Vintage Toronto Ads: Float Gently at Captain John's
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Vintage Toronto Ads: Float Gently at Captain John’s

20091222captainjohn.jpg
Source: Toronto Life, July 1975.

Moored at the foot of Yonge Street for forty years, Captain John’s has survived numerous legal entanglements, bankruptcy, lousy reviews, and the ramming of its first home by a city ferry. But time may be running out for the tourist-drawing restaurant, as owner John Letnik has put the ship up for sale, a move that has inspired daydreams about future possibilities for the site.
Prospects were much brighter for the restaurant when today’s ad appeared in 1975. Letnik had spent nearly a year negotiating with the Yugoslavian government to bring the Jadran, a former cruise ship, to serve as expanded quarters for the restaurant. The ship arrived in November and work was soon underway to convert it into a dining and meeting space to welcome guests the following summer. “I bought the ship complete with china, crystal, silver and furnishings,” Letnik told the Toronto Star. “The J imprinted on everything suits me fine. Most of the fixtures will be kept intact, but refurbished…I will try to preserve as much of the original ship as possible.”
The Jadran was moored next to the Normac, a former fire tug and passenger ferry that was converted into the original Captain John’s in 1970. While advertorial writers gushed about its amenities and diners lined up to sample the novelty of a floating eatery, restaurant reviewers, such as the writers of the 1976 edition of Dining Out in Toronto, had mixed feelings:

There is the full range of seafoods, coupled with the mandatory steak for those whose affinity to the sea is once-removed…One must believe Letnik owns a Brussels sprout farm because for years this vegetable adorned virtually every lunch plate. Lunch, by the way, could be good if more of it was prepared on the spot, but owner and audience alike suffer from the cramped galley. The service can be maddeningly slow, and crowds overtake the reservation system. The deck has been converted to an open-air beer garden which is fun in the summer, if windy.

The guide gave Captain John’s one star out of five.
The two ships served customers side-by-side, with the Jadran used mainly for banquets, until a Toronto Island ferry struck the Normac in June 1981. The ship sank two weeks after the incident and remained in the harbour until it was removed five years later.
Additional material from Dining Out in Toronto by Jeremy Brown and Sid Adilman (Toronto: Pagurian Press, 1976), and the December 9, 1975 and June 17, 1981 editions of the Toronto Star.

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