The Embassy Restaurant (1953)


Downtown, Midcentury, Ottawa, Restaurant / Tuesday, June 28th, 2016
The Embassy Restaurant at night. February 1961. Image: Ted Grant / LAC Series 61-1203, Image No. 7.
The Embassy Restaurant at night. February 1961. Image: Ted Grant / LAC Series 61-1203, Image No. 7.

Given the reputation that Ottawa’s downtown has today, it may come as a surprise that it was at one point something of a hot spot in the city. Through the 1950s, 60s, and into the mid-1970s, a number of hotels, restaurants, and taverns kept Ottawans up and lively well into the wee hours of the night. In such venues as the Belle Claire Hotel, you could rub elbows with cabinet ministers, business personalities, and members of the high-flying Ottawa Rough Riders. The Embassy Restaurant and Tavern, though perhaps less well-known, was a popular spot in its own right, and was located right around the corner, at Bank and Sparks.

Before it was the Embassy. Source: Public Works / LAC Accession 1979-140 NPC Box RV1-036 Series CP-678.
Before it was the Embassy. The Embassy was located in the College of Commerce / Robinson Clothes, at the bottom corner. Source: Public Works / LAC Accession 1979-140 NPC Box RV1-036 Series CP-678.

Ottawa was introduced to The Embassy Restaurant and Tavern in October of 1953.1Ottawa Journal, October 6, 1953, p. 10. The 2/3 page ad run in the Citizen and Journal highlighted that it was a great restaurant for all occasions, from family dinners, to work functions, to parties. “WE are out to prove that life IS a party, at The Embassy,” the ad suggests.2Ibid.

Advertisement for The Embassy Restaurant run following its soft launch. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 6, 1953, p. 10.
Advertisement for The Embassy Restaurant run following its soft (re)launch. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 6, 1953, p. 10.

The Embassy Restaurant and Tavern was operated by Spero Andrews (Andreapolous), son of Demitre, a restauranteur of some experience (more on that later). At first, The Embassy lead something of a quiet, albeit successful existence. Advertisements were kept to a minimum, but so were reports of any incident. Andrews and his Sparks Street Operators Ltd. were found liable for a trip and fall accident that took place inside the restaurant while it was under renovation in 1954, though that was about the only real event of note in those early years.3”Girl Tripped Gets $2,065,” Ottawa Journal, June 25, 1954, p. 2. Ottawa’s restaurant market had become somewhat competitive in the 1950s, so getting the business fundamentals down was quite important.

The Embassy ran the usual specials. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 10, 1953, p. 13.
The Embassy ran the usual specials. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 10, 1953, p. 13.

As the head of the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Restaurant Association, Andrews was a consistent and relentless promoter of the trade. As disposable incomes increased with postwar prosperity, to opportunity to attract a larger slice did too. To that end, in 1953, the Ottawa Branch launched Restaurant Month, to be held each October.4Ottawa Journal, October 10, 1953, p. 4; Ottawa Journal, October 17, 1953, p. 12. The event was eventually made national.

It's no accident that Andrews' Embassy Restaurant is near the top of the list. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 6, 1956, p. 24.
“Enjoy life: eat out more often.” It’s no accident that Andrews’ Embassy Restaurant is near the top of the list. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 6, 1956, p. 24.

In 1958, Andrews had a brainwave: to use the walls of his restaurant to display contemporary Canadian art. Sidney Ledson,5Sidney Ledson had a varied and interesting career. The Toronto native who found himself in Ottawa after a stint in the RCAF, had built through the War a career in painting. He relocated to Ottawa following the war and built a career in the field. By the 1970s, he had switched gears, and developed a system for teaching children to read quickly. He later built upon this and founded his own school. See Barbara Dickson. Bomb Girls: Trading Aprons for Ammo (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2015); “Toronto Artist in RCAF Has Painting Hung in U.K. Show,” Toronto Star, December 17, 1953, p. 1; Ottawa Journal, March 1, 1956, p. 28; “Artist to Do Charcoal of Presley,” Ottawa Journal, March 26, 1957, p. 22; Ottawa Journal, May 6, 1961, p. 36; “Artists on Mall?” Ottawa Journal, May 31, 1962, p. 21; “Learning French With, Games,” Ottawa Journal, July 11, 1970, p. 9; W.Q. Ketchum. “Art News and Views,” Ottawa Journal, August 22, 1970, p. 47; “The Name of the Game is Learning,” Ottawa Journal, February 24, 1973, p. 29; “Learning to read in 60 days,” Ottawa Journal, January 31, 196, p. 22; Ian Haysom. “Poor teaching blamed for growing failures,” Ottawa Journal, April 28, 1976, p. 3; Joyce Warren. “Make reading fun: Experts encourage early teaching for young children,” Ottawa Journal, October 20, 1978, p. 34; “‘Anything a child is taught by 4 is gold’,” Toronto Star, March 14, 1982, p. C1. who was by then based in Ottawa, was the first artist to be shown. Ledson was best known for his portraiture and his Embassy showing included portraits of Yousuf Karsh, Nicholas Montserrat, I. Normal Smith, Sharon Low, and Lorne Greene. Reception of the exhibit was positive and, perhaps as a nod to the restaurant’s name, Andrews planned a regular series featuring international artists.6”Art Exhibit In Restaurant Is Success,” Ottawa Journal, March 26, 1958, p. 2. The Embassy would go on to show numerous artists over the years.7”Art Exhibit At Embassy On High Level,” Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1958, p. 32; Ottawa Journal, February 26, 1959, p. 32; “Hospital Art Teacher Shows Oils Exhibition,” Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1960, p. 3.

The Embassy's exhibition of international artists continued. Pictured above is the Czechoslovakian exhibit. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 26, 1959, p. 32.
The Embassy’s exhibition of international artists continued. Pictured above is the Czechoslovakian exhibit. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 26, 1959, p. 32.

The Embassy Restaurant was also at the forefront of a burgeoning – if failed – revolution: Andrews signed his venture8Ottawa Citizen, August 29, 1959, p. 5. on with A.H. Ritchie’s new Master Credit Service (MCS), an early version of the general credit card services that would eventually become a common feature of all retailing.9Although the Diners’ Club Card (1950) is recognized as the first general credit card, the BankAmericard (1958) is recognized as the first successful credit card in the modern sense. Credited as the first of such services in Canada,10”Ottawa Getting Master Credit Plan in May,” Ottawa Journal, April 13, 1959, pp. 1, 5. Ritchie’s MCS did not last a long time, the last advertisement claiming to accept the card being run in 1961.11Ottawa Journal, February 2, 1961, p. 5.

In 1960, Andrews began to really ramp up his engagement with the Ottawa community. He served on the Eastern Ontario Development Association’s Zone 5 (Ottawa) board in reshaping the city’s tourism publicity,12As the representative from the Ottawa Restaurant Owners’ Association. See “EODA: ‘Punchy’ Publicity Is Urged,” Ottawa Citizen, March 23, 1960, p. 7. he spearheaded an initiative that saw 200,000 Tulip Festival placemats printed and distributed for the Ottawa Branch of the Canadian Restaurant Association,13”Advertise Tulip Festival,” Ottawa Journal, May 11, 1960, p. 3. fought to lift the “no left turn” rule at Wellington and Bank to bring traffic back to the area,14”Store Owners Win: Urge Lifting Ban On No Left Hand Turns,” Ottawa Journal, August 12, 1960, pp. 1,3. and turned the Ottawa Branch of the CRA’s annual dinner into a well-known and popular ball.15Joyce Fairbairn. “Ballroom Gourmet’s Paradise for Night,” Ottawa Journal, November 23, 1961, p. 25; Starr Cole. “International menu at food, drink fair,” Ottawa Citizen, November 20, 1961, p. 3. Indeed, Andrews had become well-enough known and in the public eye with enough frequency that local gossip columnist came to rely on him regularly for a quip or two concerning current affairs.16When asked about the then-ongoing B and B Commission, Andrews said that Friday’s menu offered “English Fried Fish with French Fried Potatoes.” See Gord Lomer. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, January 4, 1964, p. 17. The tradition remained when Dave Brown took over the regular column in 1966.17See Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, November 2, 1966, p. 3. For examples, see Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, March 19, 1968, p. 26; Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1971, p. 44; Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, December 8, 1971, p. 50.

Andrews was frequently seen in the traditional white chef's hat when at industry functions. Source: Ottawa Journal, July 21, 1961, p. 27.
Andrews was frequently seen in the traditional white chef’s hat when at industry functions. Source: Ottawa Journal, July 21, 1961, p. 27.
Sometimes, no hat. Source: Ottawa Journal, May 7, 1968, p. 21.
Sometimes, no hat. Source: Ottawa Journal, May 7, 1968, p. 21.

Just as the Andrews and his Embassy Restaurant had joined the likes of the Belle Claire in conversational and gossip circles, the unstoppable force of the federal government’s need for new office space stood in the way. On June 29, 1967, the Ottawa Journal announced that the entire block bound by Queen, Bank, Sparks, and Kent had been expropriated by Public Works in order to make way for a much-needed new office complex.18Richard Jackson. “Giant Building Complex for Downtown Block,” Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1967, pp. 1, 42.

Headline in the Journal. Source: Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1967, p. 1.
Headline in the Journal. Source: Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1967, p. 1.

It was at some point after the expropriation that Andrews cashed out. In short profile about Bill Bouris and the rapid growth of his business, Dave Brown reported in 1971 that Bouris had just added the Town House Hotel to his stable of properties, which included the restaurants at Shoppers City  East and West, the Embassy Restaurant, and he held the option on the Nelson (Bytowne) Theatre.19Dave Brown. “Below the Hill: Of big deals and little steals,” Ottawa Journal, December 8, 1971, p. 50. It also appears to be the case that Andrews took steps to remove his day-to-day life from the public eye. I have not located a citation in either paper that refers to him between 1968 and 1996.20The 1996 citation refers to a building on Bond Street (near Lincoln Fields) being in substantial arrears on property taxes. See Ron Eade and Peter Hum. “Properties on the Block: Region’s delinquents owe almost $100M in back taxes,” Ottawa Citizen, February 28, 1996, p. C3. Andrews passed away in 1989 at 80 years old.21Beechwood Cemetery Registers, 1982-1990, August 6, 1989 [Ancestry.ca].

One final toast to the Embassy Restaurant. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 3, 1974, p. 3.
One final toast to the Embassy Restaurant. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 3, 1974, p. 3.

The mood during the Embassy’s final days appears to be filled with tension.22John Wylie. “No small mercy: Mini-merchants find it frustrating trying to stay ahead of the wreckers,” Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1974, p. 17. Expropriation, in the way practiced by Public Works during those years, was akin to having the Sword of Damocles hang over a business. The wheels turned at a slow pace and it was never clear when (or even if) it would finally drop. In the case of The Embassy, the sword finally dropped in September of 1974, a full seven years after the original expropriation. On September 3, about 40 regulars gathered to salute the old restaurant and tavern one more time before the bulldozers moved in.23Legendary Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kilrea was a co-owner of the restaurant during those final days. As it would be, 1974/75 was the first season he coached for the OHL team. See Carol Doran. “Few tears, flood of memories as Embassy death knell sounds,” Ottawa Journal, September 3, 1974, p. 3. Its replacement was the C.D. Howe Building, developed by Olympia & York and designed by Adamson Associates.24”Praises sung to new C.D. Howe Building,” Ottawa Journal, August 16, 1978, p. 9. Adamson Associates’ 1982 project at 33 Yonge in Toronto should seem familiar.

The south west corner of Bank and Sparks: roughly where the Embassy Restaurant would stand today, had it not been replaced by the C.D. Howe Building. Image: Google Maps (2015).
The south west corner of Bank and Sparks: roughly where the Embassy Restaurant would stand today, had it not been replaced by the C.D. Howe Building. Image: Google Maps (2015).

The corner of Bank street and Sparks has a history much more eventful than a single well-loved midcentury restaurant. In the next instalment, I have gone back in time when fires were frequent, the corner was “busy”, and when the numerous restaurants on the block made it clear that, even by the early 1950s, the temperance movement hadn’t yet called off its dogs.

In this photograph, taken in 1974, you can see Stephens Block in its final days. Image: CMHC 1974-1251, Image 2.
In this photograph, taken in 1974, you can see Stephens Block in its final days (just above the crane constructing the Bank of Canada building). Image: CMHC 1974-1251, Image 2.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Ottawa Journal, October 6, 1953, p. 10.
2. Ibid.
3. ”Girl Tripped Gets $2,065,” Ottawa Journal, June 25, 1954, p. 2.
4. Ottawa Journal, October 10, 1953, p. 4; Ottawa Journal, October 17, 1953, p. 12.
5. Sidney Ledson had a varied and interesting career. The Toronto native who found himself in Ottawa after a stint in the RCAF, had built through the War a career in painting. He relocated to Ottawa following the war and built a career in the field. By the 1970s, he had switched gears, and developed a system for teaching children to read quickly. He later built upon this and founded his own school. See Barbara Dickson. Bomb Girls: Trading Aprons for Ammo (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2015); “Toronto Artist in RCAF Has Painting Hung in U.K. Show,” Toronto Star, December 17, 1953, p. 1; Ottawa Journal, March 1, 1956, p. 28; “Artist to Do Charcoal of Presley,” Ottawa Journal, March 26, 1957, p. 22; Ottawa Journal, May 6, 1961, p. 36; “Artists on Mall?” Ottawa Journal, May 31, 1962, p. 21; “Learning French With, Games,” Ottawa Journal, July 11, 1970, p. 9; W.Q. Ketchum. “Art News and Views,” Ottawa Journal, August 22, 1970, p. 47; “The Name of the Game is Learning,” Ottawa Journal, February 24, 1973, p. 29; “Learning to read in 60 days,” Ottawa Journal, January 31, 196, p. 22; Ian Haysom. “Poor teaching blamed for growing failures,” Ottawa Journal, April 28, 1976, p. 3; Joyce Warren. “Make reading fun: Experts encourage early teaching for young children,” Ottawa Journal, October 20, 1978, p. 34; “‘Anything a child is taught by 4 is gold’,” Toronto Star, March 14, 1982, p. C1.
6. ”Art Exhibit In Restaurant Is Success,” Ottawa Journal, March 26, 1958, p. 2.
7. ”Art Exhibit At Embassy On High Level,” Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1958, p. 32; Ottawa Journal, February 26, 1959, p. 32; “Hospital Art Teacher Shows Oils Exhibition,” Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1960, p. 3.
8. Ottawa Citizen, August 29, 1959, p. 5.
9. Although the Diners’ Club Card (1950) is recognized as the first general credit card, the BankAmericard (1958) is recognized as the first successful credit card in the modern sense.
10. ”Ottawa Getting Master Credit Plan in May,” Ottawa Journal, April 13, 1959, pp. 1, 5.
11. Ottawa Journal, February 2, 1961, p. 5.
12. As the representative from the Ottawa Restaurant Owners’ Association. See “EODA: ‘Punchy’ Publicity Is Urged,” Ottawa Citizen, March 23, 1960, p. 7.
13. ”Advertise Tulip Festival,” Ottawa Journal, May 11, 1960, p. 3.
14. ”Store Owners Win: Urge Lifting Ban On No Left Hand Turns,” Ottawa Journal, August 12, 1960, pp. 1,3.
15. Joyce Fairbairn. “Ballroom Gourmet’s Paradise for Night,” Ottawa Journal, November 23, 1961, p. 25; Starr Cole. “International menu at food, drink fair,” Ottawa Citizen, November 20, 1961, p. 3.
16. When asked about the then-ongoing B and B Commission, Andrews said that Friday’s menu offered “English Fried Fish with French Fried Potatoes.” See Gord Lomer. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, January 4, 1964, p. 17.
17. See Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, November 2, 1966, p. 3. For examples, see Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, March 19, 1968, p. 26; Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1971, p. 44; Dave Brown. “Below the Hill,” Ottawa Journal, December 8, 1971, p. 50.
18. Richard Jackson. “Giant Building Complex for Downtown Block,” Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1967, pp. 1, 42.
19. Dave Brown. “Below the Hill: Of big deals and little steals,” Ottawa Journal, December 8, 1971, p. 50.
20. The 1996 citation refers to a building on Bond Street (near Lincoln Fields) being in substantial arrears on property taxes. See Ron Eade and Peter Hum. “Properties on the Block: Region’s delinquents owe almost $100M in back taxes,” Ottawa Citizen, February 28, 1996, p. C3.
21. Beechwood Cemetery Registers, 1982-1990, August 6, 1989 [Ancestry.ca].
22. John Wylie. “No small mercy: Mini-merchants find it frustrating trying to stay ahead of the wreckers,” Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1974, p. 17.
23. Legendary Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kilrea was a co-owner of the restaurant during those final days. As it would be, 1974/75 was the first season he coached for the OHL team. See Carol Doran. “Few tears, flood of memories as Embassy death knell sounds,” Ottawa Journal, September 3, 1974, p. 3.
24. ”Praises sung to new C.D. Howe Building,” Ottawa Journal, August 16, 1978, p. 9. Adamson Associates’ 1982 project at 33 Yonge in Toronto should seem familiar.

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