Barbarian Steak House is located at 7-9 Elm Street, a short east-west street that is two blocks north of Dundas Street West. Barbarian’s between Yonge and Bay streets. My memories of this venerable restaurant extend back to the 1960s, and is the only eatery that survives from the days when I first began dining out at restaurants. It has remained popular for many decades, and judging by a recent visit (August 2015) it continues to have a regular clientele.
The restaurant is housed within two semi-detached family dwellings, built between the years 1866 and 1868, before any of the grand 19th-century structures on the north side of the street were constructed. The house at #7 Elm was the home of Alexander Stretton, a flour agent. At #9 lived William K. Knight, a mason. The artist Tom Thomson, when he first arrived in the city in 1905, lived at 54 Elm Street. His rented accommodations were on the north side of Elm Street, a few doors from Bay Street. He would have passed these two small homes, where Barbarian’s is located today, whenever he walked east to journey to Yonge Street.
The structures have unornamented facades, with no decorative architectural detailing other than the simple brick patterns under the cornices. Their designs are formal, the graceful arches over the shuttered windows and the recessed doorways adding charm and grace. Though they were originally designed as homes, they were ideally suited for conversion to shops, and today, create an atmosphere that is conducive to intimate dining.
Harry Barbarian purchased the property on Elm Street in 1959 and opened his steak house. The establishment has attracted its share of celebrities throughout the years. It is said that Richard Burton’s “first” proposal of marriage to Elizabeth was given at Barbarian’s. The menu that I recall from the 1960s, remains intact today, although several new items have been added. A few years ago, the restaurant was extended into the house (#9) and private rooms added. The restaurant is reputed to have one of the finest wine cellars in the city, today containing about 40,000 bottles. Harry has retired from the business and his son, Aaron Barberian, now manages the business.
It remains my favourite steak house in the city, both for the quality of the food and the welcoming atmosphere.
Barbarian’s Steak House sign, and the north facade of the houses that contain the restaurant.
The second-storey windows and the simple decorative brickwork under the cornices.
The north facade and recessed doorway of the restaurant.
A small watercolour that is displayed near the entrance of Barbarian’s.
Many evenings I have seen this view after departing the restaurant following an excellent steak.
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For more information about the topics explored on this blog:
The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)
Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.
Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com here or to contact the publisher directly: