While the accolade of being Michelin-recognized often encourages chefs across the globe to expand to open more high-end restaurants, Jeffrey Bovis decided to go a whole different route — he took over The Comrade.
In September 2022, while Wynona, Bovis’s establishment on Gerrard Street, received international acclaim as a Bib Gourmand recipient, Bovis simultaneously dedicated efforts a few streets away to preserve the authenticity of the laid-back cocktail bar.
A cherished haunt for Leslieville locals, The Comrade seamlessly blends into the Queen Street retail landscape while also managing to command attention. Amidst the brightly lit neighbouring storefronts, The Comrade’s allure lies in its understated mystery, revealing itself to passersby solely through the subtle red outline of its fluorescent light. This place is one for the locals, like Bovis himself.
“We used to come to The Comrade after wrapping up at Wynona since it was one of few places with a late-night menu,” explains Bovis.
Prior to earning international recognition from the Michelin Guide, Bovis and his wife Jackie Lee had already been contemplating a new venture. Coincidentally, this desire aligned with The Comrade’s owners, Nikki and Dean Fletcher, who were seeking to downsize and concentrate on their adjacent bistro, Goods & Provisions.
“Like all the regulars, I didn’t like thinking about anyone else coming in here to change it,” says Bovis, praising The Comrade for its dedicated regulars.
For months, the team was overhauling the kitchen by installing gas-lines and new fridges, staying secretive about having purchased the space. No matter the work put into the back, Bovis prioritized keeping the dining room and bar familiar for the regular customers, with deer head and bird taxidermy, posters and mirrors covering every last inch of the walls. He was adamant about preserving that “Canadiana” look.
The photographs on the walls, typewriters, vases and furniture decorating both the front of the bar and at the back of the narrow hall hint at The Comrade’s past life as a vintage furniture store when the Fletchers first opened the space.
While the kitchen upgrades were meant to give Bovis and his team more opportunity to experiment with their food offerings, another key for the new owner was to ensure the most beloved menu items never changed. The prime rib smash burger was one such item, and even now with a recently launched new winter menu, the comfort sandwich remains a top seller.
Newer highlight include the three-cheese charcuterie sourced from Quebec, and, even more uncommon to find in the city, shishito peppers.
Though the cocktail menu has been refreshed under the new ownership to include a changing list, Bovis explains that the bartenders are always eager to make some of The Comrade’s original drinks for their local customers. “They’re still some of our most popular drinks,” he notes.
The one-of-a-kind bar has caught the attention of more than just the city’s east-enders, a serving as the backdrop for numerous feature films and television shows filmed in Toronto. Most recently, The Comrade has made an appearance in scenes for the TV adaption of the iconic 1999 romantic drama Cruel Intentions, whose original starred Reece Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair. The remake, which will be coming to Amazon Prime Video, is set in Washington, though was filmed across Toronto.
Other recent productions include Amazon Prime’s latest season of the The Boys, and Netflix’s Sex/Life. In the latter, The Comrade is depicted as it is in real life: a romantic though laid back, comfortable place where you’re likely to run into someone you know.
“I think people want to film here because there is something different about it,” notes Bovis, adding that there are several more independent films scheduled to use the space in the new year. “It’s not something you can find just anywhere.”
The Comrade is located at 758 Queen St. E.