I couldn’t tell you the first time I went to George’s Spaghetti House, but I must have been pretty young. My dad, who was an ardent foodie before the term ‘foodie’ existed, loved to eat there, and we visited the place quite a few times during my childhood and teen years. George’s was where I first tried zabaglione. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
I’m writing about George’s because I was downtown last weekend to see a concert at Massey Hall. Leaving the parking garage under Nathan Phillips Square and heading over to Yonge Street to have dinner, I began to reminisce, as I often do when I’m downtown, about the different places I used to go in Toronto when I lived there. George’s came to mind.
George’s was one of those places that somehow managed to hit that sweet spot between ambiance and comfort — between dressed up and an easy night out. And I think part of the reason the vibe there was always so good was because George’s didn’t try too hard to fix it. George’s just… was. And no matter what mood you were in, it always felt right. It was funky, but it was cozy. It felt darkish and urban, but served good ole pizza. By all appearances it was just another restaurant, but it played super-cool jazz — at a time when cool jazz in Toronto was probably about as scarce as a drink on Sunday.
I remember going there for my 15th birthday. My boyfriend Greg White had asked me where I wanted to go for dinner, and George’s was it. I felt so grown up in my new Fairweather suit (with peplum jacket and padded shoulders), sipping white wine, and listening to — as luck would have it — Moe Koffman.
Yes, I came for pizza and zabaglione, and unexpectedly got some Moe Koffman on the side.
Because along with being a legend in Canadian jazz, Moe was, for many years, the booking agent at George’s. Understandably, he often booked his own band, to the point where people calling the restaurant would joke, “I’d like to know who’s playing tonight, and I won’t take Moe for an answer.”
Even at 15, I knew Moe was a big deal. So to show up at George’s for my birthday dinner and be treated to some Swingin’ Shepherd Blues was too perfect.
As an aside, another less perfect scenario always plays itself out in my head when I think of George’s. I was about the same age, and my dad decided he’d like have dinner at George’s. We — me, my dad, mom, and two brothers — piled into the Buick Regal. It was a good 45-minute drive from our home near Jane and Bloor down to Sherbourne and Dundas. And with my short-fused father at the wheel contemplating a plateful of pasta, it was not the kind of journey to be three quarters finished and then interrupt with, “I think I left the curling iron on.”
If shit could have hit a fan…
We turned around, and drove home. Dad swore and banged the steering wheel, while I tried, tried, tried to visually recall unplugging the f&*#@! curling iron.
And when we finally pulled into the driveway and I practically fell up the stairs on the way to the bathroom, there it sat on the side of the sink… unplugged.
So. We got in the car again, and went back. Thankfully dinner made up for the drive.
The man who bought George’s in 1956, Doug Cole, didn’t have enough money to change the restaurant’s sign. It would be a few years before business took off (this was jazz in post-war Toronto, after all). But when it did, Cole left the sign as is, and it remained George’s Spaghetti House until Cole sold it in 1983.
Hey, if it ain’t broke…