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Elegy to Bigliardi’s

Church St Steakhouse closing after 30 years

After more than 30 years in operation, and a sometimes-rancorous relationship with Toronto’s gay people, George Bigliardi’s Steakhouse will close its doors at the end of September.

In its heyday Bigliardi’s, at 463 Church St, was a Mad-Men style meat, potatoes, cocktails and cigarettes kind of place. It was the sort of camp-classy joint your straight grandfathers may have taken dames on down-low dinner dates.

It played host to scores of then-famous patrons. In 1984 proprietor George Bigliardi reportedly even arranged to have the papal motorcade pass the restaurant. Bigliardi brought the holiest of Poles, pope Jean Paul II, to Church and Wellesley. It’s amazing nobody burst into flames.

But as the gaybourhood flourished Bigliardi’s became an island of heterosexist orthodoxy besieged by teeming fabulousness.

“In 1992-’93 people would walk out of there, see drag queens in the street and run away really fast,” says former Xtra arts editor Alan Vernon.

“During Pride [Bigliardi] would be out there working as hard as he could to keep people away including wetting the steps with a garden hose on a regular basis to make sure people wouldn’t sit on them,” says former Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area president Dennis O’Connor. “I didn’t have one single positive experience with him. He came into my business once to yell and scream at me that gay people were ruining his business.”

As Xtra goes to press there are no firm plans for the location but a Toronto pizza restaurant chain, Pizzaiolo, reportedly has control of the space.