Thursday, January 3, 2013

83 Garry Street - Revolving Restaurant

Former Royal Crown Restaurant 
Place: Revolving Restaurant (Fort Garry Place)
Address: 83 - 85 Garry Street
Opened: April 14, 1988
Cost: $4.5m


Fort Garry Place was the brainchild of developer Martin Bergen. Born in southern Ukraine, he came to Manitoba in 1953. He worked as a labourer and drywaller around the region until he saved up enough money to build his first apartment block on Edison Avenue in North Kildonan. From there, he created Marlborough Developments and Edison Rentals and constructed and managed dozens of mostly suburban apartment blocks around the city.

Construction began on Fort Garry Place in October 1986. It consists of a four storey base that houses 4,000 sq m of office space, a 60,000 sq m retail mall, and a parkade for 1200 cars. Three towers of 20 storeys each house 900 apartments. The north tower has four additional floors for parking and is topped with a 200 seat revolving restaurant.

'Downtown Walk May_0077
It was a controversial plan, mainly because of the proximity of the tallest tower to the Hotel Fort Garry. It would dwarf the building and block its winter sun. At the time, though, the hotel was already struggling and within a year the City of Winnipeg took possession of it for non-payment of $2.5m in back taxes.

The design also came in for some derision. Marketed as having "Old World Charm", it superimposed a castle motif along with hundreds of decorative pillars, lions and statues. One University of Manitoba architectiure prof referred to it as a "...gross act of functional and visual vandalism", (April 19 1986, Winnipeg Free Press). The result was the city tightening downtown development rules for future projects.

The statues were discovered by Bergen while on a trip through Europe seeking design ideas and interior peices for the building. They were on a building in Wiesbaden, Germany. He had them taken down and craftsman Alfred Widmer make moulds. Widemer returned with them to Winnipeg and also did much of the stone carving on the building.

Former Royal Crown, Winnipeg
The most recognizable feature of Fort Garry Place is the revolving restaurant.

This wasn't Bergen's first foray into rooftop restaurant. Merteens had been a fixture atop Oakland Gardens in East Kildonan for nearly a decade and Tiffani's operated atop Appleton Estates on Niakwa Road.

Images from Royal Crown Website

The restaurant level takes up three floors. The glass elevator stops on the 28th floor of the building, which is the restaurant's entrance. From there, patrons take another elevator past the 29th floor kitchen level to either the 30th or 31st floors. The 30th floor held 200 people and was set aside for more modest priced meals. The 31st held 60 and had a more exclusive menu. 

The two restaurant levels turn in the opposite directions, (the exterior  likestructure itself does not turn, the floors inside them do, like giant turntables.) The larger 30th floor takes about 70 minutes to do a revolution, the smaller 31st takes about 45.

April 9, 1988, Winnipeg Free Press

On April 14, 1988 the Royal Crown Restaurant opened. Reviews from the public were okay but the view spectacular. Free Press food critic Marion Warhaft panned the food after a number of visits claiming that the management suffered from "delusions of grandeur" for serving mediocre food at Dubrovnik's prices. (June 10, 1988, Winnipeg Free Press.)

The Royal Crown catered to the tourist market, rarely advertising in the Free Press.

November 26, 2008, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1994 the restaurant was leased to the Gill family who ran it for fourteen years. They did not renew their estimated $25,000 per month lease when it came due in December 31, 2008. 

The Gills claimed that a lack of parking and declining sales were the reasons. Some though, felt that the restaurant was grubby and in need of redecoration. Even Miriam Bergan, who ran Edsion Rentals, told the Free Press that even if a new tenant stepped up right away, it would need to be closed for months as “It needs a good cleaning and there’s some painting and patching and (other) maintenance that needs to be done.” (Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 26, 2008, p B12)

There was no new tenant lined up to take over and the space sat empty for three years. In July 2011 Edison went on an aggressive North American-wide hunt to find a new tenant. 

In January 2012 it was announced that local restaurateur Noel Bernier was in the final stages of negotiations to take over the space. 

October 2013 update:

Bernier did lease the space and by summer 2013 renovations were underway. Called Prairie 360, the restaurant will open in late October 2013 with a private function, a fundraiser for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It will open to the public on November 11.

Prairie 360 Website 
Fort Garry Place Winnipeg Building Index
Revolving Restaurant Reborn Winnipeg Free Press (Oct 2013)
Revolving restaurant could open this fall CBC (Jan 2012)
Will Royal Crown revolve again in 2010? Winnipeg Sun (Dec 2009)
Revolving restaurant will turn no more Winnipeg Free Press (Nov 2008)

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