Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Old Lido Cafe

Every city should have a faded old family café. When the Lido—offering Chinese and western food—was open, rock star Robert Plant was quoted as raving over it; when the Lido closed, the local TV, radio, newspaper and two magazines all lamented the passing. On the final night, it was standing room only, and the walls were covered with paintings of the café: The paintings sold out. Some of those paintings were of the view from the crumbling alley, for the old Lido was loved from all directions. To feel like a cool regular, you came through the back hall, stepping up a big ledge from the days before wheelchairs.

Passing the freezer door and two small tiny toilets, you entered the main café, with the aisle leading between rows of plain brown vinyl booths ending at window booths. A turn to the left led to the counter with soda fountain stools, and, at one time, chrome fences holding the menus. Everyone loved the hand-made milkshakes. The chrome fences, on the formerly linoleum counter, (later arborite) had vanished back when the little personal juke boxes had been moved to the wall with the booths. That was when Ken Fung changed the Chinese red seats to brown.

Formerly with real vinyl records, now the little boxes hooked up to a machine downstairs. People loved to flip through the juke menus under glass, using a dial, and maybe write the numbers they wanted on a napkin—from an upright steel dispenser, of course. While each juke box had two volume buttons, for quiet or loud, the master volume dial was kept behind the counter—of course the management kept the sound low during the mornings, when all the customers preferred quiet. So you chose your songs and you put in your coins and enjoyed your music, new and old. I often played Patsy Kline, from my favorite decade; I always finished my set with Video Killed the Radio Star.

Once some ladies needed to push the window tables together, after more women kept arriving, and after I had relinquished my window table to them, and moved to a booth.  Then the oldest of them, their club president, leaned over the booth wall to offer me her card: I ended up joining their toastmasters club—and that led to years of enjoyment.

One day I moved from a large booth table to a small booth, so an entire aboriginal family could use fit around the table—that’s when the manager learned my name. Soon he trusted me to stay on after hours, finishing my coffee as a yard-high piece of cardboard was placed over the door glass: So we could safely allow some “members of the family” up from downstairs: two little dogs. No one ever told the health board.

Sometimes I would joke, “Don’t tell my mother I eat here so much” but it was a great place to hang out: family run, the children helping, lots of regulars—it was a family place where people knew my name. My home away from home. Not too posh. There was an art college up the hill, a huge Alcoholics Anonymous meeting across the road—no, we weren’t too posh.

Everyone knew the Lido. Once a clothing store manager, who had seldom been in the café, and never when I was around, heard a guitarist asking Sue the waitress, “Has Sean been in today?” Although her store was miles away, she guessed which Sean it was—and so they were talking together when I arrived. A homey café where strangers can talk—that was the Lido. 

Sean Crawford
Calgary 2016

~Here's a link to the local newspaper with lots of pictures.
~Here's a lot of representative reviews.
~I’m still chuckling over how that clothing store manager, in a mall, had seen me across the big hall chatting in the competition’s store. After I was gone she crossed the hall and her colleague asked her, “Do you know Sean? Isn’t he a hoot?” I was told this the next time I came by. (Probably the same day)