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Byzantium closes after 23 years in Toronto’s gay village

Space to be taken over by Glad Day Bookshop

Byzantium closed its doors for the final time on Sunday, Aug 14, 2016.

Credit: Jeremy Willard/Daily Xtra

The popular Church Street martini bar and restaurant Byzantium has closed after 23 years in business. Its last day was Sunday, Aug 14, 2016.

Many in the community were surprised when Glad Day Bookshop announced in July 2016 that it had made a deal to take over 499 Church St.  

Byzantium opened in 1993, and Paul Beggs bought it in 1997. He and his partner Pierre Hamel still own Flo’s Diner in Yorkville. Beggs says the decision to sell Byzantium was an economic one.

“The street’s been stagnant for the last two years, the rents are going up again, expenses are going through the roof and it’s time to do another renovation,” he says. “So you have to ask yourself the question: should we put another $100,000 into a business that isn’t growing, that’s flat?”

“[Our accountant] said, ‘well, now’s the time you guys need to make a decision: are you willing to commit $100,000, and take five years to retrieve it — to get the initial investment back?’ And I don’t want to work into my late 60s.”

It was a difficult decision to make. Beggs, who has been responsible for running the Church Street business, says he will “miss it like crazy.”

“We’ve had a great 20-year run,” he says. “We’ve had customers coming here since the day we opened. We’ve touched a lot of people. There’s people that come here every year on their anniversary. There’s people that met here, had their weddings here.”

“In the restaurant industry being 20 years — there’s not a lot of people out there who’ve made it 20 years.”

Beggs isn’t the only one getting emotional about the closure. Many customers who haven’t been in for a while have been coming back for one last visit. “Since people heard the news, they’ve been coming back to say ‘goodbye,’ Beggs says. “It’s been really sweet, really nice.”

“I had a gentleman call yesterday, and he said ‘I just heard the news. I’d like to make a reservation’ and he starts to cry and said ‘well, I’ll call you back.’” The man did compose himself enough to call back and arrange to have a meal.

Beggs intends to take a little time off after Byzantium closes. “I’m going to help Pierre with the other restaurant and after a bit of time we’ll probably open something else,” he says. “But I’m going to take six months. It’s been 20 years of service, so it’d be nice to have a little time to myself.”

Glad Day intends to re-open on Church Street as a bookstore-coffee shop-cocktail bar. Beggs says that Glad Day’s path won’t be an easy one — “the margins are small, it’s a hard market, you need to be very hands on” — but he wishes them luck.

“I think being on Church Street will be good for them. They might give a little boost to the street again — something new,” he says. “I’m just glad it’s not another bank or chain store. It’s something that’s of value to the Village.”