Joe Gomes has been working the bar at Park Hyatt's The Roof Lounge in Yorkville since 1959. He is a legend, a part of this city's history, and probably the most humble guy you'll ever meet.
Next year will be his 55th work anniversary. When asked how he plans to celebrate, he replies that he won't, adding, "It's just a normal day for me!"
Will you ever retire?
It's not in my books. Another year goes by...I get by. I go day by day. You never know what's going to happen. I'm still here.
How have you adapted to 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. for so long?
I didn't. My wife has adapted.
What is the biggest change you've seen in the drinks industry over the years?
To tell you the truth there hasn't been any big change. People are getting a little fancier now. In [the old] days there were standard cocktails. Now there's all these flavoured [spirits]. But I like to please people and learn new things.
What about the resurgence of "old timey" cocktail culture in Toronto these days?
The young generation today likes to go back to see what the cocktails were, so they ask me because I've been here a long time. You can give them the same ingredients but when the person makes the cocktail it's not the same. It's like a chef. My wife puts the same things in that my mom does but it doesn't taste the same! Don't tell her I said that.
What's your favourite drink to make?
I mix the way [people] like. There's no favourite cocktail for me to make.
What do you like most about your job?
This [used to be] the only hotel in the city ... I've seen guests grow up. We don't have the same guests here [as when I started]. Those people passed on and a new generation has come. I have to watch myself because I see people bringing their wives and their girlfriends! But I love it when people say, "You're part of our lives." We always have wonderful guests.
Have you played a role in creating the quality atmosphere the hotel is known for?
Yes I have. I relate to the customers. I'm the longest employee in the history of the hotel. One waiter was here 52 years. Not that I'm trying to pass him!
Who have been some of your favourite people to meet at The Roof Lounge?
Paul Anka came in to meet me. It was such a wonderful experience. The bar was full, and who happened to walk in but Paul Anka! [I remember] his hand was extended over [the bar] to me and he had a glare in his eyes and everybody turned around and it felt great. This was two years ago when he was here for the Walk of Fame. A family that used to come to the bar brought him in to meet me. We were talking until 4:30 in the morning! I never had that experience in my life. It was wonderful. They took pictures. I never asked. I never ask anyone for anything! I also met John Wayne in 1962 when he was shooting a movie here. And I met Jane Russell in 1959 when I was 17.
What has been your most memorable experience?
When this was the Park Plaza, I saved a man's life. I saw him trying to jump off the roof so I ran and grabbed his leg and was fighting with him. This was in the wintertime. He was climbing up a chair and getting to the ledge, and I was holding his leg and talking to him. And finally one of the guests saw me struggling with him and came to help me out. They got excited so I said, "Stay there and let me talk to him." Security came and grabbed him from the other side. I did what I had to do, but I never got thanked from the Plaza. That hurts me.
What initially drew you to this career?
Before I arrived here [in Canada], when it was called the Park Plaza, there was a small dining room and [they had] an opening for a bus boy. A guy who worked there knew my cousin. Said, "I know a guy coming here from Portugal." So they waited for me to arrive [and] did all the work for me. Just said to buy some pants and a shirt. "We'll give him the jacket and tell him to start on Monday." I never chose this.
Who were some of your mentors?
None. I'm my own person. My father used to get upset when I said, "I don't want to be like you, Dad. Nothing personal, but I want to be me." I'm not a follower.
Do you have any protégés?
I trained a lot of people here when George Brown College students came behind the bar. I met an awful lot of kids, but I don't know where they are now. It's hard to train people today. They want to do their own thing. I just don't bother. I say, "If you want to be successful, just watch me."
Do you go out for drinks at any of the other bars in the city?
I usually don't go anywhere; I don't go to bars. I do in Madeira, [but] here, I don't go to bars. I'm a good, happily married man.
What kind of drinks do you make at home for friends & family?
I'll make anything. Whatever they want, I'll do it. I'm not a drinker ... that's why I'm still here. I'm very disciplined with myself. Everything for me lasts a lifetime. I'm married 52 years. Every day I have a wonderful experience with guests. I'm a happy guy.
[Photo: Joe Gomes/Canadian Restaurant News]
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