Saturday, February 26, 2005

Two Montreal Classics in Two Days, Pt. 2: Wilensky's

Wilensky's Light Lunch
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

Gone are the days featured in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the book and the film, and there are few examples that make this as crystal-clear as Wilensky’s (34 Fairmount W.). In the film version made by Ted Kotcheff, one of the early scenes takes place in the Wilensky’s of the early 1970s standing in for the Wilensky’s of a generation earlier. The space is done up in the syle of the cigar store and light lunch counter it was some 50 years ago now. Tables occupy the shop floor, and taxi drivers (like Kravitz’s father) and others (all men) use the place as a hang-out that’s a throwback to the Old World, not unlike the way places like Café Portugalia still operate today. Wilensky’s is represented as being a lively, smoky center for the local Mile End Jewish population, a crossroads for the community. The atmosphere is boisterous and kinetic, even if the regulars come across as being rooted to their seats. Wilensky’s Light Lunch is still in operation, still serving its legendary Wilensky Specials—a hot sandwich consisting of several slices of Bologna-style beef salami squeezed between a crusty, toasted bun that’s not unlike an English muffin, and some mustard—but the tables that appear in the movie haven’t been around for ages, and much of the community that supported a place like Wilensky’s for decades (the operation has been around since the Great Depression) hasn’t existed in the neighborhood for years now. Wilensky’s still has its die-hard regulars, but the restaurant definitely isn’t the teeming crossroads that it used to be, and, not surprisingly, the Wilensky Special’s price has shot up to $3.00 after having hovered around $1.50-$2.00 for a dog’s age. With traffic somewhat lighter these days, the staff of four that sits behind Wilensky's counter is still more than ready to take your order. In fact, the other day, when I took Michelle for her very first Special, we were served our lunches—two Specials, a half-sour, and a hand-pulled cherry cola—before the seat of my pants had even hit my stool. If anyone even flinches towards the door outside, the Specials are ready and waiting for them. My friend Ira refers to this aspect of Wilensky’s as an obsession with “risk management.” The staff at Wilensky’s is also—how shall I put it?—attentive, when it comes to clearing up. I still laugh when I think about how Ira used to bring his heavy critical theory tomes to Wilensky’s, order a Special with cheese and a soda, and then actually try to settle in to read for an hour or two. Wilensky’s still has an entire library of pulp fiction stacked on its walls, harking back to the days when people actually used to linger there, but these days, cracking open Foucault’s The Order of Things and making yourself comfortable is a sure-fire way to get run out of there on a rail. Oh, well… Our Light Lunch the other day was still classic—the bun was just as unique as it ever was, the bologna and salami were delicious, the half-sour tasted homemade, and the fresh cola was still a treat—even if we were in and out of there in under seven minutes. We hardly knew what hit us, but it sure tasted great.


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