Here’s the Beef

I thought I’d never see it again. But there – on page 32 of the July 1978 issue of Canadian Interiors – it is: the Great West Beef Co. in Waterloo, Ont., dubbed by CI “With-It Disco/Restaurant.” I came upon it last summer when I was combing through 50 years of bound issues in preparation for our special anniversary issue (November/December 2013).

I thought of the lyrics to “In My Life,” my fave Beatles song: “There are places I remember / All my life though some have changed / Some forever not for better / Some have gone and some remain.” I remember the Great West Beef Co. all too well and, I’m relieved to say, it is long gone (that is, I’m glad it’s long gone from my life). I worked at the Beef (as we called it) in 1976-77, first as a dishwasher, then busboy, then waiter. I found washing dishes hot and humiliating; bussing tables harrowing and humiliating; waiting tables horrifying and humiliating. I stayed the course, disgruntled worker I was, determined to make as much money as I could to see me through a year of theatre school – beginning in September 1977 – at the Drama Studio in London, England. I hated just about every minute of it.

The callow, stage-struck youth of 20 I was at the time recognized the beauty of the Beef, though. Designed by Moffat Moffat and Kinoshita (Toronto and Hamilton), and unlike anything in Kitchener-Waterloo, it seemed the essence of ’70s cool. Expanses of warm-coloured stained cedar? Check. Low-level mood lighting? Check. A profusion of ferns?  Check. Most importantly to me, it had a theatrical feel to it, with steps up from the central area of bar, grill and salad bar to several separate dining levels, where one or two waiters held court.

By the time the July 1978 issue of CI came out, I had enjoyed a whirlwind four months at theatre school; turned 21 in one of the great cities of the world, feted by a bunch of aspiring young actors from around the world; auditioned for and was hired by the Stratford Festival; and found myself treading the boards of another great Ontario interior, the storied Festival Theatre (despite many changes over the years, its revolutionary thrust stage, designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch in 1952, has never lost its essential character). 

But that’s another story.  cI