Toronto’s historic Lakeview Restaurant had a cameo in “The Shape of Water” which was just one of its film credits over more than 85 years of service. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Toronto diner adds Oscar-inspired dessert to storied cinematic history

Toronto’s historic Lakeview Restaurant is open to all kinds of characters, from a cocktail-slinging Tom Cruise to John Travolta in drag and Sally Hawkins as the mute paramour of an escaped merman.

Known to locals for its late-night comfort fare, the west-end diner has racked up an impressive number of film credits over more than 85 years of service, including a cameo in “The Shape of Water,” which was awarded the Oscar for best picture on Sunday.

Co-owner Fadi Hakim said film crews descend on the Lakeview Restaurant about once every month or two for movie, television and commercial shoots, temporarily shutting down the all-hours eatery.

“It is an iconic diner in the sense that it is a landmark in Toronto,” Hakim said in a phone interview this week. “A lot of film scouts really like it because … they don’t have to do a lot to it at all, except maybe rebrand it.”

Hakim said the diner’s wood-panelled decor and vinyl cushioning makes it a “no-brainer” destination for any production scouting locations for period pieces like “The Shape of Water,” which is set in the 1960s.

“The idea is when you walk in here, you’re instantly transported,” he said. “You can just feel the history of it.”

Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro was so smitten with the diner’s art deco esthetic, he set extra scenes in the greasy spoon, according to Hakim, although it’s unclear how much of the footage made it into the film.

For the Cold War-era fantastical romance, the Lakeview Restaurant was retrofitted into a Dixie-themed pie shop in Baltimore, where one of the film’s characters buys a fridge full of highlighter-hued key lime pies.

Soon after the movie hit theatres, Hakim said the diner had to add key lime pie to its menu so patrons could re-enact the scene in which Hawkins’ mute janitor takes a bite of the dessert and sticks out her green-stained tongue.

He said other customers will jokingly order the dish featured in the 1988 bartending rom-com “Cocktail” starring Cruise, whose character gets an ample serving of chicken a la king dumped on his head.

Some cinephiles will come to the restaurant just to sit on the same stool where Travolta dined in a pink-sequined dress in the 2007 musical adaptation of “Hairspray,” or saunter through the doors with the deadly swagger of a mobster in “Boondock Saints,” Hakim said.

He said the diner has collected cinematic memorabilia from several productions, such as a shard of glass from the door Daniel Craig accidentally shattered while he was filming the 2011 psychological thriller “Dream House.”

But Hakim tried to distance the restaurant from other less appetizing props, like the lifeless rats that flew past Robert Pattinson’s head in the David Cronenberg-directed thriller ”Cosmopolis.”

“Wasn’t our rat,” said Hakim.

Other stars that have graced the restaurant’s tiled floors on screen include Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Willem Dafoe and Michelle Williams, and Hakim said many more celebrities have stopped by to eat when the cameras weren’t rolling.

While Toronto often serves as a cinematic stand-in for American cities, Hakim said he thinks the diner’s distinctly Toronto sensibility shines through on the big screen.

Established in 1932, the Lakeview Restaurant has changed hands several times over the decades, but the diner’s mission has stayed the same.

The neon sign out front reads “Always Open,” promising good grub at any hour to a broad cross-section of city-dwellers, Hakim said.

“There is no class separation to it. I think that that ultimately is what certain places in Toronto have,” he said. “It is a bit of a cultural icon that everybody can enjoy, and that’s what I think that diners distinctly can offer.”

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