Amlani, left, and his beloved La Palette in Kensington. (Photo: Yvonne Bambrick, left, Steven Davey, right)
La Palette is dead! Long live La Palette!
One of Toronto's best-loved French bistro's is about to call it quits. Shamez Amlani has decided to close La Palette (256 Augusta, at College, 416-929-4900, lapalette.ca) in Kensington Market to focus on his second Queen West location (492 Queen W, at Portland, 416-603-4900).
NOW spoke to the charismatic restaurateur on the brink of the year's last Pedestrian Sunday (pskensington.ca), the car-free event the community activist helped instigate, to get the inside dope.
Why close La Palette on Augusta? It seems to be more popular than ever.
"Our lease is running out and we couldn't see eye-to-eye with the landlord," says the lanky Amlani. "We opened on November 16th, 2000, so it's been exactly 10 years. November 21st will be our last day. We've had a couple of weeks to grab our things, clean up the place, walk out the door and give back the keys."
"The restaurant's old, it's small and it needs a lot of work. When we first moved in, the rent was really cheap. That gave us the opportunity to put some love into the building and fix things up a little bit. But now that the rent is through the roof, we don't have the cash to do the repairs necessary. I would have been happy to stay but the landlord decided to play hardball."
La Palette was a pioneer in the north Market.
"There was nothing going on," the avid cyclist recalls. "There was us, a laundromat and a crack den."
"Part of what was exciting back then was that there was this amazing neighbourhood right in the downtown core and nobody knew about it," he continues. "Kensington Market was the perfect opportunity to do something wicked and urban in a beautiful and culturally significant neighbourhood."
Why the move to Queen and Portland?
"I guess its history repeating itself," says Amlani. "The street's in trouble. It's all burgers and wieners and Kentucky fried chicken. I cast my eyes a couple of blocks east to the old Le Select where I got my first restaurant job 21 years ago. It was there for three decades until this massive gentrification swept through. The landlord tripled the rent and forced them out. The building just sits there empty. It's sad."
"But the strip between Spadina and Bathurst is still goofy and awkward and pretty much like it's always been. OK, there's a Loblaws going in and there's condo's stacked up all along Richmond. But Duke's Cycle is coming back and will be open next year in time for its 100th anniversary."
What's going to happen to the car slash eco-garden parked out front of the old La Palette?
"It's such an iconic symbol of Kensington Market. It'd be nice we could find it a home where it can still get its picture taken and make lots of people smile, to continue to be the rebellious little creature that it is. We need to take back that public space for art and humour, life and fun. The Market doesn't need a parking spot for another damned car."