THE FRIENDLY SOCIETY: A NEIGHBOURHOOD GASTROPUB WITH POLISH
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
We follow the group ahead of us down the narrow flight of stairs from street level into the subterranean world below. Behind us, the humming sights and sounds of Elora’s Mill Street. Ahead of us, something completely different – yet no less inviting. The thrum of chatter, laughter, and The New Pornographers’ ‘Champions of Red Wine’ beckons us forward.
Liz and I arrive at the bottom of the steps, and I’m transfixed by the underground scene laid out in front of us. By the dramatic black- and-white checkered floor. Oddly benevolent exposed stone walls. Warm reclaimed wood ceiling. And groups of people. Dining. Drinking. Spending this Friday evening in one of Elora’s newest culinary destinations – The Friendly Society. Filling the cozy space with energy and delightfulness.
Soon enough the manager (and our good friend), Katie, shows us to our table. A four-seater high-top near the back of the restaurant. Perfect for people watching. And positioned right next to The Friendly’s only block of windows, which look out at the silvery Grand River and the Metcalfe Street bridge that spans it. While I’m surveying
the view, Liz gives our drink order. Cocktails tonight – to match the tone of the place, and because Katie also happens to be the head bartender. And she’s good, real good, having helped open such awesome regional spots as downtown Guelph’s Ox (may it rest in peace), Elora’s The Porchlight (another recent addition to Elora’s ever-growing foodie scene), and now this brilliant space. ‘Chris’ll have a negroni,’ Liz tells Katie, ‘and I’ll try the cherry gin mint fizz.’ And so this pleasant evening kicks off.
While Liz and I sip our first round, awaiting our appetizers – including an order of fried olives, charcuterie board, and wings – The Friendly Society’s owner Becky Lalui takes a break from working in the kitchen to chat with us about her new place. (Becky and her husband Ardin are far from hands off owners, and can be found around the restaurant most days.) When I ask what gave her the inspiration to open, she’s quick to reply: ‘Travel.’ She elaborates: ‘Ardin and I have had the pleasure of adventuring far and wide – from Montreal to Prague to Paris. And of eating in these cities’ fantastic local restaurants. Culinary destinations
with amazing vibes. Gorgeous designs. And exceptional customer experiences. We wanted to replicate the best of these restaurants right here. To create a space that’s elevated, yet comfortable. A neighbourhood gastropub with polish.’
Our appetizers arrive – as does Ardin, who chimes in: ‘Our logo [displayed prominently
at street level behind glass on a luminous white subway-tiled wall] is a superb example of what Becky’s talking about. Inspired by the exalted tradition of medieval heraldry, it cheekily features a lowly chipmunk sharing a drink with a squirrel. The perfect combination of elevated and familiar. Like the restaurant.’ Cheeky, yes, I think to myself. And aesthetically-dazzling, too. Like the entire joint. Indeed, every square inch of the place has been finished beautifully – with drama, warmth and flair.
Take the brass bar, for instance, built by Elora metal artist Mike Hintermeister (who also made the awesome swing-out stools at The Porchlight, and the horse head sculpture in front of Elora Centre for the Arts). ‘When Mike was installing the bar top, he decided to cut the large piece of brass in two and weld the pieces back together in a ‘meandering’ pattern – to evoke the Grand River,’ Ardin tells us. And then there’s the wallpaper: William Morris (featuring bunnies and birds and floral patterns) for the dining room and Gucci (monochrome cats with bright red lipstick) for the restrooms. And the giant resin stag head mounted behind the bar. ‘It used to be in our bedroom,’ admits Ardin with a laugh. All these stunning features. Photogenic. And, perhaps more importantly, Instagrammable.
Katie returns to clear our appetizer plates (picked clean) and deliver our mains – a house burger with fries and Bourbon maple salmon with succotash and cornbread. And another round of drinks. A sangria for Liz and a pint of 1664 for me. (Katie tells us later that while The Friendly serves regional craft beer, it mixes in choices like Kronenbourg 1664 ‘to remind folks of their worldly travels.’ Indeed, it reminded me of my one-time seeming endless – and oh so heady – nights in Vienna
and Amsterdam.) I take a sip of my pint and ask about the place’s name. ‘It’s after a temperance group founded in the mid-nineteenth-century by a number of Elora’s business owners,’ Becky says. ‘The Friendly Society promoted drinking in moderation – and proclaimed themselves
a happier, more carefree option than the ‘humourless’ Elora Temperance Society.’ She tells us she’d love this place to be ‘a destination for locals and visitors alike to enjoy a few drinks, revel in some great food, and share excellent company.’
I take a bite of my burger and look over at Liz, who’s enjoying her maple salmon. (We will delight in Becky’s peach and apple crisp – later.) At the bar, Katie pours a group of locals another round. All around us, folks are immersed in conversation. And at our table, Becky and Ardin eagerly share more about The Friendly – their beautiful new baby.