annex vintage

10 signs you grew up in the Annex

The Annex, like so many Toronto neighbourhoods, is a very different place than it was a couple decades ago. Beyond the updated mural at Lee's Palace, the rise of corporate chains, and the recent loss of Sonic Boom, the place has undergone subtle shifts over the years -- some for the better and some for the worse. It's hard not to miss some of the old places even as it's imprudent to groan about the putative loss of authenticity tied to a more bohemian past.

Growing up, I never actually had an Annex address, but I spent every weekend there once I hit 16 and became friends with a group of neighbourhood kids. As much as North Toronto was where I spent my youth, it was the Annex that captured my heart when I was old enough to choose where I spent my time.

Here are 10 signs you grew up in the Annex.

1. You remember drinking at the Blue Cellar Room, the Hungarian restaurant once located around where BMV sits today. The place looked like it was out of a Kubrck film it was so eerie , but the beer and food was cheap and, best of all, you never got carded.

2. There was a time when there were more Hungarian restaurants and bakeries than sushi joints. The strip of Bloor West in the Annex used to be referred to as the Goulash Archipelago on account of the bevy of Hungarian restaurants and delis found there. Country Style is the last one standing.

3. Dooney's (RIP) lives on in your memory not just as a place where you loitered over a single coffee for unreasonable amounts of time, but as ground zero for the old neighbourhood's fight against corporatization when Starbucks planned to move into the space. Needless to say, that spirit wasn't so resilient in the long run.

4. You used to do naughty things at the Bloor Cinema. Before it was renovated and reborn as the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the old rep house was a great place for angsty teens to catch a flick. We used to head to the balcony where we'd drink and smoke while watching such gems as Strange Days (awful, awful movie). The sound sucked up there, but no one ever bothered us.

5. The Green Room wasn't just a place to chug cheap beer. Back in the day, there was a sprawling pool hall on the second floor (the entrance was where the upstairs washrooms are today). The space was eventually converted to apartments.

6. Before there was Aroma, JJ Mugs graced the northwest corner of Bloor and Albany. Even if the food left a whole to be desired, a nostalgia persists for the burger, which back in the days before the whole gourmet trend, seemed just right.

7. You can't keep up with how many restaurants have occupied the southwest corner of Bloor and Markham (585 Bloor St. W) over the last couple decades. In recent years it's been Sichaun Secret Restobar, Ka Chi Korean Restaurant, Rocco's Plum Tomato, and more iterations that I can't remember. When I was young, it was a cheap diner (bacon and eggs was $3) where you would commonly see Ed Mirvish grabbing a bite on Saturday mornings.

8. You don't miss the old Blockbuster store that used to occupy the south side of Bloor just east of Borden. Did anyone ever manage to rent a new release at this place? All I remember is wandering the aisles in vain. Often I just gave up and watched Late Great Movies on Citytv.

9. A vague memory persists in your brain of the bizarre robbery that went down at the doughnut shop at Bloor and Walmer before it became Cluck, Grunt and Low (now Puck N Wings). It's become something of an urban legend, but someone did actually hold a goose hostage before a customer forked over some cash and the bird was released.

10. You probably didn't care much at the time, but you now miss David Mirvish Books and the cultural hub that was Markham St. Staff at the store were always suspicious of kids, but it was an increasingly fascinating place as Annex kids grew up and went off to universities and art schools.

Some honourable mentions

  • You listened to jazz at the short-lived bar 525 West
  • You ate from the same menu at Serra Ristorante 15 years ago
  • You recall smoking hundreds of cigarettes at the Annex Billiards
  • You remember the "Sorry, we sell chicken" sign at By the Way Cafe
  • You got drunk at the James Joyce pub and felt gross about it later
  • Ditto for the Tap and Las Iguanas

What did I miss (there's a lot!)? Share you Annex memories in comments.

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