I was doing some reflecting the other day, not in the sense of reflecting light, as I do that well enough, without any special training, but reflecting, in the sense of remembering things. Bars seemed to come back to me. Bars, as in licensed beverage alcohol parlours.
Some of these establishments are long gone, but a few still exist. Others exist hazily as I was probably drunk when I went in and drunker when I came out, but I do have vague recollections of their decor. Herewith, a list of Bars.
The Maple Leaf in Ottawa, site of much illegal drinking during high school. A classic linoleum floor, Arborite tables and fluorescent lights. Cheap draft and ghastly chuckwagon sandwiches that were reheated in a metal box, with what looked like a 300 watt lightbulb inside to heat your lunch. After you got your chuckwagon sandwich and tore away the partially charred cellophane, you used mustard packets by the handful to douse the taste of the sandwich.
The Ottawa House, Hull. Long gone, but a huge beer parlour that sat five or six hundred at a go and had a balcony surrounding the main dance floor. Quarts of beer served to anyone who could see over the bar. Also home of my first brush with the original 12 percent Bras D’Or beer. There was usually a band in attendance. The Guess Who played there toward the end of their career and apparently I saw them. Getting puked on from the balcony was a hazard of the Ottawa House, but they didn’t care if you took the party into the street too.
The Eastview Hotel, Eastview. (I refuse to call it Vanier, it’s Eastview, dammit!) Also long gone. Had basement rec-room ‘oak’ panelling in the bar and a perpetually sticky floor from spillage. Apparently there were people who lived in the Hotel. but I’m reasonably certain those folks never actually ventured out in daylight.
The Chaud, Hull. There were two Hotel Chaudieres. The Rose Room and the Green Door. The Rose Room was upstairs, where you took a date. The Green Door is where you went to get drunk and fight. Both held more than 2,000 patrons at a go. You were brought a quart as a matter of course; only girls were brought pint bottles. The servers all had bus-driver change machines hooked to their belts and could carry at least 20 quarts and four jugs on a tray, with one hand.
In the glory days, the Chaudiere saw Louis Armstrong play the Rose Room. Later, bands like Sha-Na-Na, the Staccatos, Octavian and the Five Man Electrical Band played there. The Green Door was the kind of place where when you opened the door, you immediately ducked down, as there was either a bottle or a chair headed your way.
The Chaud was also home of Gerry Barber, the toughest bouncer on the planet. One story about Barber will suffice: A patron was being unruly and Barber asked him to sit down and shutthefuckup, tabernac!. The patron objected and showed his displeasure by breaking a nearly full quart beer bottle over Gerry Barber’s head. Normally, this would knock most humans to their knees.
Barber laughed out loud, in the face of the patron: The 2,000 drunks in the room instantly became very quiet, as we knew what was going to happen next. Barber grabbed the patron by the face and genitals, throwing him in the direction of the door, over a couple of tables. When Barber strode over to where the crumpled patron lay, he was still chuckling to himself. He picked up the patron by the belt, then used the patron’s head to open the door and toss him into the parking lot. The band resumed playing and the rest of us resumed drinking.
The British Hotel, Aylmer. The British sold something they called "Porch Climber", which was a fortified wine-related fluid: Sort of a high-test sangria, without the fruit slices, juice, or images of Spain. Porch Climber was sold in pitchers, like draft and if memory serves, was $3 per 64 oz pitcher, while beer was $5 a pitcher.
Why it was called Porch Climber was never explained. However, after a pitcher of that stuff, you’d be unable to get up on the porch, or for that matter, off the front lawn, where you had passed out, face down, the night before. It also stained white Addidas three-stripe running shoes permanently.
The World, Ottawa. The World was Ottawa’s premiere blues bar and had 300 as its’ listed capacity. When bluesman Buddy Guy played The World, they sold 700 tickets and everyone showed up.
Women, on those nights when the house was full, (Long John Baldry would also pack the joint), would routinely be assaulted, or to use the vernacular of the time, "felt up", as they tried to move through the crowd. On occasion, a woman would be body surfed on the top of the crowd over to the bar, or the rest rooms, depending on where she wanted to go.
The Grads. Ottawa. Originally a old fashioned "Ladies and Escorts" and "Men’s Entrance" type of tavern, it evolved into a watering hole for most of Carleton University, at one time or another. The colour scheme was beige and red, like an old streetcar or the Ottawa Transport Company buses of the time. The nicest thing about the Grads was the sign out front in Art Deco typography and design. The restrooms were from the Night of the Living Dead.
Friends and Co., Ottawa. In the disco era, Friends and Co was a meat-market of oak and brick, the concept being the ‘beautiful people’ of Ottawa would come together to drink and go home with someone different every night. The beautiful people did congregate there and it was a spritzer and fern joint of the worst kind.
The Talisman, Ottawa. The Talisman Hotel had a bar in the basement, which was done in full-on tiki lounge, with bamboo lamps, reed wall coverings, woven rattan furniture and servers in mahalo shirts in the dead of winter.
I can remember vaguely, some of, the Zombies they served, as well as the sounds of a South Korean disco band doing "That’s the Way, I Like It" in very bad accents. However, they did have a full horn section of stone killers and the keyboard player had a Hammond B3 with the lightweight Leslie speaker cabinet that he knew how to play. He made the table lamps shake with that organ when they did "Gimme Some Lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group.
Barrymore’s, Ottawa. Barrymore’s had an interesting history. Originally, the Imperial Theatre, it was a movie theatre on Bank Street, then it was shuttered for a number of years, with the seats and screen still intact inside, covered in dust. After a decade or two, it was reopened, at least the balcony and loges section, as Pandora’s Box, a strip club that was needlessly upscale for the time and neighbourhood. Pandora’s restored some of the elaborate painting and gilt work of the original Imperial and recycled some of the velvet draperies for the peelers’ runway.
Then it closed again and reopened as Barrymore’s, a pre-eminent live music bar and showcase. Any big act playing Ottawa at the Civic Centre, if they could, would stay over an extra night, or come a night early, to play Barrymore’s. Barrymore’s held, legally, 550 people. I was fortunate enough to see George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Tina Turner and Huey Lewis and the News in Barrymore’s.
There’s something galactically Right about seeing Huey Lewis or George Thorogood in a packed, smoky bar, with the entire place jumping up and down in unison, everyone, including the band, piss drunk. Tina Turner had just released "Private Dancer" and was a mega-star, who had booked Barrymore’s months before, as a warmup date for her tour. A Rolling Stones tribute band, the Blushing Brides, used to own the place when they played there.
Licensed as a bar, Barrymore’s didn’t have a bad seat in the place. A big stage, left over from the strippers, and one of the first GE Talaria video projection systems that was installed for non-band nights. They’d fire up the video system and play some of the very first music videos on the big screen at ear-splitting volume. On very quiet nights, they’d hook an Atari Pong game up to the big screen and you could play Pong on a screen that was twenty feet wide.
Pineland. Ottawa. In what looked like a small, warmed over rural arena, next to a rental go-kart track, some of the 60’s and 70’s best local bands played Pineland. The CFRA Campus Club for Coke, with Al Pascal, used to host the bands. Pineland was the home for the Townsmen, the Staccatos, Octavian, Five Man, the Cooper Brothers, Bolt Upright and hundred more bands. Ostensibly, Pineland was not licensed, but Gilbey’s Lemon Gin was readily available.
I’m going to end it here, for now, but if you remember some of the old Ottawa hotspots, like the Red Door, the Laf, Salon Diane and Salon Colette, as well as the Claude, the Elmdale, the VD and some of the other holes, drop me a line.
There are more stories to be had.