Sunday, April 29, 2012



You really knew you had made it when you rode the elevator at Simpson's and dined under the Art Deco arches and four great chandeliers of the Arcadian Court.
And now it has been born again to live outside of our memories as an events venue.
When I journeyed as a kid with only coins in his pocket to Eaton's and Simpson's to do my shopping (the department store giants facing off across Queen St. offered the best shopping in the land) I dined on a hot dog, Honey Dew and soft ice cream cone at a nook at the start of the tunnel that went to the bargain annex of Eaton's. All for a buck or less.
The Arcadian Court, where grandmothers took their daughters and granddaughters to train them for society, and husbands were tolerated if they wore a suit and tie, was so far above me, it could have been in the stratosphere.
And it had been that way since the store thumbed its nose at the looming Depression and opened the largest retail restaurant around in 1929.
 Everything about it was grand, even the acoustics, so the TSO and even Liberace did radio broadcasts from there. It was designed for the carriage trade who still all lived in Rosedale.
I knew I had made it in journalism, sort of, not when I got my first fedora at Sammy Taft's on Spadina, like the cop reporters, but when I made it to the Court, and not just to the Court but to one of its private dining rooms.
I was a member of the Metro Citizens' Safety Council which got a deal there as part of Simpson's charity. (It was a strange setting for one of the council's most famous projects, RIDE, where I moved the motion to approve it as a trial as Reduce Impaired Driving in Etobicoke.)
I will never forget my first meal there. I was partnered with Phil Givens, who before his funeral packed a giant synagogue had been mayor, Liberal MP, MPP,  police commission head, and finally, judge. Even though Phil was one of the fastest in shooting from the lip, voters had rejected him to repeat as mayor because too many thought he had bought the Archer sculpture for Nathan Phillips Square out of $125,000 in taxes when it had been private money. Then Pierre Trudeau refused to make him a minister, distrusting his bouncy big-city roots. Phil, who had come to my wedding, used to phone me from Ottawa to complain about the PM's constant cold shoulder.
Phil announced that of course he was having the chicken pot pie. Any person in Toronto who knew anything always had the chicken pie. So I had it too. (I always did, and chicken pot pie became one of my favourite meals. (Costco has a great one, overflowing with flavour ... and calories.)
Phil dug below its crust with gusto. "I love this pie," he said, poking at a large piece. I looked carefully and said with alarm, "Phil, that's a piece of glass."
Phil snorted in disbelief. But it was, a big shard of glass.
I called the waiter. "You have given the mayor a chicken pie with glass in it." He said nothing, took it away, and reappeared with another serving. So I asked to see the maitre d'.  He dismissed it as a rare accident but never really apologized to one of the most famous Torontonians.
Phil laughed it off. I burned. The next day in my Page 4 column in the Toronto Sun, I wrote about the glass in the pie. Apparently no one from Simpson's was among my hundreds of thousands of readers because no one called Phil or me or the Sun to deny or say sorry.
Just a minor incident at a big restaurant that in some years served more than a million meals. But I can't say I was that surprised when Simpson's disappeared, along with the safety council, and then the fabled restaurant was closed by the Bay because of lack of business.  The little things can kill you as quickly as swallowing glass.

1 comment:

Toronto Sun Family said...

Thanks, John, for reviving a favourite memory of a soft ice cream at Simpson's during every visit with my mother in the 40s and 50s. Chocolate, most times.