There’s a reason the tree’s done up like this — click the picture to read the story.
It’s Christmas Eve and I’m off to spend Christmas with my family – it sounds like a big trip, but they’re a fifteen-minute drive away – so I’ll take this time to wish you all the best of the season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus or anything else, enjoy your friends and family, have fun, be safe and go get some good deals on Sunday!
As is the tradition on the blog, I will point you to one of my favourite blog posts: The Best Christmas Present Ever, a tale that is highly unlikely to ever be turned into a Christmas TV special (for reasons that will become apparent as you read it).
Comic Sans is probably one of the most misused fonts out there. Originally intended for the comic book-style speech bubbles for “Clippy” and other assistants in Microsoft Office, it got used first for “fun”, “childlike” documents and signs, and then found its way into far less appropriate venues, including those shown in the photos below:
The Comic Sans Criminal site does a great job telling the story of Comic Sans, where people went terribly, terribly wrong with it, what the appropriate uses for Comic Sans are, and it ends with the Comic Sans Pledge:
Check out Comic Sans Criminal! It’s a beautifully-designed site that makes use of some good HTML5 tricks to turn it into an entertaining and gorgeous slideshow, and if it stops you from using Comic Sans inappropriately (or even better, altogether), so much the better!
Guy Gal (left) and a guest who wished to remain anonymous.
Last Friday night, I went to over to TheBizMedia’s holiday party downtown. I met Guy Gal and the rest of TheBizMedia’s crew this spring when they helped out with Microsoft’s Make Web Not War event in Montreal in the Spring and have been going to Guy’s parties whenever I’ve had the chance; he throws a pretty mean hootenanny.
The neighbourhood gets sketchier as you walk east on Dundas from Dundas square, with the Imperial Public Library and Tavern being the point at which the weirdness begins.
A scrawny older woman stumbled towards me and asked, “Hey honey, d’you have any money?”
I had no cash – just tokens and credit cards. Guy’s parties are always open bar and free (and good) food, so I hadn’t hit an ATM.
“Sorry, don’t have any,” I replied.
“Drop dead,” she said, with teeth clenched and a cold stare straight from a Stephen King story. It was the evening’s only weird note.
In the elevator on the way up to the party, I met Nicole Simone, who asked me about my accordion. It turns out that she’s an alt-rock singer/songwriter going by the moniker Late July and she’s looking for an accordion player – one who’s more Tom Waits than Myron Floren. I got her card, and we’ll be in touch; I’ve been meaning to play with a band for a while.
Guy usually books the rooftop party room of the Merchandise Loft for TheBizMedia’s bashes. You get a pretty good view of the city from there, and in the summer, it’s a great place to spend a party. Although there were some outdoor propane heaters set up for the benefit of those looking for fresh air or a smoke, most people stayed indoors.
“Check out the Chanukah bush!” said Guy, pointing out the centrepiece.
Note the jelly-donut like ornaments. They’re buns of some kind.
The evening started with live music…
…and then came the DJ set, which was driven by this massive touchscreen:
…at which point the party got into full swing.
I got some bonus points for playing the accordion along to some old school hip-hop: Let Your Backbone Slide by Maestro (who went by “Maestro Fresh-Wes” when he released this single back in 1989).
I tried out a pose at the “photo booth” area, a corner of the room set up with a DSLR camera on a timer, a really bright flash, a white drop sheet and several props:
I wasn’t the only person at the party who goes by a descriptive pseudonym. This guy was here too:
His jacket’s a bit hard to read in the photo above, so here’s one with the flash on. You lose the effect of the LEDs on his jacket, but now the text is legible:
Flyerman is an Accordion City fixture and a regular on the club scene. His alternate identity is Mark Vistorino, and he is Toronto’s best distributor of flyers. Give him a stack of flyers promoting your event or service and unleash him upon the attendees of a club or party, and in no time, everyone in the room will have a leaflet in hand and will be dancing with him, resplendent in his trademark electronic marquee jacket.
And finally, Guy brought out the Domo-Cake, a dessert in the shape of Domo-Kun. It was long before the end of the evening, but I’d been out four nights in a row already.
Saturday: Several Attempts to Pay
17 Steps (7:30 p.m.)
I started Saturday evening with my longtime friend from Crazy Go Nuts University, Marichka, and her husband Matt, the chef from the local foodie group, the Secret Pickle Supper Club. We decided to go out for dinner somewhere near my neck of the woods – High Park – and Matt suggested 17 Steps. I’d never heard of the place before, even though I passed by fairly regularly.
I met them at the restaurant, and as soon I got to the front door, I realized why I hadn’t heard of it before. For the longest time, probably dating back to at least the eighties, it had been a German restaurant that had floundered over the past few years. Since May of this year, someone else had taken over the place, given it a new name and a new menu: tapas.
The food is tasty and cheap, just like tapas should be, and the service is friendly and very helpful. I’m thinking of a return engagement when I step out with my friend Verna later this week.
Dolmades (grapevine leaves stuffed with rice and meat, which Marichka described as “like cabbage rolls, except they don’t suck.”)
Shrimp with chorizo and black beans
Moroccan chicken kebabs
House dips with grilled flatbreads
Pasteis de bacalhau (cod cakes with chili aioli)
Chef Marc’s bread pudding (made with croissants)
Greek nut cake
Strawberry panna cotta
A couple of bottles of decent red wine (we deferred to Matt’s judgement)
Marichka and I did our level best not to bore Matt with reminiscing about Crazy Go Nuts University, but our time there was so crazy-go-nuts that it was hard not to.
At the end of the meal, I started pulling out bills from my wallet, but Matt would have none of it. “Next time,” he said.
Epique (11: 15 p.m.)
Marichka and Matt went off to a family holiday event, and I went eastbound to Yorkville and walked into Epique Lounge on Cumberland. Lee Dale was spinning a set there, and a number of the Social Media Usual Suspects were in attendance, including Rachel Segal and her husband Adam Bullied.
I ended up in a great conversation with Rachel that started with my grand scheme for personal reinvention/renewal plans for 2011 (“My new role model shall be…Tony Stark!”) and turned into some grand scheme to save Remy’s, a Yorkville bistro whose star has fallen over the past 15 years.
“We have to save Remy’s! I’ve been drinking there since I was 17, and it cannot go quietly into the night!” I said.
“It’s trying too hard to be Hemingway’s,” said Rachel, referring to another Yorkville bistro that stays in business only by grace of its prime location and space and not because of the service, food, drink or any other area where a bistro should aim to excel.
“Remy’s has a great location. They’ve got a great rooftop patio. They just need to – to shed their Yorkville-ness. That’s it. They’re trying to be upmarket in a neighbourhood where everyone’s doing that. They need to go the other way.”
“You mean –?”
“Get this,” I said, positioning my hands so that they formed the outline of a skinny picture frame, “…Wide Open.”
“I can’t believe you went there,” said Rachel, clearly impressed by the reference to the cramped, friendly but oh-so-divey bar on Spadina just south of Queen.
“We worked together for months! You know I always go there.”
I talked shop with Lee for a little bit, and then attempted to buy a drink. One of the people behind the event – I can’t remember who — stopped me, pointing to his table where they’d set up champagne ice buckets filled with bottles of rum and vodka, several carafes filled with coke, orange juice and ginger ale and a large bowl of ice.
“S’free, Accordion Guy,” he said, “go nuts.”
I mixed myself a couple of stiff rum-and-cokes, danced a little, played accordion in key and to the beat of the dance music, collected my applause, and then Lee invited me along with the gang to go for some apres-party food.
Sneaky Dee’s and Mars Food (1:30 a.m.)
We hit the street and after entertaining a couple of random women on the street with an accordion rendition of Cee-Lo’s hit single Fuck You, we piled into Randeep’s car and made our way to Sneaky Dee’s in the hopes of catching last call and nachos.
Sneaky Dee’s, as it appears both in real life and in the Scott Pilgrim comic.
I am too damn old to be here, I thought as I squeezed my way through the huddled masses of Generation Y that had packed themselves into the place. We’d missed last call, and there wasn’t room for additional molecules, never mind a free table.
“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s go hit someplace a little less crowded…”
A pair of impossibly cute, impossibly young girls squeezed by us.
“…and a little less…uh, statutory. How ‘bout Mars?”
From left to right: Angus, Randeep, Lee and Sean.
Mars was pretty empty, so it was a cinch to claim the big table in the back. We talked about all sorts of things, including Angus’ life in Redmond, and I recommended 13 Coins as a place to go for late-night post-carousing eats in Seattle.
“Imagine Mad Men directed by Quentin Tarantino,” I said, describing the place.
With pre-breakfast over, we all reached into our wallets to work out the bill, but Angus fished out a credit card and covered the meal. “No worries, guys.” My third attempt of the evening to pay, thwarted.
As I was about to leave, one of Lee’s friends entered the restaurant and Lee greeted her with a big hug and a “Happy birthday!”
I quickly took my accordion off my back, strapped it on and said “Did someone say…birthday?”
Finally (2:30 a.m.)
I finally did spend some money that evening: for the cab ride home.
Sunday: Family, Kinect and Indian Food
A nice Sunday evening with my sister, her husband, Mom, her friend Steffie, my nephews and a whole lotta mutter paneer. I brought my Xbox and Kinect over; the boys love playing the Scott Pilgrim game and Kinectimals.
Monday: Congee, Hacklab and Sean Ward’s Electric Xmas
I hadn’t, so it was decided: we’d meet there on the upcoming Saturday.
The Black Dice turned out to be the perfect place. It’s on Dundas just a little bit west of Dufferin (1574 Dundas Street West, to be precise), just a little out of range of the gentrification. Like many places in Accordion City’s core, it’s a long, skinny place, with a half-dozen tables in the front and the bar in the back. Across from the bar is an old-school electromechanical pinball machine, and by the tables was an original Seeburg jukebox that actually played 45 RPM singles, mostly tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The Black Dice is part pub, part early Rock and Roll museum. It’s decorated with 1950s and early 1960s memorabilia: old records, photos of Elvis and Buddy Holly, a black-and-white TV above the bar that seemed to only play commercials from the time of Don Draper, old license plates, signs and other knick-knack from the time bookended by Bill Haley at one end and The Animals on the other.
Staffing the place was a woman in a black cocktail waitress dress tending bar, and in the kitchen, an Asian guy in a porkpie hat, suspenders and checkered pants who looked as if he were trying to bring the Japan’s greaser subculture here, in an odd sort of cultural return trip. Both were the sort of charming, quirky hosts that I like.
The only incongruity in the Black Dice’s illusion of a time warp back to the ‘50s is the menu. It has none of the old standbys that you’d expect: no burgers, hot dogs, fries, shakes or malteds. Instead, there’s edamame, a great salami and provolone sandwich with chips and a very cosmopolitan beer menu. I’m not complaining.
I ordered a Sapporo and enjoyed some old-school pinball:
We talked about life, the universe and everything, which was exactly what I needed, in a great little place where I’d never been before. That in itself would’ve made it a fine evening, but it was actually better thanks to what happened before we got into the Black Dice.
Earlier That Evening…
Just before leaving for the Black Dice, I right by the entrance to my apartment and looked at the accordion, which sat on a chair right by the door. Should I take it? I thought. Probably not much call for it tonight; we’ll just be talking and drinking beer.
I’m often asked if carry an accordion with me all the time. It’s not all the time, but it’s fairly often, especially when stepping out for a social event, whether work-related or personal. Having the accordion handy (and having the chutzpah to use it) has opened all sorts of doors for me and brought opportunities that would’ve otherwise been missed. The times I regret not bringing the accordion far outnumber the times I regret bringing it.
I reminded myself of that little fact, slung the little red Silvetta over my shoulders and headed out the door.
I’ll admit that walking around with 15-ish pounds of musical instrument looks like a silly affectation. It looks like the act of a conceited ass (and hey, it might be). I’ll even concede the point that it’s not normal. I’m cool with that — great stuff happens when you break past normal.
A Slight Detour
I arrived first, a couple of minutes after the appointed time of 7:00 p.m. and saw the “CLOSED” sign on the Black Dice Cafe’s entrance. A quick glance at the hours posted on their door revealed that they were open, but not until eight.
At about the same time, my friend sent me a text message saying that he was running about ten minutes late. I was about to fire off a quick “no problem” reply when I heard accordion music coming from next door, accompanied by what sounded like a guitar, a kettle drum, a triangle and raucous voices.
I looked at the place next door. It was a little Portuguese watering hole; its sign read JJ Sports Bar. They were open and I could see a full beer fridge in the back; I figured I might even be able to establish some bona fides with the accordion.
“Black Dice not open until 8,” I texted. “Meet me at the sports bar next door.” About a minute later, he replied with a text along the lines of “Uh, okay.”
I walked into JJ’s, holding up the accordion in front of me, as if it were a passport and I was entering customs. A half dozen men from three different generations were gathered around a table covered in beer bottles, one with an accordion, one with an electric guitar, one with a small drum and one with a triangle, and they turned to face the stranger who’d just entered the room.
“I’m going next door for dinner and they’re not open yet. I heard the accordion and thought I’d see what’s going on.”
They stared at me in disbelief for a moment, and then a number of them threw their arms in the air and yelled “ACCORDION!”
“Come! Join us! Play! Get this man a beer!” Magic phrases, all of them.
Folk Music and Oaths of Fealty
When my friend arrived at the bar ten minutes later, he walked into a scene like this with a very amused look on his face:
We played a selection of Portuguese folk songs, most of which were rousing two- or three-chord ditties that were meant to be sung after many servings of beer or aguardente. Folk music isn’t about precision or virtuosity, but about the heart (and alcohol) you put into it, so it didn’t matter if I’d never heard the songs before. I just asked what key they were playing in – G – and dove right in.
My friend established his own bona fides with them by surprising them with an order for port. He also took some photos and shot some video of the performances. Here’s the fifth and final number I did with them, an extravaganza featuring three accordions (a third bellows-squeezer came in after we did):
“Obrigado, guys,” I said when it was time for us to leave. Thanking them in Portuguese put me over the top.
“Come back any time, Joe!” one of them said.
“And if someone gives you shit,” another guy said, raising his fist, “call us, Joe! We will help you!”
“Did those guys just offer to beat up people for you?” asked my friend.
“I think I have a posse!” I exclaimed as we stepped out of JJ’s and went next door to the Black Dice.