilled swordfish and tuna, a lousy one saw a meagre serving of shrimp and a puny crab appendage arrive at the table.

Come to think of it, Legends was often unpredictable with its fare, such as the time four of us ordered blue lagoons and each arrived with a different colour. Who knew purple lagoons existed?

Here’s how you can make a meal worthy of the occupant of 24 Sussex Drive, though you can choose to eat it as a salute to the current PM or your all-time favourite leader.

2 lobster tails
6 scampis
6 prawns
6 shrimps
8 crab legs
8 oysters
8 scallops
2 oz (50 g)breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 oz (25 mL) dry white wine
3 oz (75 g) butter
3 tsp lemon juice
1 pint (500 mL) vegetable oil

To prepare: cut the lobster tails and bend back in butterfly style; shell and de-vein the scampis, prawns and shrimps; extract the meat from the crab claws; remove the oysters and scallops from the shell and coat with breadcrumbs. Finally, wash the lobster, scampi, prawns and shrimps under cold running water and dry thoroughly.

Proceed with the following cooking methods simultaneously: (a) Place the crabmeat in a small ovenproof dish, add 1/3 tsp garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice and half the white wine and bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.; (b) Place the lobster tails in an oven pan, add 1 oz (25 g) butter and 1 tsp lemon juice and bake in a moderate oven for 8-10 minutes; (c) Melt 1 oz (25 g) butter in a frying pan, add 1/3 tsp garlic and the remaining wine and sauté the scampi, prawns and shrimps for 2 minutes, stirring continuously; (d) Heat the oil and fry the scallops until golden, then transfer to a small overproof dish, add the remaining butter, garlic and lemon juice and place in a broiler for 5 minutes; (e) Re-heat the oil and deep fry the oysters until golden.

To serve: arrange attractively on a silver platter, pour over the Cognac and flame. Serves 2.

Recipe taken from The Flavour of Toronto, edited by Kenneth Miller, photographed by René Delbuguet (Toronto: Four Corners, 1977). 

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Where Else Would You Eat?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2009.

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Bravo, November/December 1982.

Yes, your friends were happy that the iambic pentameter flowing out of your mouth finally sounded naturalistic and not an exercise in word fumbling. For that, you deserved a night on the town!

Your friends also had deep pockets, as a meal at Chiaro’s (pronounced key-arro) wasn’t in the typical actor’s price range, especially if they treated you to the exclusive wine room. Two people who were denied the latter were Globe and Mail restaurant critic Joanne Kates and her dining companion:

We mere mortals, and two females to boot, are not invited into the wine room. We are not even offered a wine list. We are offered a table by the door and, having reserved earlier, we begin to wonder: Would the waiter chide a male customer for asking to see the label on a bottle of house wine before it was poured?

Chiaro’s was part of the multi-million-dollar renovation of the King Edward Hotel in the early 1980s. Kates compared the décor to both ends of the hospitality spectrum owned by new operators Trusthouse Forte: the Plaza Athénée in Paris and your average roadside Travelodge. “The lobby is splendid and subtle,” she noted, “an Edwardian triumph of massive marble columns and Oriental rugs lit from above by a glass roof. But in the women’s room the soap is that horrible green stuff (what, no Pears?) and Muzak plays.“

Kates felt the pasta dishes were worth the money while most of the mains were boring. Her summary of the Chiaro’s experience expressed disappointment:

Neither the $20,000 peacock mirrors nor the grey walls and ceiling are glorious. The food is good, but it is attention to detail that makes a restaurant great: Salada tea and banal desserts give Chiaro’s a mass-produced air; waiters who seat and serve diners according to their Dun and Bradstreet rating do not belong. A restaurant that charges $105 for dinner had better treat everyone like a queen.

Additional material from The Joanne Kates Toronto Restaurant Guide (Toronto: Methuen, 1984).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Seventies Supper Suggestions

Originally published on Torontoist on June 9, 2009.

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Toronto Life, April 1971 (left) and August 1975 (right).

Which of the approaches used in today’s ads help determine where you spend your food dollar—the restaurant where the owner employs their children to vouch for the quality of the dining experience, or a simple line drawing of a comfortable-looking setting that promises a break from downtown traffic?

For a contemporary take on these restaurants, we turn to Dining Out in Toronto by Jeremy Brown and Sid Adilman (Toronto, Pagurian Press, 1976). Here is their three-star (out of five) review of Gaston’s:

Gaston Schwalb knows food and promotes it flamboyantly. Inside his cozy Markham Street location, he serves generous portions and a well trained staff. Onion soup is a standout, better here than anywhere else in the city. He has rabbit ragout, delicious and dark, bouillabaisse, frogs’ legs, and excellent pepper steak. Cooking is under the care of experts, but sometimes the restless and fiery Gaston plunges in himself. There is a fixed price till 7:30 p.m., when it takes a sudden jump. If they misfire on a dish, complain bitterly.

Soon after today’s ad appeared, Gaston’s became the first sidewalk cafe in Ontario to legally serve alcohol—within an hour of receiving its license on May 19, 1971, the first drinks were served. Schwalb later pulled in just over 1,200 votes during a mayoral run in 1985 and was a frequently quoted opponent of the city’s smoking ban in restaurants during the mid-1990s.

As for Archibald’s (two stars):

Anne Murray is a regular. When Sam Sniderman (Sam the Record Man) wants to throw a surprise birthday party for his wife Eleanor, the record producer, he throws it at Archibald’s. If you recognize the movers and shakers of the Canadian recording field…you will spot them at Archibald’s. This cozy, Canadian-pine and fusty Victorian portrait-decorated steak house is one of their hangouts. Anne Murray likes it because it is near her house, and she can dine without being pestered for autographs…Nothing is in any way spectacular, but Archibald’s is dependable, warm, and friendly, and its staff is anxious to please. Portions are ample and decently prepared; lighting is a cut above the near darkness plaguing diners at many similar establishments, and a neighbourhood feeling predominates.

Additional material from the May 20, 1971 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.

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The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.

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The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

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Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

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Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Soup’s On at Fran’s!

Originally published on Torontoist on January 13, 2009.

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Source: Toronto Star, January 13, 1959.

With temperatures predicted to plunge into extreme cold weather alert territory this week, there may be a corresponding rise in the number of people seeking comfort in a warm, nourishing bowl of soup. Half a century ago, Fran’s offered a full lineup of soups priced “sensibly” for those looking for a cheap bite or as an appetizer to add refinement and enjoyment to their meal (though one wonders if “Fran’s Plantation” would now be “homestyle beef” or “minestrone”).

G. Francis (Fran) Deck opened a 10-stool diner on St. Clair Avenue west of Yonge Street in 1940 after spending two decades working for his brother’s restaurants in New York State. While the banquet burger appears in embryonic form as a “Forest Hill” on the restaurant’s original menu, their signature rice pudding appears to have been a later addition.

Part of Deck’s early success was fuelled by being one of the few restaurants north of Bloor open on Sunday, which drew the pre-/post-church crowd. Within a decade he operated four locations around the city, offering economical comfort food at all hours of the day. Among the regular patrons at the original location was nearby resident Glenn Gould, who dropped by in the wee hours each morning to down an order of scrambled eggs.

Upon its 50th anniversary, Rosie DiManno wrote about the mystique that surrounded Fran’s as she grew up:

Some of us have always been rather curious about Fran’s beloved reputation since its everyday menu is pretty much a paean to edibles bland and banal (although fairly appetizing at 3 a.m.). Besides, for those of us who grew up in Toronto, venturing up to the Yonge-St. Clair neighbourhood was akin to penetrating the heart of Waspness.

By the time Deck died in a roadside accident while on vacation in Arizona in 1976, the four locations served more than 2.5 million meals a year. Some of those customers distressed Deck in his later years, including the increasingly gay clientele looking for love at the College-Yonge location—he noted in a Toronto Life profile, “I used to kick them out—CBC people and everyone—and nearly wound up in court.”

Attempts to expand the chain outside Toronto to outposts such as Kingston and Windsor in the late 1990s led to bankruptcy, with all locations closed by 2001 except for College-Yonge, which had been franchised off years earlier. It remains in business, along with two other locations that opened this decade.

Additional material from the September 1973 issue of Toronto Life and the May 31, 1976 and May 9, 1990 editions of the Toronto Star.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2008

Nature Versus Streetcar Shelter

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2008.

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Once upon a time, the stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard around Park Lawn Road was a stop for tourists and those looking for a quick good time, thanks to nearly thirty motels that lined the strip. All but three (Casa Mendoza, Shore Breeze, and Beach) are gone now, leaving empty lots awaiting their probable transformation into condominiums with romantic views of Lake Ontario and the Mr. Christie cookie plant.

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The lag between the demolition of old motels, such as the Hillcrest and North American, and the arrival of new towers has allowed Mother Nature to take her course in several of the empty lots. The result: a streetcar shelter where riders on the 501 can enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked cookies to take their mind off any fears of someday being crushed by the emerging forest.

The overgrowth is creepier at night, making you feel like a doomed character in a “plants take over the world” story. A strong wind could easily conjure a week’s worth of nightmares.

UPDATE: All three of those surviving motels soon vanished. The Mr. Christie plant closed in 2013, and is being demolished as of fall 2017.

One Wrong Turn

Originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2008. Possibly my lone attempt to do an Action Line/The Fixer help piece.

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When some people see an erroneous street sign, they call the city to have it fixed. Others will glance for a moment, pop their eyes, and then move along without a second thought. In the case of a faulty curve sign recently erected on Wicksteed Avenue in the industrial section of Leaside, one observer vented their frustration on the sign itself.

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After we called the city’s transportation department, the sign was promptly removed. A bare metal post was all that remained as of last night.

Phone Dosa Dosa, Hey, Hey, Hey

Originally published on Torontoist on December 4, 2008.

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Branches of Pizza Pizza are a common sight around Toronto. Most don’t jump out at the eye, though some outlets deserve marks for making an effort to stand out with artwork and other decorations (we miss the silver spangles that once graced Yonge Street). At the Danforth Avenue and Dawes Road branch it’s the attached eatery with a similar name that draws attention.

The shape of the outdoor sign hints at 2795 Danforth Avenue’s previous incarnation as home to Pizza Pizza’s sister chain Chicken Chicken. Give the pattern of repetitive names, our first thought was that the pizza giant had embraced the ethnic diversity of Toronto and decided to branch out into other forms of cheap, filling food—in this case, crispy, not-too-greasy Indian crepes and a variety of satisfying accompaniments.

Dosa Dosa Interior

When contacted to determine if there was a connection with Dosa Dosa, Pizza Pizza corporate provided a one-word answer: no.

UPDATE: Dosa Dosa was replaced by other eateries. As of October 2017, it houses Double Sushi. The Pizza Pizza next door is still in business.

Off the Grid (Ghost City): 346 Spadina Avenue

Part One: Ghost City

Originally published on The Grid on September 12, 2012.  This was my first piece under the “Ghost City” banner, which the publication had used periodically for similar pieces. “Ghost City” lasted as a weekly column through June 2013, though the title was occasionally brought out of mothballs by other writers. 

When the Gold Diamond restaurant opened this summer, it inherited a building teeming with ghosts: Paranormal spirits are reputed to have inspired the lion statues out front and once required the services of an exorcist. Symbolic ghosts have also left their mark through the legacies of a Jewish-community landmark and a series of Chinese eateries.

Dress-making strike, crowd at Labor Lyceum, 346 Spadina Avenue, February 25, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 23262.

Originally occupied by residences, the southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and St. Andrews Street was purchased by the Toronto Labor Lyceum during the 1920s. Founded in 1913, the organization promoted trade unionism among the city’s growing Jewish community, and offered a home for garment-industry organizations like the Internatonal Ladies Garment Workers Union. As longtime union activist and politician J.B. Salsberg observed, “no single institution and no single building on Spadina—the main street of Jewish Toronto—was more important in the refashioning of the Jewish immigrant into an actively involved Canadian Jew than was the Labor Lyceum.” Beyond union meetings, the building met the community’s cultural and social needs by providing a venue for concerts, a beer parlour, dances, lectures, and hanging out.

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Obituary for Emma Goldman, the Telegram, May 14, 1940.

Anarchist Emma Goldman spoke many times at the Labor Lyceum while intermittently residing in Toronto during the 1920s and 1930s. Her talks ranged from lecturing about drama to raising money for the defence fund of condemned American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. While Goldman respected the city’s appreciation for the arts, her criticisms of the influence of the Anglican and Catholic churches did not make her a fan of the “Toronto the Good” mentality. When she died in May 1940, her friends told the Star that the funeral service would “not be a religious one but will be rather just a gathering of friends.” While her body lay in state at the Labor Lyceum, she was remembered “as a woman who had put ideals above suffering.”

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Source: Canadian Jewish News, December 24, 1971.

When scaffolding went up after the building was sold in 1971, locals figured the wrecking ball would follow to the increasingly shabby-looking site. Instead, new owner Yen Pin Chen, a Taiwanese restaurateur, spent $1 million over the next four years refurbishing the building into a restaurant complex he hoped would become the focus of the new Chinatown emerging along Spadina. Décor included walls filled with handcrafted detailing and a ceramic reproduction of Beijing’s Nine-Dragon Wall that had been in Chen’s family for two decades. Outside, observed the Globe and Mail, “two bronze-coloured lions crouch and stare imperiously from the front door into the window of the Jewish hard-goods jobber across the avenue. The façade glows with the colour of sunrise over Shanghai, that imperial shade of yellow once reserved for emperors.”

gm 1975-08-02 yen pin palace Source: Globe and Mail, August 2, 1975. Click on image for larger version.

Despite being the largest Chinese restaurant in the city, Yen Pin Place was an expensive bust. The luxurious décor was offset by bland food that the Globe and Mail’s Joanne Kates figured “would be perfect for a convention of 1,000 dentists from Des Moines.” After it closed in 1978, Yen Pin Place was succeeded by a string of eateries that Kates described as “each more outrageously pretentious and gastronomically mediocre than the last, and all of them doomed to failure.” The flops included Genghis Khan (a Mongolian BBQ), Paul’s Palace Deep Sea Shantung (once the city’s premier Szechuan restaurant, it had served better food elsewhere), and the President.

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Source: Toronto Star, January 24, 1986. Click on image for larger version.

In 1985, the building was purchased by the Hong Kong-based Hsin Kuang restaurant chain, whose name still graces its facade. The Star enjoyed the warm towels that bookended every meal and the dim-sum offerings, but found the flavours of the rest of the menu lacked character. Hsin Kuang gave way to Bright Pearl in 1997, which carried on serving dim sum until a landlord dispute led to its closing in 2010.

That Bright Pearl lasted for 13 years supports the superstitions and accounts of ghost sightings associated with 346 Spadina. The presence of the paranormal has been blamed on everything from an onsite mortuary to the billboards forming a “V” pointing at the entrance that channelled evil spirits. Ghosts are said to haunt the washrooms, even after an exorcist was sent in. Feng-shui masters have been consulted in design elements such as the placement of the “foo dog” lions to provide a healthier aura.

Additional material from Spadina Avenue by Rosemary Donegan (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985); the December 24, 1971 edition of the Canadian Jewish News; the August 2, 1975, November 15, 1976, and April 4, 1981 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 14, 1940, May 15, 1940, February 19, 1983, January 24, 1986, and August 31, 1995 editions of the Toronto Star.

Part Two: Vintage Toronto Ads – A Place for Food, Spirits, and Movements

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2007.

Yen Pin Place

Source: Toronto Life, December 1975.

Mid-1970s diners expected a certain level of ostentation when eating at finer Chinese cuisine establishments. Decor was touted as much, if not more, than what went into one’s mouth. The atmosphere diners were promised at today’s featured restaurant hints at a feast for the senses.

Except that the foo dogs were not mere decoration…

The history of 346 Spadina Avenue reflects the neighbourhood’s ethnic shifts. During the mid-20th century it was home to the Labour Lyceum, a centre for Jewish labour movement activity. After her death in May 1940, anarchist/activist Emma Goldman was placed in state in the building until the go-ahead was given by the United States government to bury her in Chicago. The lyceum later moved east to Cecil Street.

The site has long been regarded as haunted, which may explain the presence of the foo dogs guarding the building. One set of restaurant owners called in an exorcist, who noted that the billboards across street pointed like an arrow, directing bad spirits into the building. Apparitions favoured the washrooms, catching patrons at the weakest moment of their meal.

UPDATE

As of 2017, the main restaurant space sits vacant. In 2013, Heritage Toronto installed a plaque commemorating the Labor Lyceum.