Painting murals in Toronto

From the very start of their venture I’ve been supplying my friends Justin and Alison of Borrel in Toronto with illustrations and art work. I’ve seen them grow from strength to strength with their Dutch food pop-ups at some of Toronto’s hippest bars. After several sell-out events they decided to take the plunge and start their own bar/restaurant!
A couple of months ago Justin and Alison managed to purchase a property on ‘The Danny‘ (Danforth Avenue), in Toronto’s up and coming East End. The place was a total gut job – to illustrate the size of the job: they had to get rid of seven (!) layers of various types of flooring, one which included asbestos (!!), in order to get to the original wooden floorboards, which now have been beautifully restored.
On the plus-side this shell of a building has left them with a blank canvas, so they are able decorate the place precisely as they wish. The ground floor itself will look like a bruin café (a traditional Dutch bar, dimly lit with lots of dark wood), though more stylish, with a beautiful custom-built bar. But Justin and Alison wanted to add some fun and colour to the space downstairs. So they asked me to paint three murals. I said “Yes of course!”, they bought me a plane ticket and on 5 July I travelled to Canada for two weeks of painting!
Obviously there was going to be a Dutch theme, and we decided to make the murals somewhat educational, so guests can learn a little about the bar’s background while visiting the loo.
In the hallway I painted a huge map of  the Netherlands with some landmarks and local dishes (and some bicycles and tulips – you can’t get away from that I’m afraid). In the two toilets I filled the walls with portraits of some of Holland’s finest musicians, writers, actors, artists, athletes and historical figures. Some more famous than others, but there is  a “who is who” chart on the other wall (best viewed from the toilet seat) to help you out.
Please excuse the low quality pictures, taken with my phone; some additional work still needed to be done in these spaces (including lighting), so it was difficult to get any decent photos. A professional photographer will come around before their grand opening, so I’m hoping to include those in my portfolio with permission.
During the day I had to work incredibly hard to finish it all in time, but my hosts made sure we did something fun every evening (breathing fresh air and seeing the sky already made me very happy after so many hours downstairs haha). On some nights Justin cooked me a delicious meal, practising and testing the restaurant’s menu. I got to eat andijvie stamppot (escarole and potato mash), bitterballen and kroketten (deep fried meat ragout coated in bread crumbs), mustard soup, broodje bal (a large meatball on a bun), kaassouflée (deep fried cheese coated in bread crumbs), pancakes (NL-style with cheese and bacon, or with apple) and last but not least rijsttafel (a collection of many smaller (Dutch-)Indonesian dishes. Well let me tell you this, Torontonians are in for a treat!
☝︎Rijsttafel and kaassouflées
Other evenings we just went for a drink and a bite at one of Toronto’s many super cool bars (notably Hitch, Farside, The Only, Handlebar, arcade bar Tilt and Communist Daughter). Or we did something a bit more cultural, like seeing a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival or a band at Feast in the East (check out their flyers, the illustrations are so great!). And I managed to do some thrifting as well (gotta love North American thrift stores).
In all I had a fantastic two weeks! I’m ever so grateful to Justin and Alison for this opportunity, and the fun times we had. I can’t wait to go back and experience Borrel when it’s in full swing!
  1. Frances Fryters

    I just wanted to say how awestruck I was by your amazing murals at Borrel in Toronto. I used the toilet before leaving on my first (and definitely not my last) visit there. I instantly recognized Mary Servos from De Zangeres Zonder Naam on the wall. My friend and someone in the next room told me about the legend on the other wall, which I didn’t even notice…lol I have a few photos of Mary, including one in my parents’ home here in Canada from 1972. It was a good likeness of how I remember her. You did a great job!

    • Nanna

      Thank you Frances!! So happy to hear you recognised Mary :-) She was so much fun to draw. De Zangeres Zonder Naam is such a legend, and her hit ‘Mexico’ is a classic!

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