It remains a deep mystery why a vibrant city like Toronto doesn’t have a more active cabaret scene. It’s certainly not that we’re short of talent, with luminaries like Sharron Matthews and Louise Pitre making their homes in the Big Smoke. But for the last year, there’s been one Cabbagetown club making waves with a bubbling roster of comics, singers and musicians who are reigniting the speakeasy landscape.
Now celebrating its first anniversary, The Flying Beaver Pubaret is the latest venture for Toronto restaurateur Heather Mackenzie and irrepressible comedienne Maggie Cassella. The two joined forces while brainstorming ideas for a new eatery on Parliament St. Cassella was originally on tap as a frequent performer for the club but quickly decided to plunge into co-ownership with Mackenzie, with each gal divvying up responsibilities according to their strengths.
Of course, things have proven much more catch-as-catch-can in the hurly burly of running a thriving restaurant and club.
“Well, originally Heather was going to handle the food end of things, with me running the show production,” Cassella says. “But you can’t just split the baby and say, ‘Here – you look after that half and I’ll look after this half.’”
So Cassella has found herself both behind the microphone and, occasionally, snuggled up next to a griddle as she mucks in with the occasional brunch prep. Far from your typical diva, she’s found such experiences to be surprisingly entertaining.
“Oh my God, we laugh constantly,” Cassella says. “It takes away from the seriousness of the work. Plus, there’s nothing else to do sometimes, like when the contractors mistakenly reset the rads upstairs and it starts pouring rain inside the restaurant. You can only laugh.”
For her part, Mackenzie is happy to have found a business partner who is as hard-working and insightful as she is lighthearted.
“I’ve learned so much from Maggie,” says Mackenzie. “She’s brought in this whole performance side that I never thought of and has a very unique way of looking at business.”
One thing both agreed upon was that their establishment should emulate Mackenzie’s former club Slack Alice, pulling a varied crowd from all sides of the social spectrum.
“I mean, it’s 20 years since the days of all the guys being on Church St and the women at The Rose on Parliament,” says Cassella. “But even still, I had a guy come in a while back and ask if men were welcome. I told him, Of course they are. We’re an asshole-free space, not a men-free space.”
And while they call their space a pubaret in deference to both the pub atmosphere and the live cabaret acts, The Flying Beaver’s menu is head-and-shoulders above your local beer parlour. The panko-encrusted fish and chips is to die for, while there are fresh salads and entrées worthy of Mackenzie’s reputation as a devoted foodie. Cassella is also glad the restaurant’s new menu has plenty of healthy options – including a selection of gluten-free dishes and beer.
Of course, running a restaurant frequently means sacrificing any semblance of a real life, so it’s a good thing Mackenzie and Cassella enjoy each other’s company.
“We do get along really well,” Mackenzie says. “We manage to get the job done and have fun doing it, while keeping each other calm in emergencies. One of us is always there to slap the other one in a crisis. It’s good to be able to rely on someone like that.”
“It’s true,” Cassella chimes in. “I’m the wife she never wanted.”
The Flying Beaver Pubaret
488 Parliament St