On Toronto’s Culinary Clubification
(Or, Old Man Yells At Japanese Cheesecake Crowd)
I think it was the first night of the second month after moving in that we realized the club scene of Toronto, mere blocks north of our new condo, hadn’t died but had transformed in the worst way imaginable.
After years of saving, we did what any modern Toronto couple would do: we, two textbook, well-to-do yuppies, bought a condo, settled down, and night after night, we’d take our pick of the city’s amazing food.
“Where do you want to go for dinner tonight?”
That was the question we work so hard to ask, day in and day out; the question that drove us to live not in Waterloo nor Montreal nor Ottawa nor Vancouver, not even San Francisco, but good old T.O.; T Dot; The 6.
West Dundas West. Little Italy. Ossington. Dupont and Casa. The Danforth. Cabbagetown. Baldwin Village. Chinatown. The Junction. St. Lawerance. Kensington. West Queen West. The Entertainment District. Regent Park. Leslieville.
Name a ‘hood, and there’s at least one signature place we’d recommend.
And so, on our nights after long days, we’d need only decide on a type of food and our desired dress, and somewhere out there in our big city existed someone’s mom, running her own restaurant now, raring to make us her finest. And we’d go. And she’d love us, and cook for us. And we’d be happy.
Toronto has many of those places — but year after year they grow fewer in number, supplanted by the pox we, growing old and less tolerant but not less adventurous and fearfully not less relevant, find ourselves NIMBYing.
The club scene in Toronto is dead, replaced by sky-high glass condos and a new breed of restaurant which is slowly taking over — the pox aforementioned.
You probably hate clubbing. Everyone does, right? And yet, you probably have oft frequented and love what clubbing has paved the way for.
You know the restaurant I’m talking about.
No reservations. Long lines. Blasting music. Crammed communal seating.
We’re suckers, too. Time and time again we try to adapt, and we go, and we too often are left bellies empty, spirits dampened, having dined and replenished no more than our rage towards our city’s celebrated culinary culture now co-opting the otherwise-fading but ever-reviled identity of the club scene.
Whine & Cheese
Admittedly, there’s a great deal of Old Man Yells At Cloud in the above diatribe; even through the medium of print to me, your present author, resonates the sound of your eyes rolling.
And though I acknowledge the fact that I may be simply getting older, and with that age comes a longing for the way I perceive things to have previously been, I don’t feel entirely wrong in my read of the city’s current calamity.
In fact, there’s a sick part of me that sees a simultaneously sad future and yet incredible business opportunity ahead for dining in Toronto.
Look no further than the business model of Cineplex VIP.
General movie-going has become so untenable in the last ten years that Cineplex has now found a way to charge double for what amounts to the original value prop of why you’d go to the theater in the first place.
Sure, this new brand of experience allows you to get liquor service to your seat, and sure it’s 21+, but really, it’s an amazing feat of marketing: the equivalent to the ever-shrinking economy class of flight which sardines more and more travelers with less and less comfort at rising and rising costs.
How devious it would be to apply this same model to dining out in Toronto! OpenTable and the like are ripe for making this a reality, and that the opportunity which seems so mouth-wateringly profitable and indeed possible only underscores boldly the clubificiation at hand to which I speak.
The Secret’s Out
All of this is to say that the clubification of Toronto’s restaurant scene is something we despise, and the result of this landscape is an extremely hipster-esque behaviour born in us that I truly hate even more than that about which I whine.
We curse BlogTO for letting out the spoils of new, quiet spots which we find and keep secret for fear of losing to the long lines, communal seats, loud music, and shitty service of Electric Mud and Yours Truly and Kinton and Agave. We now fear the culture in our city that took from us Charolette Room and Cold Tea and soon Lucky Red and eventually Yummy Yummy.
But make no mistake; we don’t adopt this behaviour and these fears out of want to be trendy or hip. It’s quite the opposite. We don’t want to be seen, nor to be seen as in the know. Dining out is not going to the club for us; we don’t wear our latest $300 Kanye white t-shirt and Instagram our meals. We don’t text bae while we’re there. We don’t Vine the line while we wait.
That’s not why we rooted down in Toronto. That’s not why we dumped money into a condo we’ll never reap any notable boomer-esque return on. That’s not why we reluctantly voted for Tory and cried for Soknacki.
No, we just want to be able to visit our Chinese mom. Our Korean mom. Our Thai or Viet mom (depending on the weather). Our Tamil and Punjabi moms. Our Jamacian mom. Our Italian, and Portegeuse, and Spanish moms. All of the moms and dads who’ve moved here and brought home with them, and invite us into their new homes, and feed us, and love us.
We want to go home, to their homes, and have a bite, and have a chat, and feel that warmth in our bellies that tells our brains the lie that we’re home, too.
I remember a great bit that Eddie Murphy performed where he described in intimate detail what a truly glorious emergency Mom hamburger was like. “Better than McDonald’s?”, child Eddie recalls. “I’m not making McDonald’s burger,” momma Eddie retorts. “I’m making your mama’s burger.”
It is in that bit that is quietly layered the subtext of why we dine out in the first place, and why we hate what Toronto food scene is becoming.
Excellent dining isn’t just about good food; if it was, then we’d all be better off becoming chefs ourselves. Cooking well requires practice, yes, but it is not beyond you. It is not beyond anyone. We can all home cook.
Rather, what’s special about dining out is the experience of coming home — to someone else’s mom and dad. It’s a for-a-fee replication of going to see family in another city or country and having that first amazing meal together. That laugh over wine together. That “good old days” reminiscing together.
It’s that feeling of not wanting to leave because you’re so warm and full and happy. It’s knowing there’s a seat there for you, waiting for you, where you’ll be comfortable — where you’ll be home.
I wish Toronto would remember that.