What’s on the menu at the Comrade, an old east-end favourite with brand-new owners (but the same burger)
Name: The Comrade
Contact info: 758 Queen St. E., comradetoronto.com, @comradetoronto
Owners: Jeff Bovis and Jackie Lee (Wynona)
Chef: Francis Nitoral (Wynona, Bar Raval, Piccolo Piano)
Accessibility: Accessible entrance, rather steep ramp leads to washroom on main floor
In Toronto, if your favourite neighbourhood spot is up for sale, chances are it’s destined to become a glassy condo, a tech giant’s new Canadian headquarters or a Rexall. But, when the Comrade’s owners, Nikki and Dean Fletcher, decided to sell (they wanted to double down on their other spot, Goods & Provisions), they ended up passing the torch to Wynona owners and fellow east-enders Jeff Bovis and Jackie Lee.
“We were ready to take on another project, and when a place you love that much comes for sale, well, it’s an opportunity you can’t pass up,” says Bovis.
But Lee and Bovis weren’t the only ones who wanted the space: the Fletchers had other offers on the table. “They could have sold it a few times,” says Bovis. “But they wanted to find the right bid—someone who cared about the place as much as they did. We love the Comrade. Our staff at Wynona love the Comrade—it’s where we go after work. Selfishly, we didn’t want to see it change.”
So they signed the purchase papers, moved in and made a few tiny tweaks—a new fridge here, a fresh coat of paint there. There are a few new items on the menu (seafood towers, some vegan options), a switched-up selection of wine and a handful of new staff, though many of the same folks stayed on. But, largely, the Comrade remains the same east-end icon it’s always been.
There was one unwritten rule to overhauling the menu: the burger had to stay. “People would riot if we lost it,” says Bovis. “It’s the number-one seller by a mile.”
Beyond the burger, visitors can expect brasserie-ish plates: shrimp cocktail, a crudo or two, beef tartare and an eight-ounce steak, all courtesy of chef Francis Nitoral. It’s a format familiar to regulars. “The only thing we really added was a selection of Quebec cheeses,” says Bovis.
They’ve also expanded on the vegetarian and vegan options, which now include a pan con tomate, a green goddess salad and charred beans with piquillo pepper romesco. “The interior of the bar has so much taxidermy,” laughs Bovis. “It looks like a hunter’s cabin. But we get quite a few vegans and vegetarians in, so we really wanted to get some dishes for them.”
The Comrade is first and foremost a cocktail bar, so expect a stellar selection of easy-sipping but expertly made drinks. If you miss the old ones—and the Comrade’s long-standing bartender Jessica Toombs had some real hits—just ask. “Her cocktails are always available even if they aren’t on the menu,” says Bovis.
The wine menu focuses on bottles from smaller and often natural or biodynamic producers. There’s no reigning theme here, just highly drinkable, well-made wine, like mineral-driven Pecorinos from the Marche and silky reds from high up in the Italian Dolomites.
The bar remains largely unchanged, with the same neon lighting, the same red glow and the same stuffed game. “It’s one of the best rooms in the city,” says Bovis. The playlist will also stay consistent, a mix of post-punk, new wave, psych rock and reggae. “The playlist we inherited is the best,” says Bovis, though the staff are working on putting another one together.
One new addition: reservations, but only till 8:15 p.m., so folks can stop in for a later, after-dinner drink at their leisure. (And there’s always room for walk-ins.) “We always want to have space for neighbourhood folks,” says Bovis.