Saturday, May 14, 2005

The view from Mimico

Matt and Chloe

If you get on the westbound 501 Queen streetcar downtown, and you stay on it, past the Cameron House and the psychiatric hospital, past the Drake Hotel and Stones Place and all the small Parkdale galleries, presently you'll find you're not on Queen St. anymore, you're on Lakeshore Blvd. If you sit on the left-hand side of the streetcar, you'll be able to see the lake between the buildings. You'll pass a strip of well-preserved 60s-style motels, and then a strip of posh houses and consulates, the cars parked in front of them bearing red diplomatic plates. On and on the streetcar goes. Get off at Islington, and you can have a coffee at Rocket Fuel, the far-west sibling of Cabbagetown's beloved Jet Fuel Cafe. In the women's washroom at Rocket Fuel there's a large, heavy wooden desk and a wooden school chair; you could sit down there & work on your novel, I guess, if you really wanted peace and quiet, until someone else had to pee.

On Thursday evening, a group of psychogeographers congregated at Rocket Fuel and then walked down to Cliff Lumsden Park. This area, at the edge of Etobicoke, is called New Toronto. From the shore, there's an amazing view of downtown. We were there right at dusk, and the sky over the lake was a soft shade of pink.

We were joined by another streetcar-load of people, so there were about 24 of us, and we trooped off to explore New Toronto and adjacent Mimico. We walked through a lot of housing co-op complexes, past some factories, and back along that consulate row, to the motel strip and Casa Mendoza, the Piano Bar at the End of the Universe. You'd really never guess you were a streetcar ride away from downtown Toronto; it's like an off-season, low-end resort somewhere far, far away.

Tomanel entertains
Piano man Tomanel kept the room entertained with a smooth selection of classic-rock hits from the 60s and 70s. At one point he took a break, and as he wandered back to the piano I observed to the person next to me, "Aha, time for more Van Morrison covers," and he sat down & launched into "Brown-Eyed Girl." Casa Mendoza is at 2161 Lakeshore and is the perfect place to enjoy a highball or a manhattan while wearing a vintage Hawaiian shirt, or carrying a clutch-purse. There's a big patio that's open when it's warmer, and I'm told that in the summer a crowd of raccoons hangs out there, adding to the overall amusement value. And did I mention there's a steak'n'lobster restaurant downstairs? Of course there is.

A whole lot more photos here.

And speaking of getting around on Toronto's public transit system, check out the TTC Rider Efficiency Guide. Some lovely transit enthusiasts have gone to each subway station and figured out where on the train you'd have to be to minimize the length of platform you'll have to walk along when you get out. They've compiled the results in a PDF which you can download, print and make into a handy-dandy little booklet. Keep it in your purse or backpack for quick reference and shave seconds, even minutes, off your next subway journey. Progress!

Update (June 22): I haven't been back to the Mendoza since writing this, but have heard disturbing things. It was apparently closed for awhile for renovations, then it reopened, and people who have visited since have informed me that it is, um, no longer charming. I was worried that after the makeover it would just be kind of bland, but from what I've heard it's not so much bland as scary. I just thought I should make a note of this, in case anyone who read this post was thinking of going! If you visit, do leave a comment and let me know how it went.


Anonymous Dave said...

this is a great piece, nadia. you should write for money... or .. do you?

12:10 p.m., May 17, 2005  
Anonymous Gord Fynes said...

Four years ago I moved from Little Portugal to the third last stop on the 501 West in Long Branch. If it wasn't for waking up to near silence outside in the mornings and the four block walk to the lake I'd be extra bummed about not being downtown.

Rocket Fuel (cool), Pizzaiolo (yes) and Lick's on the Queensway are notables. Of course, I bike along the lakeside trails to the downton (or just drive down) on a regular basis that I haven't REALLY experienced suburban culture shock. Hell, I still rent DVDs from Queen Video!

4:36 p.m., May 21, 2005  
Anonymous Andrew said...

I went to the Mendoza in May '05 with some friends during the refurbs. We were welcomed by a guy called Miles who, despite it being only 1pm on a Thursday, smelled like he'd single-handedly kept the Smirnoff distillery in business. He acted like the owner, but seemed to change his story quite frequently.

We were hoping the patio was open as it was a beautiful day, and although it wasn't, he opened the patio bar for us and asked us what we wanted to drink. We asked for 2 Blues and a vodka orange, and he told us we didn't want Blue. That John Labatt Classic was better, and he'd get us some of those. He goes to the bar, and then comes back with a Michelob (18 months past its best by), a Keiths, and instead of a vodka orange, "something a bit more tropical": Vodka, Malibu, Midora, Archers, and tropical fruit juice, in a pint glass!

He then proceded to sit with us, and told us a load of stories, 98% of which I'm willing to bet are false. Stories of playing with Clapton & the Beatles, being so loaded he's turning down offers of $15mil for the Mendoza because he likes the views, but also possibly true, frightening stories, like filming the occupants on the rooms for his pleasure.

The guy, while drunk, ludicrous, and somewhat creepy was kinda friendly, so we stayed for about an hour and a half. Everytime we went to leave, he offered us drinks. In the end, he told us we didn't have to pay for anything. That he enjoyed our company, and that we could leave a tip at our discretion.

We left in a rather bewildered state (and not just because of the "tropical drink"). It was a pleasant enough place, and it was kinda cool we didn't have to pay for the drinks because he enjoyed having us around, but I'd be lying if I didn't say we were a bit freaked out.

12:12 p.m., July 20, 2005  
Blogger Nadia said...

Wow, Andrew... yeah, that's the kind of story I've been hearing from people who've been there recently. "Left feeling freaked out" seems to be the general consensus.

11:56 p.m., July 27, 2005  
Anonymous Kipper said...

Oh no! I just booked my 2 middle aged aunts from England there for a week in June 2006. I was looking for reviews of the rooms. Scary/freaked out aren't adjectives I want associated with their stay in Canada...

... Is this bloke generating the scary/freaked out vibe or did they do something odd(er) than before with the decor?

And what are the rooms like?

7:53 p.m., April 02, 2006  
Blogger Nadia said...

Hi Kipper, Wish I could be of help, but I have absolutely no idea what the rooms are like. I haven't been back to the Mendoza since that visit, which was nearly a year ago. I expect your aunts will be fine, though it will help if they are adventurous sorts. :) As you can gather from the comments, the Mendoza certainly has a bit more character than the Holiday Inn! It's cheesy, and it sounds like the owner is a nutter, but it's also close to the water -- see photos -- and it is indeed very easy to get to & from downtown via public transit -- the Queen streetcar will take you directly from the Mendoza to some of the best places in Toronto, and it runs 24 hours. Also, it's in what looked to me like a pretty safe area. If you have any questions, email me at, though I don't know how much I'll be able to tell you.

8:51 p.m., April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure what you people are missing, but casa mendoza is an awesome spot. The people are great and as far as your comments about the dude who was telling the stories please look at your own self you have never talked out of your hat before. GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!!!!!
Anyone that has gone to Casa Mendoza should give it a shot.
FYI they have to different type of menus. One extravagant main courses and a bar menu. YUM!!!!!!!

10:41 a.m., December 30, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


2:13 a.m., April 08, 2009  
Anonymous Carole said...

I went to Casa Mendoza's a few years ago with some friends. We sat out on the patio, saw the family of raccoons, enjoyed the skyline, and had a blast. I think that this was before all the changes. It was a lovely place with a great atmosphere. I recently recommended it to a friend, but now I'm worried about all these changes. I'll have to check it out again on my next trip to T.O.

3:06 p.m., October 18, 2009  

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