“I want to paint Montreal as a rather fantastic city, which it was, because nobody knows today what it was like. And I’m one of the last survivors, or rapidly becoming one.”
– Christopher Plummer, actor
December 28, 2011, Montreal: Nick’s Restaurant has been a staple on Greene Avenue since Nick Alevisatos first arrived in Montreal from Greece in 1920. At Nick’s place and in the surrounding neighborhood of Westmount, Nick and his wife poured their heart into the restaurant and raised five children, most of whom would later carry on the family business on this bustling street. It’s the same street I’ve seen for many years depicted in the painting above. It’s the scene of memories for our family, too, ever since my father arrived on Greene Avenue from Chicago in 1972 to begin work a few doors down from Nick’s place.
The car automatically gravitates toward Greene Avenue on Tuesday, our first day in Montreal. We haven’t necessarily planned for lunch at Nick’s, but there it is, open and booming with business. We take seats at the counter and my father introduces himself to our waiter, Andrew, a man who knows the family well. He credits Tom, Nick’s son, with mentoring him and raves about the family’s incredible work ethic.
Here at the lunch counter over grilled cheese and root beer, the memories come flooding back. My dad recounts to all of us that he came here his first day on the job, stopped into Nick’s for his first lunch in the city. Those were the days when Nick still worked at the restaurant, before his death in 1977. During those long work days in the mid 70s, my father got to know Nick’s children who were close to his own age, becoming friendly with George and his brother Tom, who would soon take over his father’s business. Dad would play catch in the alley out back with the youngest Alevisatos brother, Jerry. Decades ago, George bought a place on Dorval Island, a tiny carless island in the river outside the city by the airport. After visiting George there, my parents followed suit and purchased a tiny cottage on Dorval, accessible only by ferry. One day, when my mother and brother came by for lunch, a dog tied to the meter out front bit my brother, gracing his eye. Tom, who regularly sat in the window at Nick’s overlooking the street, immediately saw what happened and called an ambulance.
Our waiter says Tom died about five years ago. George lives just around the corner. He hasn’t stopped by in a few days, may be away for the holidays. We leave our contact information at Nick’s just in case he’s back soon. We listen as the staff at Nick’s calls everyone by name who walks through that door. In all those years, only Jerry ever left the neighborhood of Westmount.
During the work week, at least, these were some of my dad’s first neighbors here in Montreal. They are neighbors who have made a lasting impression on many people whose hometowns include stories of Greene Avenue.