The old neighbourhood

The old neighbourhood

Posted on December 27 by A.G. Pasquella in Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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“The Old Neighbourhood” – we’ve all got one, don’t we? Someplace that we remember fondly, even though we might be looking at it through rose-coloured nostalgia glasses. I only lived at Queen and Spadina for five years, but man, those five years were intense. This is the neighbourhood where Jack Palace, fictional protagonist of my new crime thriller Yard Dog, hangs his head.

Actually, Jack’s office is up the street a bit, on Spadina just past Dundas. This is Toronto’s “Chinatown A.” (“Chinatown B” is on the East Side, over the Don River, at Gerrard and Broadview.) Back in my drinking days, my friends and I ended many a booze-fuelled night gobbling up tasty late-night Chinatown eats. We’d hit Swatow, New Ho King and Excellent Peking House (which we called ‘Excellent,’ even though it wasn’t really, and is now closed). There were other restaurants not to be named that served Chinatown’s infamous “cold tea,” cheap domestic beer poured and served in a teapot long after last call (2 a.m.).

I no longer drink, but Jack Palace still does. The bar he frequents in Yard Dog is a composite of several neighbourhood bars but was influenced strongly by Grossman’s Tavern, which opened in 1943 and probably hasn’t changed much since. The place is soaked in booze and the blues.

Jack’s neighbourhood has changed a lot over the years. ‘You can’t step in the same river twice,’ and all that. Time moves on. Trinty Bellwoods Park, which used to be much rougher around the edges (homeless camps, drugs, prostitutes) is now a hipster hangout with an awesome bookstore (Type Books) right across the street. The moth-eaten gorilla that used to stand sentinel on Queen West just below Active Surplus is gone – as is Active Surplus itself. A lot of the after-hours clubs are gone. Suspect Video burned down. Restaurants and clubs have closed but new restaurants and clubs have opened. Summertime patio season is still hoppin’.

The Old Neighbourhood isn’t as gritty as it used to be, but if I’ve done my job right, then some of that grit lives on in the pages of Yard Dog. (One scene in particular just leapt into my head, involving angry sea gulls and an alley full of fried chicken – ripped from reality, y’all!) I had a blast when I lived at Queen and Spadina. It wasn’t all peaches and cream, because that’s life, right? You get the rose and you get the briar. But I met a lot of really great people – and some folks who were maybe not so great, but were at least extremely interesting. We had a lot of laughs and it was tons of fun to relive some of those moments while writing Yard Dog. So cheers, Jack! I can’t wait to see what you get up to next on the mean streets of Toronto.

A.G. Pasquella

Posted by Kendra on February 13, 2018
A.G. Pasquella photo

A.G. Pasquella

A.G. Pasquella’s work has appeared in various spots, including McSweeney’s, Black Book, Joyland, Utne Reader, and Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. When he’s not writing, A.G. makes music with the bands Miracle Beard and LaserGnu. He lives in Toronto.