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NEWS (Oct. 2017): Victory Cafe to reopen

November 2nd, 2017 · No Comments

Mirvish Village icon finds new life

The Victory Cafe will reopen this fall at the corner of Bloor Street and Howland Avenue. It will offer a different selection of beer, as well as a new and improved distinctive menu. GEREMY BORDONARO/GLEANER NEWS

By Geremy Bordonaro

What are some Annex icons? The Hot Docs Ted Rogers (formerly Bloor) cinema perhaps, or the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre. Some might point to the University of Toronto, or the streets lined with bay and gable style houses. Until recently, surely one would have said Honest Ed’s, or even the Victory Cafe.

“We had Jeff Healey, who loved old jazz and was playing it with the Django Reinhardt group [Club Django] on Friday nights”—Paul Kellogg, founder, Victory Cafe

The neighbourhood pub closed late last year to make way for the Mirvish Village redevelopment, and seemed poised to go the way of that other storied pub, the Brunswick House. However, it’s about to reopen, and not for the first time.

Opened in the 1990s, the Vic has been a go-to destination thanks to the vision and determination of original owner Paul Kellogg, who built the business on a simple, but effective, concept.

“Its first incarnation was at Bathurst [Street] at the corner of Follis [Avenue]. We started there in a 26 licensed space, but we squeezed in 36 seats,” recalled Kellogg. “We wanted to turn it into a new place, an alternative, that would offer comfort food, quality comfort food, that was inexpensive. A place where students and creative people would hang out. And that’s exactly what happened.”

The cafe had humble beginnings, to be sure. The first of the its three, soon to be four, locations was small but unique. Kellogg made an interesting decision when settling on the name for his new place.

“Yeah, I stole it. I had a girlfriend in New York at the time who was a vice president at JP Morgan Bank and from a wealthy family. She took me to a fabulous hamburger place in New York called the Victory Cafe. I looked up at this guy’s polo shirt and it had the same logo on it and I said that’s it.”

And soon enough the Vic gained a following. People — artists, professionals, students — from all over the city frequented the small cafe.

“Strangely it wasn’t only the hangout for actors and creative people in the Annex and Seaton Village but beyond,” Kellogg said. “Because there just weren’t enough places that were reasonably priced that were not greasy spoons at the time.”

When Kellogg ran the Victory Cafe it became a who’s who of people from throughout the city, including Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina).

“I first met the Victory Cafe probably when I was a recent graduate student and it was a fun place to have a beer,” said Layton. “They tended to have a bit more of a selection than a lot of the other places that we were used to. They had a nice outdoor space, a good upstairs space for events, reasonably priced food, and good company. Through my twenties and probably until the end of my thirties I frequented the place.”

But even though the cafe found success it was still difficult to keep up with bills and demand. The Victory Cafe needed a bigger venue, and quickly, or it would soon start to flounder.

“I was about to give up and Ed Mirvish’s people called and offered me this huge, 5,000-square-foot double Victorian on Markham Street,” Kellogg said. “I didn’t know it at the time, I was thrilled to take over the space, but it had over 20 years of bankruptcies: a very fine dining Chinese restaurant (one of the earliest in the city), a Greek place, and everything in between, but they were all going out.”

The Victory Cafe managed to defy the building’s legacy and become an even bigger success in its new location, which Kellogg renovated.

“I then built the second floor where we had Second City improvisational groups, comedy, and we had Jeff Healey, who loved old jazz and was playing it with the Django Reinhardt group [Club Django] on Friday nights,” Kellogg said. “I spent my life in radio and always wanted to support creative people who never made enough money to pay the rent.”

Posters from all sorts of performances lined the walls and the Victory saw the likes of John Candy and Stuart McLean come through its humble doors.

“The Victory Cafe has been a name in the Annex since the early ’90s. It is the Annex,” said Nick Ndreka, who bought the Victory Cafe in 2015. “It’s sad that Victory had to close but we got lucky and found a place.”

The Vic’s new home at 440 Bloor Street West will have the same atmosphere as its previous locations, but feature a selection of European beer and a wood-fired pizza oven.

He vows to maintain the spirit of the cafe in its new home. But a legacy like that is not likely to die out as Kellogg points out.

“There are a million stories that came out of the Victory. Some people have them, I have them, and it is kind of nice that things live on through those stories.”

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