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Legendary hangout Dooney’s returns to Annex

August 31st, 2011 · 1 Comment

By Michael Radoslav

Signage has begun to change over at the Annex Live. Photo by Michael Radoslav/GLEANER NEWS

After a three year hiatus, a legendary Annex hangout is reborn. Dooney’s Café, a once popular destination for artists and politicians in Toronto has returned, replacing the Annex Live.

However, owner Graziano Marchese (brother of Trinity-Spadina MPP Rosario Marchese) has no easy feat returning Dooney’s to its former glory. With a loyal but aging cast of regulars, a new location off highly trafficked Bloor Street, and plenty of seating presently available most afternoons, the café that was once an Annex institution will have to work hard to reclaim its title as community hub.

As the original owner of Dooney’s Café, Marchese left the Bloor Street location in 2008, selling the rights to the Dooney’s name along with it. Under new management Dooney’s ran a short while before becoming the T Café. Marchese opened the Annex Live in the location of the former Poor Alex Theatre.

Originally he intended to cater to an older, more upscale crowd. However, the new establishment struggled to find an identity in the neighbourhood. “The Annex [Live] wasn’t sure what it wanted to be,” Marchese said, “whether it wanted to be a restaurant, or a music venue, or a breakfast place.”

Following more than a year of negotiations, Marchese regained the rights to the name Dooney’s Café. The original Dooney’s was renowned as a popular hangout catering to the local artistic and political community. It famously staved off an attempted takeover by Starbucks in 1995—the words “Save Dooney’s” remain etched in the sidewalk on Bloor, in front of the old establishment. It became a central meeting place for many in the Annex.

As time passed, the crowds began to shrink and, when Dooney’s finally closed its doors, the halcyon days had already passed. Marchese said he wants to recreate that old atmosphere and reconnect with the community in his new location. “[Dooney’s] success wasn’t necessarily the food or the coffee,” he said. “I think it was based on that social part of it.”

“Some left, but the larger community is starting to come back,” said Peter Fawcett, a Dooney’s regular since the early 1990s, who wrote the book Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney’s Café and other non-globalized places, people, and ideas in 2003.

Author and screenwriter Ian Adams has been a loyal Dooney’s patron since day one. “It’s not like its identity is through corporate logos, it was, and still is, about community” he said. “It’s getting to be interesting again.”

“It really means something, something totally different than a [coffee chain], which has the aroma of sitting in an airport watching passengers walk by.”

Unlike its previous location, the new Dooney’s is tucked away on Brunswick Avenue, which will pose some challenges. “Seeing as we’re a bit off the beaten track we’re going to have to work a bit harder,” said Marchese.

Fawcett said the café has lost the “see and be seen” element it once had. There is a small patio out front and a larger one in the back, but it is not the same as the days on Bloor.

There was also a younger crowd that frequented the old Dooney’s at night, Fawcett said, but young customers are few and far between at the new location. New patrons, and in particular younger patrons, will be “necessary in the long run” for the café.

While admitting the importance of drawing a youthful element, Marchese said he has no plans yet to specifically target a young audience.

Regardless of whether Marchese can rekindle the popularity of the original venue or not, Marchese said he is just glad to work under the name Dooney’s again. Ultimately, he said success will depend on how the community embraces this new location.

“I don’t think I can create the culture, I just have two doors. Whoever comes in creates the culture,” he said. “You just leave the doors open for whatever people want.”

Tags: Food

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Charlieman // Mar 6, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Check out The Remarkable Bean at Queen & Beech in The Beach. As original a coffee place as you’ll ever find anywhere. Complete with mismatched furniture, an old fashioned door latch, and the door squeaks. There was even art for sale on the walls the last time I was there.