Saturday, June 29, 2013

Elegy for Cosmo

Interior Design, Cosmo's-style  fig. a:  Tony & co. 1

There's a void in Montreal at the moment, and it has nothing to do with the city's mayoral woes.  We lost a great one last weekend, and in the most tragic of ways.  Tony Koulakis, the legendary founder of Cosmo Snack Bar, Montreal's most legendary greasy spoon, was stabbed to death last week at the age of 86 years old.

inside Cosmo's fig. b:  Tony & co. 2

Already, that was enough of a shock.  Then came the news that the suspect was Koulakis' 40-year-old son, Johnny, who lived downstairs from Tony.  The circumstances remain unclear, but the word is that the suspect had a history of disturbed behaviour.

We've been enormous fans of Cosmo around here for years.  I had my first taste of Cosmo over 25 years ago, and it forever redefined my understanding of Montreal.  It was like happening upon the Northwest Passage and discovering a New World--in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, of all places.  The breakfasts, the banter, the style of the place, the scene.

There was never any place like it, even after Tony retired around 2002.  Tony's two Nikis--his son Niko and his daughter Niki--kept the Cosmo tradition running strong.  After that, Tony was only around infrequently, but the breakfasts and the repartee remained just as memorable as ever, and the place had character to burn.  We were lucky enough to see Tony there on a couple of occasions, and he hadn't lost any of the old charm.

The last time we tried to go to Cosmo was just a few weeks ago, but it was a Monday, and we'd forgotten that it was their traditional day of rest.  We haven't had the courage to pass by since the news broke, but we understand that Niko was manning the griddle again last weekend--after the tragedy--out of some kind of compulsion to work.  The storefront has reportedly been closed for the last few days, though, and it's unclear when, or even if, Cosmo will reopen.  It's hard to imagine how it could.

We'll miss Tony greatly, here at " endless banquet"--there really was an aura that surrounded him, and it wasn't just the patina of all those supremely greasy greasy-spoon breakfasts.  I mean the man was a true Montreal original, a man who arrived here from his native Crete in 1954, and who helped change the city's food culture when he founded Cosmo in the epochal year of 1967.  If he'd only invented the Mish Mash--a famously gargantuan 4-egg omelette that came stuffed with four different types of meat, plus tomatoes, onions, and cheese (widely imitated, never equalled)--his place in the culinary firmament would have been secure.  But he also concocted The Creation--our personal favourite--a breakfast sandwich whose combination of egg, salami, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheese was a true work of art, especially if you chose the right bread for it.  It was--it is--a sandwich so great, it once inspired me to come up with a commemorative t-shirt idea:  an image of The Creation, in all its glory, proudly emblazoned on the front, along with the caption "I'm a Creationist."  I never got around to making that shirt, but I promise I will.

We send love and strength to the entire Koulakis family.

We feel quite certain that Tony is proudly manning the grill in heaven somewhere, turning all his fellow angels onto the unholy pleasures of his own brand of Cosmo-logy (quite possibly to the tune of, "I am the god from the potatoes!"), and simultaneously enjoying a cherished cigarette.

For more testimonials, check out this one in yesterday's Globe & Mail, or this one by Ezra Soiferman, who made a very touching (and highly recommended) documentary about Tony in 2000 called Man of Grease.



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