The End of an Era

Two interesting articles from Toronto’s The Grid this week, one focusing on the demise of Captain John’s and the other paying witness to the death of “cheesy” Toronto.

It is hard to forget the iconic sight of Captain John’s large ship / restaurant for anyone who has wandered around Toronto’s downtown harbour-front. A floating restaurant staffed by waiters in nautical uniforms, it recalls a very different era of dining. However, owing hundreds of thousands in property taxes and unpaid rent, Captain John’s is being shut down at the end of this month by order of the City.

Liu, Karen. “The Ballad of Captain John.” The Grid. 25 Jul 2012:

Letnik’s quest to become a restaurateur is the quintessential immigrant success story. In 1957, then 17 years old, he left his family behind in the former Yugoslavia for a better life in Toronto. He worked as a dishwasher at an Etobicoke golf club (and lived there, too), and was eventually promoted to sous chef. After saving enough money, he brought his girlfriend over; they married in 1959 (and later divorced). Two years later, Letnik opened his first eatery: Pop-In Restaurant at Dundas West and McCaul, where he charged 45 cents for pork chops and fried potatoes.

Letnik hatched the idea for a local floating restaurant in 1966, while eating on a ship bound for France. Thinking that it would be a novel concept for Toronto, he sold Pop-In and bought the MS Normac for $30,000 in 1969. The 120-foot, 405-ton boat originally came from Detroit, and had seen better days. But Letnik soon transformed it into a five-star restaurant, giving people a reason to venture down to the bottom of Yonge.

In Edward Keenan’s “The slow disappearance of Cheeseball Toronto,” (25 Jul 2012) The Grid rightly puts the end of Captain John’s in the context of a larger shift away from Toronto’s cheesy past, noting the death of a number of Toronto’s more brash landmarks (World’s Biggest Bookstore, Sam the Record Man):

The Toronto of my youth was a land cascading with blinking light bulbs and gimmicky gimcrackery. And it was awesome. In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, famously uptight Toronto underwent a garish revolution: The restaurants at the top of the CN Tower and the Westin Harbour Castle actually revolved, as did the sunken stage at the Ontario Place Forum, which was situated right next to the modernist orb of the world’s first IMAX screen at the Cinesphere. Oh, the superlatives. Everything was the world’s tallest, or biggest, or first: not just the freestanding structure and the bookstore and the cinema, but the World’s Biggest Jean Storeand the world’s first retractable roof multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility (built just as the world decided to start constructing single-purpose, open-air baseball shrines instead). And, of course, predating all of this was the world’s biggest, most brazen bargain-house, Honest Ed’s.

Both are good articles and worth reading. You may also want to check out an earlier piece by Karen Liu: “I spent New Year’s Eve alone at Captain John’s.” The Grid. 3 Jan 2012. It has some great photos.