When my Mom and Dad were a young couple living on Avenue Road in Toronto their local watering hole was the rooftop bar at the Park Plaza Hotel, one of Toronto’s most elegant drinking spots. Mom and her best friend, who lived in the same building, would hop on the Avenue Road streetcar and ride down to Bloor, take the elevator that went straight to the roof and meet their husbands, then a couple of law students at Osgoode Hall.

My Mom can’t remember what they ordered — “Were we drinking gin Martinis at that point?” — but she remembers the two bartenders who greeted them warmly, knew what they drank, and made them feel the bar was “our family place.”

She doesn’t remember the spectacular view all the way south to Lake Ontario, either. “Our view was concentrated on what was on the table.”

Twenty years later, when I was a student at University of Toronto, my scruffy friends and I would take the same elevator up to the rooftop bar and order slim sleeves of frosty beer.

We basked in the reflected glow of the writers and radio personalities who frequented the place — Margaret Atwood, Peter Gzowski, Morley Callaghan — and had fierce student-y arguments about Chaucer, Boccaccio and George Bernard Shaw.

We looked at the city spread out below us, buzzed on beer and talk, and felt that the world was our oyster.

Fifteen years later again, after Dad had died and Mom had created a new career as a volunteer at the Royal Ontario Museum, Mom and I met for a nostalgic glass of wine at the rooftop bar. She took one look at the bartender and said, “That is the same man who served us all those years ago.”

On the eve of my departure for the Yukon in 1994, my friends and I got together at the Park Plaza for a farewell drink. I watched their animated faces in the glow of the setting sun and looked out at the city I loved, but needed to leave for a while, and wondered where I might be in a year.

Twenty-one years later, The Park Plaza is owned by the Hyatt chain. Its name has changed to The Park Hyatt Toronto, and the bar, now called The Roof Lounge, is darker, ritzier, and louder.

It’s hard to get in — you have to arrive right at 5 if you want a seat. The waiters are young and quick, but they’re friendly. The cocktails are decent, and the snacks are excellent — olives, roasted almonds and good old nuts and bolts.  

I took one of my best Yukon friends there a couple of years ago, forging a link between my old and new lives. And last week I met up with one of my oldest and dearest Toronto friends. We sat on the north side of the bar looking south. You can’t see the lake anymore — the middle distance is packed with buildings — but the evening light-scape is spectacular.

My friend and I talked about the things you talk about on the cusp of turning 60, we drank a decent cocktail, we ate the excellent snacks and we felt, without needing to mention, the living presence of our previous selves.


Excellent Snack: The Moore Family’s Nuts and Bolts

With thanks to once and future Yukoner Janet Moore, in hopes of someday sharing a cocktail at the rooftop bar.

8 cups (2 L) Cheerios

8 cups (2 L) Crispix or Shreddies (unsweetened)

1 box Bugles (original)

4 cups (1 L) mini pretzels

1 lb. (454 g) peanuts

½ lb. (225 g) butter

½ cup (125 mL) smooth peanut butter

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) garlic powder

2 tsp. (10 mL) onion powder

¼ tsp. (1.2 mL) hot smoked paprika

½ tsp. (2.5 mL) salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 300ºF (150ºC). In a large roasting pan mix together the Cheerios, Crispix or Shreddies, pretzels, Bugles and peanuts.
  • Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in remaining ingredients and cook, stirring often, until peanut butter is softened and mixture is smooth and pourable.  
  • Pour over dry ingredients and until dry ingredients are evenly coated.
  • Place the roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 200ºF (95ºC). Bake, stirring every 15 minutes for about 90 minutes, or until nuts and bolts are dried out and toasty.
  • Let cool completely and then store in several airtight containers.

Makes about 24 cups (6 L).