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Basil's reborn as bistro

Longtime customers warmly embrace return to Osborne Village

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Basil's is back.

After being forced to close his Osborne Village institution nearly four years ago due to a water-main break that not only completely flooded its basement but spilled up to the main floor, Basil Lagopoulos is once again in the restaurant business.

Bistrot By Basil welcomed its first customers Monday evening and they're glad to have him back.

"I've never been so hugged in all my life," Lagopoulos said with a laugh. "It was incredible. People were coming in and saying 'Thank you, this is fantastic.' They sat around the bar and looked around and discussed the old days. They picked up where they left off more than three years ago."

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Lagopoulos is justifiably relieved he is back doing what he loves. Settling $1.2 million worth of damage claims with his insurance company took two years and getting his space up to code took far longer than he expected, too. There were significant delays in getting his liquor licence, he said, because he was treated as a new restaurateur, not as somebody who had been in the industry for more than three decades.

"We wanted to be open in June so we could take advantage of the patio season, but it didn't happen until Monday. I've found the climate isn't really a pro-business climate, if anything, it's an anti-business climate," he said.

Bistrot By Basil has a different menu than Basil's did, but it should be familiar to longtime patrons. Lagopoulos said he cherry-picked some of the best items over the last 30 years and "made them comply with a bistro-type atmosphere."

"A bistro is a place that is casual and enables people to have social interaction over food and wine. (The restaurant) is patterned after a typical bistro in Paris, even though many of our menu items are a fusion of tastes and flavours and aren't necessarily French or Parisienne," he said.

But while the damaged hardwood floors and water-stained drywall could be replaced, the same could not be said for Lagopoulos's hearing. Due to the stress of dealing with all of the damage, he went completely deaf for a brief period on the day of the water-main break. After some aggressive treatment and the use of hearing aids, his hearing is back to about 50 per cent of what it used to be.

Lagopoulos's neighbours are glad he's back. "Is that ever long-awaited," said Susan McCain, executive director of the Osborne Village Business Improvement Zone (BIZ). "Everybody has been asking, 'When is Basil's going to open again?' The restaurant was a mainstay for so many people in this area. It has been sadly missed."

The timing of the return of Basil's is also opportune, McCain said, as many Osborne Village retailers saw their business drop off while the Osborne bridge was repaired this year.

"Basil's coming back is going to be a really positive change. It's going to bring a lot of (people) back. The whole Village is coming alive," she said.

Lagopoulos said during his hiatus, his son suggested he sell the property, relax and put his feet up. He didn't listen to him.

"When I'm dead, my feet will be up forever. I need a purpose in my life. I need somewhere to go."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2011 B5

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