You can't beat Old Transcona's Bond Street and Regent Avenue L-shaped strip for a safe and friendly live music pub crawl.
The three hot spots in the L are The George in the iconic Royal George Hotel, The Silver Spike at the Princess Hotel and Joe's Garage at The Pandora. The trio of hotel bars are perfectly situated so designated drivers can park in the middle, with a short block to bars at either end. At the end is a view of the famous Transcona Shops, for sentimental railroad types.
Talk about a time tunnel. These bars are safe, friendly places to be for locals and imports. Many people bar-hop all three in one evening. Unlike many city bars, which need serious security these days, there are no fights. Why? Because these are all neighbourhood bars, just like Cheers.
"Everybody knows your name," says bartender Carrie Coughlan at The Silver Spike. "We have a very easygoing crowd. We don't even have troubles argument-wise, because people know each other."
The Royal George boasts the most entertainment -- a minimum six nights a week. That's partly because co-owner Greg Pester has a big interest in music. He's the hot guitar player in the Sassy Jack band, which hosts an instrumental and singing jam on Wednesday nights. Bartender Coco Titanich, who took 10 years of singing lessons with Juno award-winning country singer Cindi Cain, sometimes hits the stage herself. Tuesday nights the Transcona Troubadors play, and Thursday nights it's Shandra Levreault and Slow Motion Walter -- an ever-changing lineup.
"They're all wicked top-of-the-line players," says Pester.
Weekends the bands vary, with the Curtis Newton Band playing this Saturday night, and again Sunday in a multi-band tribute to his old friend, the late and great musician/producer Craig Fotheringham. The lineup includes the Foster Martin Band, Sassy Jack, and The Silhouettes. Hidden behind a big wooden fence from Regent Avenue, Transcona's main drag, is a patio, popular three seasons of the year for "secret" smokers. But the interior decor of the building is an ode to Winnipeg musicians, with collections of their 45s, albums and posters on the walls, from floor to ceiling.
Some pool table lights are shaped like race cars. A 1950s-era wooden shuffleboard dominates one wall, a huge stage and dance floor is at the dark end of the room. Lining another wall is a long row of seats from the back of a Greyhound Bus.
The Princess Hotel's bar, The Spike, is the most modern of the three. But by "modern," we're talking relative to the area.
"About 15 years ago they redid the bar," says Coughlan. It has a woodsy indoor patio feel, big dance floor, long stage and ringside seats for watching dancers -- of all kinds. Daytime there are some exotic dancers and Wednesdays is Erotic Bingo night. These days there's also a busy VLT casino section. The Princess Hotel is a family affair for Ron and Florence Osesky, their daughter Jodie and her husband Dave Isaak. Thursday to Saturday they hire live music for the long stage -- mostly newer rock, and some country. (Catie St. Germain plays this Saturday night).
Coughlan confesses the reason she's worked at The Spike for the past 16 years is the Transcona people.
"I love the people here. We have customers from 18 to 100 years old." And there are lots of characters. "For instance, we have one great old guy called Tony who brings his tambourine every day." He plays with the band or goes table to table and entertains people.
"In the daytime, we see a lot of retired CN workers and ex-firefighters and people from the immediate neighborhood."
"A lot of older men tell me they never go past Plessis. No need to -- everything's at this end," she laughs. True enough, the old Transcona stores and bars and restaurants (mostly Chinese restaurants and fast food) are clustered around that two-block area where the three bars are.
Across the street from the Princess Hotel and closer to the famous Transcona Shops gate is The Pandora, with its well-known bar Joe's Garage.
The Pandy is known for its famous rock 'n' roll entertainers over the years. "This bar has had Steppenwolf, Big Sugar, Harlequin, Doug and the Slugs, Streetheart and lots more," says bartender John Fedoruk, 22, whose dad Joe owned the Pandora for 25 years, selling to Joe and Lou-Ann Andrews last May." Son John laughs and says the fact the seller and buyer had the same first name -- and wouldn't have to change the bar name from Joe's Garage -- helped seal the deal.
Some would argue the Pandora is best known as the place where Burton Cummings of The Guess Who fame would suddenly show up and do a free show. "We didn't pay him; he just had drinks on the house. We couldn't book him; he just came when he came."
I was lucky enough to catch one of his famous late-night impromptu concerts when a rumour went out across the city early in the day that Cummings might play there late that night. The place was packed at 7 p.m. At midnight there was a commotion at the door, with security people parting the crowd like the Red Sea and Cummings striding through to the piano onstage, where he played for almost two hours -- an unforgettable experience.
Though Transcona people may take a ribbing about being out in the sticks with its pink flamingos, they really don't care. They still don't have to watch their backs when they go out for a fun evening of live entertainment.