Summary of the ACE Restaurant's History. Originally opened as an upscale diner perhaps as early as the 40s or 50s. Redecorated and operated as a Chinese restaurant by the Lee family in the 1960s, serving Canadian and Chinese food. The children did not invest themselves in the business and it went to shorter hours in about the 1980s. It may have been a clandestine booze can during this time; there are reports and denials, of course. It closed about 1991 while still owned by the family and was perhaps used for other things. In 2011 Greg Boggs purchased, preserved and restored the ACE Restaurant. Selected comments from Ric McGinnis blogTO are included here with before and after pictures.
A vintage diner on Roncesvalles, preserved in dust. Posted by Rick McGinnis / May 16, 2011 91 Comments Shoppers on Roncesvalles Avenue got a surprise just over a week ago when the cardboard and curtains that had covered the windows of what was once the Ace Restaurant suddenly came down, revealing a classic diner, untouched and unimproved, pickled in its own dust. Work crews have been cleaning the space and gutting the adjacent storefront - once home to Venus Florists - but I was able to get inside for a few pictures late last week. No one is able to agree on just when the Ace, a family-run Chinese restaurant, served its last plate of egg foo young, though locals put it at somewhere between ten and thirty years ago. A set of calendar promotional stickers from Deco Labels (Mayor Rob Ford's family's business) pasted inside the cigarette display shelves end at 1996, and a business card found behind the front counter includes a 10-digit phone number, which began use in the city in 2000. Readers might want to share whatever memories they have of the Ace in the comments. The interior of the Ace is a marvel - dust-coated and fly-specked, to be sure, but amazingly well-preserved, especially since the owners had been using it mostly for storage. According to Arlin Markowitz, sales representative for Cushman & Wakefield, the Ace was mothballed when the family who had run it since the '50s were unable to get a younger generation to take it over, and decided to sit on the two adjacent storefronts near Roncesvalles and Fermanagh Avenue until they got the price they wanted. It was put on the market as part of an estate sale a few months ago, and was bought by the new owner on May 3rd. The Ace obviously began life as a classic diner, complete with red naugahyde booths and a curved lunch counter hugging a soda fountain and cash area with display shelves for cigars and cigarettes. A Chinese theme was thinly veneered on decades ago, complete with pagoda-adorned wallpaper and the classic red-and-green Chinese eatery colours, accented with green sculpted wooden trim covering up a ventilation duct over the counter. Everything remains, though it's unlikely that the stove and fridges are up to code, if they work at all. The owners and leasing agents are eager to find a tenant who'll preserved the diner details, perhaps even the wallpaper, and are offering the option of leasing one or both storefronts, at $3500 a month for the Ace space, or $7000 for both. Markowitz says that most of the interest so far has been from locals eyeing a new cafe or restaurant space, though he's hoping to attract owners of eateries on Ossington or West Queen West looking to expand. Marks on the wall at each booth show where jukebox controllers had been removed before the sale, and one of the two bottles of vintage Coke syrup found inside the Ace have gone missing. The soda fountain and a set of chairs in the window are among the sorts of gems pickers and antique dealers would be happy to take away, but Markowitz and the owner want to keep what's left intact for whoever has the urge - and the deep pockets - necessary to bring the Ace back to life.
Selected Comments. Kursk / May 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm. We ate there in the late 80's and early nineties, though it was hit or miss as to when it would be open.I seem to recall it being open only at nights and you could buy alcohol there long after the bars had closed. Roncesvalles was great until all the soccer moms and yuppies invaded the place.
Roamer. I remember it well. I went to St.Vincent's on Fermanagh as a kid in the 60's and lunch was often a cardboard box of greasy fries from Ace. It was also where a kid could buy cigarettes with no questions asked. Black Cats were my fav but most of the others liked Players. Ace was kind of dingy and unkempt even back then with a permeating odour of burnt lard or cooking oil and tobacco. This is neat because one is transported back in time. It's an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Alie, May 2011. Growing up in the 60's these pictures were a great walk down memory lane for my husband Doug & I. Best cheeseburgers, fries and gravy and AH! those .15 cent toasted honey buns cannot be forgotten. Long live Mrs. Lee!
Catherine, May 2011. beautiful photos, I went to St. V's in the 60's and loved the toasted honey buns. My grandfather ate breakfast there every day, lived to 92! Remember the chinese laundry next door? Love the memories.
Larry Hutzul, July 21, 2011. I used to go to the restaurant often. The father and mother who owned the restaurant had two sons I believe. Peter and Ian. Peter spent most of the time in the kitchen and Ian was the front man. The mother used to do the cooking first thing in the morning and then Peter would take over.The mother didn't speak alot of English. The father did. Peter and Ian spoke english well. I believe Ian was married,but I thing Peter never married. Peter was the younger of the two sons.The mother used to serve me breakfast and she always gave me something extra on the plate. I believe they served more Canadian food than chinese. The father used to play the stock market. I also believe they owned apartment buildings. In the early years the family always treated me well. I have many stories I could tell but I don't have time now.
Brennie, Sep 4, 2011. (This reply to an unsuccessful buyer was informative) Obviously half of these people don't know what they're talking about. Correction #1: Ace Restaurant NEVER sold alcohol. Therefore, it was never a "booze can". Correction #2: @Sara, I know the family well and I've been through the place. Trust me when I say this, the family member that was living there, was NOT mentally ill and was NOT a hoarder(also, you spelled hoarder wrong. Nice job). And the building itself was in a poor condition, but not as poor as you say it was. Plus, I know these "heirs" very well, and again trust me, they are not greedy. 2 of the "heirs" was not informed of the offer you made. And the lawyer never received nor sent an email regarding this "offer" you made. And hello, so what if they paid more than what it's actually worth? You got to fight for what you want. And, it's for sale. Highest bid wins. That's the point in bidding. Obviously you don't know how to bid. Also, "...The cracked, heaving concrete in the basement indicates a serious issue with the sewer pipes." is just there. When I did a tour of the building with some of the family of the deceased, I had asked about that. The family did their research and told me that it was built like that because when the builders were building it, they just built over pipes rather than putting them under. So again, nice job on that one. One more thing, how would you know what the new owner's paid? I'm a close family friend, and even I don't know myself. So how would a stranger like you know? Correction #3: The little juke boxes on the booth walls weren't just removed when it was up for sale. It was removed YEARS ago when the restaurant closed in the 90's
The parts that remained were preserved.
Photographed in 2016.
From Greg Boggs, owner. Sent: 2016-06-21 2:43:07 PM. Hi Jack, I've attached two photos (one from Toronto archives), but many good ones are this blog which had gotten in early in 2011 before we started cleaning the place up.: http://www.blogto.com/city/2011/05/a_vintage_diner_on_roncesvalles_preserved_in_dust/ I opened The Ace for business in November 2011. At the time, I was told it had been closed for 30 or 35 years, though no one was quite sure. I was recently told by a relative of the original owner (John Lee), however, that it didn't shut down til the 90s. Over the years we've had lots of former Ace Restaurant customers drop by, all with fond memories of The Ace, but none having a lot of historical info. And not one has had an old photo! When we took over The Ace in June 2011, it was in pretty bad disrepair. But, even so, it was beautiful. I wanted to save everything I could (sadly the big jukebox and tabletop jukeboxes were gone already). We had to replace all the equipment (cooking equip, refrigeration, etc), some of the flooring (we've since put all new floors down), and re-upholster everything. The booths used to have coat racks, but most were broken so I ended up taking all of them off. And the soda fountain behind the counter had rusted through and rotted through the floor. I disassembled it and cut off the top, which now sits on top of the beer cooler behind the counter. We also put up a mirror behind the bar and added subway tiles in the kitchen. But overall, I wanted to keep The Ace as it was, and I think we accomplished that. At least as best we could. Best.
Restored 'cigarette shelf'
Preserved wall paper.
The entrance to history on Roncesvalles.
Thanks to chef Tony for telling me about the ACE. The food is wonderful.
Beautiful historic washroom!!!
Original and beautifully aged counter.
The favorite seat. Thank you Greg for preserving these memories!