noshing (no more) with 99

Say your so longs to Grandma Gretzky’s Perogies, get your goodbyes in for WGS Plant Based Vegan Caesar Salad: after 27 years, Wayne Gretzky’s own Toronto flagship restaurant is closing today for good. A condo development (of course) will rise in its downtown stead.

I was only ever there once, in — wait, now — 1994? Wayne was on hand himself, I wish I could say he was manning the stoves, but no, it was a book launch, for Jim Taylor’s Wayne Gretzky: The Authorized Pictorial Biography. I talked to Taylor, who was friendly, and to Wayne’s dad, Walter, who was friendlier. There was no getting near the then-Great One: like the appetizers, he was besieged as soon as he appeared.

The restaurant had opened a year earlier, down on what used to be Peter Street, just north of the used-to-be-SkyDome, in the year-of-our-Lord-the-Blue-Jays-won-a-second-straight-World Series. Back then, of course, the local hockey team was still at home uptown, at Maple Leaf Gardens. The restaurant debuted in July of 1993 with the intent (as WG’s website explained right up to the end) of striving “to honour this Canadian Hockey Hall of Famer by creating a dining experience with Gretzky’s greatness in mind.”

The gall. That same spring, Gretzky had taken a break as a fine-dining impresario to join the Los Angeles Kings in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Against Toronto in the Campbell Conference Final, Gretzky escaped justice in the sixth game of the series when he high-sticked Leaf captain Doug Gilmour and failed to surrender himself after referee Kerry Fraser missed the call. Maybe you don’t remember; Toronto will never forget.

The Kings won that game, in overtime, on a goal of Gretzky’s. He had a say in the deciding game, too, scoring a hattrick as the Kings dismissed the Leafs 5-4 to win the series and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final.

How did Toronto forgive #99 his trespass? It’s hard to remember. Somehow. Gretzky’s opened a month after the Kings ceded the Cup to the Montreal Canadiens over the course of five games, so I guess there’s that.

It wasn’t just Gretzky, of course, who made the restaurant happen, he was just a partner, and the brand. The Bitoves were the majority owners; there was talk, too, that they were after an NBA franchise. In August, not long after the restaurant opened, Globe and Mail sportswriter William Houston dropped by.  He came out unimpressed. “The food was mediocre and the service slow,” he griped in the paper. “It took 35 minutes to get a ‘King’s Clubhouse.’ When it arrived the French fries were soggy and cold — not even tepid, but chilly.”

Houston was all over the story of the restaurant that month: he also broke the news that the first question prospective WG’s employees were asked when they came in for an interview was, “What does Wayne Gretzky mean to you?”

Wayne and his wife Janet were on hand for the grand opening in September, and so too was a forgiving Gilmour. His Toronto teammate Wendel Clark showed up, too, as did Gretzky’s old Oilers pal Paul Coffey, a Detroit Red Wing by then, along with future Leaf president Brendan Shanahan, still toiling on the ice in those years as a winger with the St. Louis Blues. Vladislav Tretiak came, and Alanis Morissette, and Toronto’s mayor, June Rowlands.

What else?

It’s worth noting, maybe, that Gilmour opened his own restaurant that same fall, Gardoonies, not far from the rink where he worked his day job.  I’m pretty sure it’s no longer around, though I should probably check on that, just to be sure.

What I can report is that #93’s new digs didn’t make quite the immediate impression that Gretzky’s did — not, at least, if the December, 1993 issue of Toronto Life is your source, as it is mine. Consulting the magazine’s year-end awards issue, I find that while Gardoonies figured not at all,  #99’s place had endeared itself so thoroughly to its host city that it featured twice, winning recognition as the city’s

NOISIEST RESTAURANT

Wayne Gretzky’s on Peter Street; take earplugs.

and for the year’s

MOST AUDACIOUS ATTEMPT AT STICKHANDLING THROUGH CITY COUNCIL

By Wayne Gretzky, who tried to get 41 Peter Street (the location of his jock – stop/restaurant) changed to 99 Blue Jay Way. The Great One’s request is tied up in city council.

Councillor Howard Levine was chairman of the committee considering the application, and he said the city was being seen as “pliant and lacking in principles” for even contemplating allowing the change.

Another councillor, Robert Maxwell, said that letting Gretzky have his Way would give the impression that anybody could have a street name changed.

“You just don’t play with history like that,” said Councillor Michael Walker, though I guess in the end the lesson we all learned is that you do, if you can, and Gretzky did, eventually. But then, like the restaurant at 99 Blue Jays Way itself (as of tonight), that’s also, well, history.

this week + last month: we had way better radar detection than germany, crosby said

Presidential Puck: With joy in his heart and Alex Ovechkin on his team, Vladimir Putin faced off in Sochi last week against a team of gifted children.

Майк Кинэн is thinking about trading in his Canadian citizenship for Russian.

Sorry: Mike Keenan, coach of the defending KHL champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Really? Seriously? Seriously. Though as Keenan, who’s 65 and has been coaching in the KHL since 2013, was telling the media in Russian last month, it’s nothing certain yet.

“I’m happy to live and work in Russia,” he said. “No one is saying that it will happen, that I have decided, but I would be interested to explore this possibility.”

Asked what they might think in Canada, how his family would react, he’s reported to have laughed. “It’s only my decision.”

And what about coaching the Russian national team? Would he consider that? His diplomatic answer to that one was that there are plenty of good Russian candidates. If he could lend a hand as a consultant, though … well, why not?

“I have a certain knowledge of the Canadian, American teams — that could be handy. If they approached me for advice, I would be glad,” he said.

Dante Redux: Finnish former irksome winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir last week.

Dante Redux: Finnish former abrasively irksome winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir last week.

Finnish former right winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir this week. In the NHL, where he played for Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, and Anaheim, he’s best remembered as, what, an agitator, pest, troublemaker? His book, only available in Finnish so far, bears a title that translates to The Divine Comedy. “Sport, great drama and purgatory!” his publisher promises in some of its promotional matter. “Jarkko Ruutu was a rink terrorist and nutcase, an entertainment package beyond compare.”

Ron MacLean phoned Don Cherry for the first time since the Stanley Cup Final to talk about Cherry’s love of Toronto Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson. Cherry also paid his respects to Al Arbour, bespectacled defenceman and many-Cup-winning coach, who died on August 28 at the age of 82. “When you talk to his players, like Kelly Hrudey, they all say the same thing,” Cherry tweeted. “He was tough but he was fair. And everyone to a man say they loved him.”

Also, heads up, everybody. “I don’t know if you know it or not,” began another of Don Cherry’s recent tweet cascades, “but a policeman can come into your house, take your dog and have it put down.”

Sidney Crosby made a salad for himself at Pete’s Fine Foods in downtown Halifax. I guess at the salad bar there? For lunch. He had some egg whites, too, and an orange juice, all of which cost him about ten bucks, and which he “consumed around a small table on a publicly accessible balcony overlooking the cash registers.”

Point being? He’s a humble man, Crosby, modest, keeps a low profile during the off-season in Nova Scotia, where he drives not-new Chevy Tahoe and doesn’t expect special treatment despite having earned something like US$17 million last season in salary, endorsements and memorabilia — he “remains most comfortable in sandals or sneakers, athletic gear and a cap.”

That’s what Jason Mackey found, a reporter for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who ventured north to spend some summer time with the Penguins’ captain and hear him say that he while he tries to stick to a sensible pro-athlete kind of a diet, he also crushes Timbits when he can.

Also: Crosby finished up a college course last season, offered online by Southern New Hampshire University. Mackey doesn’t say which one, but the clues point to HIS241: World War II.

“The material was easy,” Crosby said, “because you’re traveling and you can read. If you have to write a paper and it’s not coming that quickly and you don’t have that much time, you don’t enjoy it as much. You’re just trying to get it done.

“It was nine years since I had done anything school-related. It was a pretty big wakeup call.”

Crosby’s final exam was writing a paper on the influence of radar in World War II.

“We had a way better radar detection than Germany,” Crosby said.

Another former NHL-playing Bure, Pavel’s younger brother Valeri, makes a high-end cabernet sauvignon that’s very popular. Eric Duhatschek was writing about this in The Globe and Mail, all the hockey players who are getting into the wine business.

99wineMaybe you’ve enjoyed a bottle of Wayne Gretzky’s Pinot Noir, his Riesling, 2012 No.99 Cabernet Franc Ice-wine. But did you know that Igor Larionov had a pretty great shiraz a few years ago and still does brew up small batches of “a high-end cab” for his own table?

Former Los Angeles Kings’ centreman Jimmy Fox is delving deeper into the art and the business. As he told Duhatschek, what he likes about wine is that it’s not hockey. On the nothockeyness of wine, he said

“Pro sports is always about the final score and there is a black and whiteness to that which, when I was an athlete, was extremely attractive to me. I loved knowing at the end of the day how you did, and the score told you.

“Wine gives me almost the opposite feeling and it’s probably something I was looking for subconsciously. Wines are scored too, but more than with hockey, it is about the process. There is an artistic element to wine. There is a chemistry element to wine. There is a terroir element to wine. There are so many different elements and I felt that that combination of all those things was so intriguing to me. It really made me expand the way I thought about a lot of things.”

“I don’t do any conditioning during the summer,” Ottawa Senators’ captain Erik Karlsson said upon his return to the capital with looking big and brown with an expanded head. At least I think that’s what the headline on Ken Warren’s article in The Ottawa Citizen was saying:

Karlsson returns to Ottawa with a bigger mindset

“I’ve been able to put on weight and keep it on,” Karlsson said, after skating Tuesday for the first time since the club was eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last spring.

Indeed, Karlsson is back, bigger than ever. In his case, though, it’s a measure of pride, part of his continuing growth from the 165-pound stick figure who made his first appearance in Ottawa at the 2008 NHL entry draft.

“I’m almost 200 pounds,” said Karlsson, sporting a deep tan resulting from spending several weeks travelling throughout Greece.

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