China House neon sign

China House closes its dining room after 53 years

China House, the iconic midtown eatery with the signature retro interior and neon sign, is closing its dining room after over 53 years in business. When the repaired neon sign was re-lit last April, after it was reopened by new owner Jonathan Wise, he told me that he just considered himself the "custodian" of China House, its history, menu and memories. Now he's going to have to pack all that up and find a new place to put it.

In an interview earlier this week, Wise said that he'd known that the owner of the building had closed a deal to sell the property last August, and that the business had been living on borrowed time since then, despite his success with the refreshed menu, the restored restaurant and his weekly jazz nights. "We knew about it, and it was just a question of just how fast development would happen in Toronto, so you never really knew whether it's going to be six months or six years — that's just the nature of development."

Wise says he's been looking at all kinds of spaces, but with the success of his takeout and delivery business, he needs to find a place with enough room to reassemble the dining room and make room for a stage for jazz shows, with additional parking outside for takeout customers and delivery drivers. He's also managed a rare and probably unprecedented agreement with the developer who bought the site to let him keep his kitchen open for takeout and delivery, while the dining room will be transformed into a condo presentation centre after they serve their final meal in the restaurant on July 18.

China House interiors

On the morning of the 19th they'll begin packing everything up - the classic mid-century chinoiserie artwork, the bonsai tree sculpture that's presided over the main dining room for decades, and the neon sign, which will likely disappear from this stretch of Eglinton West forever, unless Wise can find something suitable to his needs in the area.

"People have invited us to a whole bunch of different places," Wise tells me. "It's a well-established business and a well-respected name, and we think that we're pretty well operated, so we could go a lot of places. But it might be more important for us to stay close to our constituents, and midtown is really where they are."

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