Almost every city has a collection of neighbourhood institutions, businesses known and used by such a wide variety of people that they become convenient meeting places as well as local reference points, secure admist the great of spasms of change in the city beyond. Some of these places seem to be fuelled on nostalgia alone, their outmoded menu and decor sought by people eager to recall earlier days. The best of them, however, have lasted so long because they have never failed to provide the great food and memorable ambiance that made them popular in the first place.
The New Tivoli Restaurant seemed to fall into the latter category. For three decades, the Gardanis family supplied the corner of St. Clair and Dufferin in Toronto with coffee and comfort food; in return, they were rewarded with a loyal and diverse clientele from the surrounding neighbourhood. “It ruled the eastern boundary of Corso Italia, whatever the mood, fashion or World Cup Champion. It was like the old sweater that you couldn’t part with—a bit frayed and rough-around-the-edges, but a constant source of comfort and security,” writes the designer and photographer Mondo Lulu, who lived above the restaurant.
Thanks to his uniquely intimate relationship to the restaurant—he calls its staff and owners his “second family”—Lulu was able to create a particularly engaging collection of photos that document life at the Tivoli. Last fall, when rising rents forced the restaurant to close, Lulu’s photos became a record of its existence as a focus of life on St. Clair. Many of Lulu’s photos can be seen on Flickr. Those of you in Toronto, however, might want to check out his photos in person, at the “Arrivederci Tivoli: Photos from the Centre of the Universe” exhibit. It opened this weekend and runs until June 7 at the Side Space Gallery, 1080 St. Clair West.
“After the SOS/ROW row, it looks like the hood is in healing mode,” Lulu told me last month. “I’m hoping that my show will be key in that, since the Tiv was the place where all factions laid down their arms in the name of bacon.”
“After today, Lawrence dies.”
“Whoa. What do you mean by that, Lawrence?”
“You see, people only know me as Lawrence here at the Tivoli. In the real world, people know me as Bernard, Barney or Bernie.”
“That’s quite a departure. So are you on the lam or something?”
“No, nothing as sordid as that. When I first started coming here, there was already a regular named Bernard. And Barney, you already know.
“To prevent confusion, I told everyone to call me Lawrence, as in St. Lawrence, since I’m originally from Montreal. Sheila was the first to call me that and after all these years, it stuck.”
All photos by Mondo Lulu.
Tags: Business, Cafés, Toronto