Al Frisco’s on Once-Lively John Street Changed The Decor, the Menu and The Attitude. Then It Disappeared
Sometimes, bars don’t know when they have a good thing going.
Like Facebook, they are always tinkering. Making changes, though not necessarily improving. Adding things that people don’t like while taking away things they do like.
Sometimes, it’s smart just to leave well enough alone.
Which brings me to Al Frisco’s my favorite bar in Toronto.
Or at least it was my favorite bar in Toronto.
It was the prefect combination of pub and club, had the best patio in the city, some of the best food, the friendliest and best staff, and combined it with a happening bar upstairs. It was classy but also casual, had no picky doorman, no lines around the block and no cover charge.
I went there every day during my days during “the Indy,” often for lunch (it had a spectacular dish called Chicken Milano) and certainly for beers at night. It was prefect. And it was always packed. The patio, in fact, was Toronto’s social hub; just about everyone in the city was walking by it, on it, or waiting to get a table.
Then, the place apparently got tired of making money. It did a makeover, changed the menu (removing the Chicken Milano!) and tried to the upstairs bar into a South Beach or Vegas lounge. Its attitude changed along with the decor, turning from friendly pub to high-brow club.
The result? The patrons started disguising themselves as empty barstools.
In my last trip to Toronto, I was so eager to get back to Al Frisco’s, I could hardly stand it. My friend who lives in that great city resisted, but eventually succumbed. We went there, but the place isn’t even called Al Frisco’s anymore; it’s Jack Astor’s and is a poor third to other more happening JA’s in town (Dundas Square has the top spot now). I was disappointed to the highest degree.
It was one of the biggest bar bummers I had ever encountered.
The all-time colossal bar screw-up is in San Diego. The Barefoot Bar was a great spot, right on the water and the undisputed “playa del rey” in the city on Sundays. People could come up in paddleboats across Mission Bay and hop onto the deck. Their destination was inside, a room that resembled an igloo that had sand on the floor. There was a shelf at the door where people put their sandals and they danced barefoot all afternoon and into the evening.
It was crazy, it was fun and it was profitable for the bar.
Then one day, a new owner took over, decided he wanted to make it “more for families” and, well, at last report there were three people sitting at the bar wondering why they were there rather than someplace else.
So here’s a message to bar owners and managers: If you’ve got something good going, don’t get greedy or shake things up just for the sake of change. It could cost you your business.