Pluto’s is living history. But in April 2020, after 32 years of serving “Ommies” and Bennys, burgers and sandwiches, soups and salads and other classic dishes from the repurposed Pacific 66 service station at Cook at View streets, Plutos will close at this location.
The lease is up, the land is sold and redevelopment is proposed. The last former service station of this style still standing in Canada is slated for demolition.
Even Victorians who have never dined at Pluto’s will recognize the post-war, art deco service station with its long pointed canopy. Art Deco celebrated the future of human technology, arising when electricity and radio were still young, vacuum cleaners and air conditioning were the latest marvels, and novelists such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were inspiring millions with wondrous visions of submarines and rocket ships.
The building, with its sharp angles and soaring bat-wing canopy that slices through a laser-like tower above a planetoid sign, seems to be right out of a George Jetson episode: a tiny treasure from the future imported to the past via Wells’ famous time machine. Though time-worn today, the building still expresses that sense of wonder and human triumph.
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And yet, there is no getting past that this little gem started as a garage. Little effort has been made through the years to disguise it. The main dining room remains, quite obviously, the ubiquitous pair of service bays, with their overhead doors, double-storey ceilings and cinder-block walls. A little neon, black-and-white tile floor, and roughly made booths stretching along two wainscotted walls hearken back to the future-obsessed optimism of the post-war years.
Each booth contains a montage of clippings featuring one of the Earth’s sibling planets set in order by their distance from the sun, starting with Mercury and progressing to Neptune. The parade ends at Pluto, a planet when Pluto’s opened, but since demoted to dwarf planet status. The rest of the room is filled with tables mostly set for four diners. No fancy room dividers or strategically placed plants are employed to soften or disguise the utilitarian pragmatism of the spacious squareness of this room, which, accordingly, feels a bit like a high-school cafeteria circa 1962.
The kitchen is carved from a small room that once stored spark plugs and brake pads, and the old front counter space is a coffee bar. Under the point of the extended bat-wing canopy, a cluster of battered concrete tables await customers, but though the day is warm and sunny, no staff offer outdoor service during my visit.
Torn between the Nut-Burger, perhaps Victoria’s original vegetarian burger – and a staple on the menu over three decades – and the Pastrami Reuben, a personal favourite, I was faced with a hard choice.
The Nut-Burger must be good to have survived for so long, but the Reuben’s promise of 10 ounces of shaved pastrami and a thick wad of sauerkraut with Swiss cheese and dijonnaise enticed me. Too bad that the two slices of marble rye came toasted darker than I prefer. The sandwich is offered with a choice of salad, fries or soup. I chose the soup of the day made from fresh tomatoes and spiced with a refreshing ginger zing.
Perhaps Pluto’s will find a new location after April of next year. No one knows.
Meanwhile, the countdown has commenced and sooner than we think possible, Pluto’s, and the iconic, historic, nod to the future that has served this restaurant so well, will pass into history.
1150 Cook Street