Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/1/2011 (2358 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Before the wrecking ball, one last plate of chicken balls: On Sunday, three weeks after city council voted to allow demolition of the Shanghai restaurant building, the Chinese food institution bade goodbye after more than 70 years in business.
The council vote paved the way for the Chinatown Development Corp. to buy the historic 128-year-old building, which takes up a whole block of King Street. The building, which once temporarily housed the mayor's office, will be demolished to make way for an Asian seniors' complex in the heart of Chinatown.
As soon as the restaurant's doors opened at mid-afternoon Sunday, scores of longtime diners packed the tables and kitschy '50s-era booths and carted away boxes of takeout.
"I have to start the grieving process," quipped Chris Bilsland, sitting down with three generations of her family to savour her Winnipeg-favourite mushroom guy kue for the very last time.
In the kitchen, food was already running low. A dozen cooks tossed off jokes as they sliced the last of the barbecued pork and fried up the dwindling supplies of fresh veggies.
Skipping nimbly around waiters balancing plates of chop suey and chow mein, Shanghai owner Henry Lee offered thousands of handshakes but shied away from reporters jostling for his time.
"Me? I am not important," grinned Lee, 74, as yet another old friend clapped him on the back. "You want to talk to the customers."
In a booth under the restaurant's aging yellow lights, friends Donna Finkelman and Sharon Freed tucked into heaping platters. (Their favourite? The restaurant's item number 99, wontons in sweet ketchup sauce.) Finkelman discovered Chinese food here at a birthday party when she was a girl. That was May 1965; she still remembers the month. "It was that memorable," she chuckled.
Back then, the friends remembered, Winnipeg's Jewish families flocked to the Shanghai on Christmas Eve. It was the only place to eat and it quickly became an institution. The decor didn't change much in the intervening decades. Maybe that's what made the place so special.
"It's kind of like saying goodbye to an old friend," Finkelman mused. "You wish you had seen them more often, but when they're gone, they're gone."
The food, too, will be hard to replace, many fans said. Proudly surveying her two towers of take-out boxes, Gladys Bellamy offered a eulogy for menu number 131C, the lemon chicken. "If you never had it, you missed the boat," declared Bellamy, who first came to the Shanghai as a teen. "There's no other lemon chicken quite like it."