Menalon gets a loving makeover from two Bar Volo vets, complete with an eclectic wine list, cheap snacks and the best late-night patio in town
Menalon, a hole-in-the-wall Greek diner and bar, recently went to that great restaurant equipment fire sale in the sky, just shy of marking 50 years in Bloorcourt.
For anyone who’s enjoyed a cheap 2 am brew on the back patio and come back the next day to drench their hangover in bacon grease, it’s a loss. But, perhaps, it would have felt like an even greater loss if Paradise Grapevine (841 Bloor West, at Shaw, 416-536-7178, paradisegrapevine.com), the beer and wine bar that now sits in its place, hadn’t been opened by Christian Davis and Dave Everitt, two former roommates who logged countless hours on that patio between shifts at Bar Volo.
“Once you walk down that skinny little alley, you feel like you’re off the street, out of Toronto, out of your normal life,” Everitt says. “When you’re back there, you’re totally back there. It’s an escape.”
Over the years, that turned into sitting at the bar, downing Budweisers and persuading Menalon’s owner, Chris Haralampous, to let them take the place over when he retired.
At first, Davis says, Haralampous was a bit conflicted about letting the place go. “This was his whole life for 30, 40 years. He lived upstairs, raised his kids here. But he was still doing six or seven days a week, 14-hour days, before they closed. We’d come in, and he’d just look so tired.”
Eventually the keys changed hands, and Everitt and Davis returned the rented jukebox, hauled forgotten kitchen equipment out of the basement, tore out the carpet and bade a fond farewell to the fish tank. They kept the 40s-era bar and the mural of Haralampous’s village in Greece, complete with his moustachioed face peering through a restaurant window. They also kept the name that Haralampous bestowed upon the patio space, inspired by the blanket of vines, heavy with green grapes, that spreads over the canopy.
Throughout the process, Davis says, Haralampous and his wife Athena “came to see us in this really funny paternal-maternal kind of way.” They picked up some valuable lessons from Haralampous about his spare-no-effort style of hospitality (“If someone came in in the middle of winter and wanted to go on the patio, he’d unlock it,” Everitt marvels), but also caught a little ribbing from their new landlords.
“I don’t think they’ll ever forgive us for taking the kitchen out,” Davis says.
Says Everitt: “I think they cannot comprehend that we are not making wings.”
“And,” Davis adds, “that we offer local beers instead of Budweiser.”
Post-Volo, Everitt went to Burdock (where he remains the head brewer) and Davis headed to Wvrst, providing a solid foundation for what became the beer program at Paradise Grapevine. Everitt says their focus is on “really well-made, but crushable and approachable” beers, with a few more challenging options like sours.
But the rack of wine bottles proudly displayed by the bar is obvious proof that the wine offerings are far from an afterthought.
“I think because we came from the beer world, we wanted to open with a pretty sizable wine list, so people would take it more seriously in that regard,” Davis explains, adding their tastes run toward “low-intervention-y” wines from smaller producers.
“That’s probably just because they have a lot more identity,” Everitt says. “We like things that intrigue us. We’ve got natural wines, non-natural wines, clean stuff, funky stuff. I think what’s really important to us is quality, wherever it comes from, big or small, natural or no. As long as it’s a well-made drink, we’re into it.” Specials like sparkling by-the-glass on Saturdays or month-long focuses on different styles and areas (for the month of August, it’s rosé) are designed to help guests explore and learn about new wines.
Everitt and Davis even experiment with blending beers and wines sometimes, you might see the results on the menu. “We find it fascinating, learning more about the drinks: What do you get out of beer that you love? What do you get out of wine that you love?” Everitt says.
A recent example is a mix of a Belgian gueuze and a white from Catalonia paired together for their complementary “rubbery, diesel-y” characteristics. The goal, Davis says, is to find something that “drinks better than the sum of its parts.”
And while they, lamentably, no longer have wings, there are some simple bar snacks — mixed olives, freshly baked Burdock bread, truffle chips — available at price points (most plates are around $4) that even the old Menalon crowd would have appreciated.
Davis and Everitt had the good sense not to touch the back patio, which still stays open until 2 am — a grandfathered allowance unheard of in today’s bar scene. Under Davis and Everitt’s ownership, the place looks poised to remain a beloved Bloorcourt hangout.
“In eleven days, we’ve had some people come three to four times,” Everitt says, “I think most places that open want to be a ‘neighbourhood place’ — but we really do.”
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