Walk through the metal framed doors of the Senator Restaurant and step back into a dining room from a bygone era. There’s a vintage Coca-Cola machine to your right. The laminate bar is coloured eggshell and matches with the tabletops, as does the burgundy leather of the barstools and banquets. Faded checkerboard floors lead you towards the cozy cubicles where a mishmash of patrons have been noshing on utilitarian diner classics for generations.
After 85 years of continuous service, The Senator remains the oldest restaurant in Toronto. Established in 1929 in a small house at 249 Victoria Street, the historic eatery has seen decades of development come and go, but little has changed within its four walls. A place of nostalgia for many. A place likely unknown to many more. Bob Sniderman rescued the restaurant from demolition when he took over in 1984, but stuck to its humble origins… until now.
Chef Andrew Taylor, Langdon Hall’s former kitchen head, recently took over the helm. He’s focused on converting the classic menu into something more approachable and contemporary. With the same commitment to quality and locality as The Senator’s storied past, the restaurant now procures its ingredients from an impressive list of over 40 suppliers.
Known for attracting an early morning audience, your cuppa-Joe will be brewed from a custom roast by Dark City Coffee. Later in the day, lightly liquored milkshakes inspired by 1920 soda jerks are smoothed with organic milk from Sheldon Creek Dairy in Caledon, ON. Antiquated dinner items have been replaced by savoury braised beef and chorizo tostadas with queso fresco and chipotle crema, refined rainbow trout with white bean ragout and shaved fennel, and seasonally inspired crisp Muscovy duck breast with Yukon gold mash and quince.
As night falls, post 9pm, a new Bar Senator “After-Dark Menu” comes into effect until midnight. Sip on craft cocktails built with organic Earl Grey-infused Dillon’s gin, like in their Senator Derby, or the Mimosa Senator spiked with a housemade lemon-rind tincture.
They’ll be pouring out pints of local craft beer from Beau’s and Amsterdam Brewery to swig alongside an impressively seasoned Cumbrae’s naturally raised beef burger. The buttery mini crabcakes, despite being made from “the fake stuff,” weren’t anything to scoff at either. They were a hit with my shellfish averse friend.
Eighty-five years-old and The Senator is just starting to catch up with this decade, culinary speaking. The charm of the wood paneled cubbies and antique fixtures, however, are timeless. Perhaps the oft-forgotten Victoria Street staple was ripe for a renewal? Consider yourself lucky that you’re around to revel in its hopeful renaissance. Upon exit, my dining partners and I all agreed that The Senator was a truly renewed gem in an area of Toronto that is terminally digging itself into the edible trenches.
Have you had a chance to check out Toronto’s longest running restaurant? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.