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At Bay: Arcadian Court



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Arcadian Court in its heyday, in the late 1940s. The facility will undergo three months of renovations before reopening next spring as a venue for special events such as weddings, banquets and fashion shows.

Oakland Ross Feature Writer

What is 82 years old, seats 1,200 for lunch and will be around in its present form for just a few short weeks?

Hint: it occupies the eighth floor of the Simpson Tower at the southeast corner of Queen and Bay and was once the largest department-store restaurant in the world, not to mention among the grandest of Toronto's downtown dining spots.

No one who ever celebrated a childhood birthday there can be in any doubt that the facility in question is the still sumptuous Arcadian Court.

For more than 80 years, ever since the dark days of the Great Depression, the huge art deco space, with its vaulted ceiling, gaping skylights and crystal chandeliers, has been the place where le tout Toronto "did" lunch.

It still is — at least for now.

"We're still in operation right now," says Cliff Snell, head of business development for the Oliver & Bonacini gastronomic empire, which now operates the Arcadian Court and several nearby restaurants under a management agreement with the Hudson's Bay Co. "There's so much history, and there are so many people with attachments to the Arcadian Court."

Closed for lunch since May, the court temporarily reopened in November with a "seasonal" luncheon buffet. After that, the restaurant will offer a Christmas lunchtime buffet until the year's end, but that will be the final chapter in the Arcadian Court's long run as a conventional restaurant.

Beginning in January, the facility will undergo three months of renovations before reopening next spring as a venue for special events such as weddings, banquets and fashion shows.

This might sound like a dramatic metamorphosis, but it isn't, really.

A Toronto institution since its opening on March 11, 1929, the Arcadian Court has always been a banquet hall, one that just happened to double as a restaurant at lunch-time.

For decades, the facility competed for the same up-scale midday market as the Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel or the seventh-floor restaurant at Eaton's College St., a space now known as The Carlu. But lunch was never the Arcadian Court's only forte.

Over the years, the facility has provided a venue for special events that included Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts performed for radio broadcast. In 1967, the room played host to the first Sotheby's art auction ever conducted outside the U.K., with Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra in attendance.

Although extensively remodelled on several occasions over the years — most recently in 1989 —the Arcadian Court has never lost its ability to dazzle.

"It took my breath away when I first saw it," says Snell, a transplanted Vancouverite.

He promises that the upcoming renovation will pay homage to the Arcadian Court's proud past rather than impose an arbitrary future.

True, the grand Swarovski chandeliers will come down, says Snell, but they will be replaced by dangling lights more reminiscent of the René Lalique crystals that illuminated the court when it first opened.

"We want to return it, as much as possible, to the spirit of the original design," he says. "We hope to take it to a place it hasn't been for a long time."

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