Judy Stoffman, Toronto Star, Toronto, ON, May 21, 1998:
Literary cafes places for writers to hide, mingle, seek inspiration
Paris has the Deux Magots, Dublin has the James Joyce Pub, Budapest has the New York Cafe, where writers were traditionally given free pens and paper. Toronto, too, has its literary cafes, like The Coffee Mill in Yorkville, which just celebrated its 35th birthday.
For younger writers who prefer to keep their distance from Yorkville, like Russell Smith, there is Bar Italia at College and Clinton.
"I've seen Dave Eddie (Chump Change) and Daniel Richler there," says Smith, whose satirical novel Noise has just been published by Porcupine's Quill.
"Michael Redhill (author of Asphodel) is often there in the morning reading his newspaper but I also see magazine editors from Toronto Life or TV people - these are editors I like to run into so I can get work.
"Eugene Barone, the owner, told me that if there is a well-known Canadian movie playing, chances are the screenplay was written in his bar."
These days, writers are also drawn to The Coloured Stone at 205 Richmond W. by native poet Duke Redbird, half-owner with partner Ron LeBlanc. His art and poetry decorate the walls.
Writer David Day likes it so much that this past weekend he had his wedding reception there.
Others who drop in regularly include Barbara Gowdy, Nino Ricci, David Suzuki and Timothy Findley, poets Leo Simpson and Lorna Crozier.
The Roof Lounge at the top of the Park Plaza Hotel at Avenue and Bloor was once intertwined with the city's literary history and found its way into the city's literature.
"The cachet the place had was given by two waiters, Harold and Ray, who remembered who you were and what you drank," recalls crime novelist Douglas Marshall, an editor at The Star.
Cartoonist Andy Donato's caricatures of writers and journalists who hung out at the Roof Lounge - including Marshall, Alan Fotheringham, Peter Gzowski, Margaret Atwood, Morley Torgov and Graeme Gibson - still adorn one wall.
To mark The Coffee Mill's 35th birthday, founder Martha Von Heczey has started a wall of signed photos of writers associated with the cafe.
Children's author Kati Rekai, a regular "has been urging me for years to do this," says Von Heczey, pointing at the 22 framed faces so far.
The Coffee Mill has been a haunt of writers including poet and columnist George Jonas, John Candy biographer Martin Knelman and screenwriter Norman Snider. In the 1970s, Leonard Cohen dropped in whenever he was in Toronto. More recently Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields and Greg Gatenby have come by for cappuccino, Viennese pastries or a bowl of goulash soup.
Richard Teleky launched Hungarian Rhapsodies here.
"I go there particularly in summer because its one of the few places you can take dogs out on the terrace," says Teleky, who's been going to The Coffee Mill since the 1970s.
"It's one of the few places that has history. There are not many cafes that have lasted; some have closed, wiping out a whole chunk of one's life. They haven't done anything post-modern or self-conscious. It's satisfying to see a lot of people you recognize even if you don't know them."
Andras, the randy young hero of Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise Of Older Women, meets a married woman there in the 1965 novel.
"Stephen wrote most of the book here," says Von Heczey.
Then-named Martha Rubanyi, Von Heczey founded the cafe in 1963 with $1,500 borrowed against her first husband's life insurance policy.
The Hungarian-born Von Heczey arrived in Canada in 1951 with a zest for life and European culture. Her original cafe was in a courtyard called the Lowthian Mews, created by architect Boris Zerafa off Bloor St.
In 1973, she moved The Coffee Mill to 99 Yorkville. She brought along her mostly European-born staff (her first cook, Marika, stayed with her for 27 years before training her replacement) and the literary clientele
By then she was divorced from her first husband and married to Laci Von Heczey, a former wrestler and fellow Hungarian emigre, who had captivated her when he arrived at the old Coffee Mill one summer afternoon wearing a flamboyant shirt and walking a cheetah on a leash.
"He was the greatest luck in my life - when he appeared with the cheetah, that was something," she recalls.
Their 20-year-long romance became part of the legend of the cafe. When Laci died in 1991, she thought of selling. But she changed her mind.
Now, she says, "The secret of my staying power is simple. l try not ot change too much. I have the same people coming in, the same staff, the same kitchen. You come in here, you feel at home."