Carman’s Dining Club steak house finally put out of its misery
Arthur Carman’s storied and troubled steak house on Alexander Street went into hibernation this summer, never to wake up. This makes the restaurant—credited with introducing Toronto to garlic bread—the latest Village establishment to disappear in recent months (the list also includes Crews and Tango, Bigliardi’s, Il Fornello and Zelda’s).
When we called the restaurant this week, we were greeted with this voice mail message:
This year, Carman celebrated his 50th anniversary in the one and same location. He has decided he will not be reopening after 50 years and thought it was time to say goodbye and to say thank you this fantastically beautiful country of Canada. What he accomplished here he could not have accomplished in the country of his birth at that time. Thank you to the countless number of people who made this possible. Peace begins at home, Carman.
It is a truly sad day those loyal to the landmark restaurant. Toronto Life food writer James Chatto documents eating at the 19th-century mansion in his 2000 memoir The Man Who Ate Toronto, which includes a brief bio of Carman (born Athanasios Karamanos), who immigrated from Greece in the ’50s. Although Chatto describes the restaurant as one of the best in Toronto, recent on-line reviews suggest that the sizzle had gone from the steak house: “Sad to see this formerly packed spot deteriorate so dramatically,” wrote a Chowhounder in 2008. “Once the notoriously garlicky purveyor of hospitality, now it is insipid, unsophisticated and expensive.”
The celebrity clientele once featured on the restaurant’s menu and Web site (no longer functional) included Al Green, Nat King Cole, Lorne Greene and Sammy Davis Jr., a sign that this was a boys’ club hangout for the real Don Drapers, not his modern-day fans. (Sara Waxman once wrote about being the only woman in the place.) The decor, as most people described it, was dark, medieval and, as another amateur reviewer writes, “something out of a vampire movie.”
In the end, 50 years is many lifetimes in the restaurant industry—especially in Toronto. We hope that Carman’s will be remembered as the joyful, high-end steak house with the perpetual aroma of garlic, rather than the relic that was left behind during its neighbourhood’s gentrification.