Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pub proprietor was feeling Lo, but hopes dream will rise again

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It's Tuesday afternoon, the sun is gentle on an Exchange District patio, and Jack Jonasson has just ordered a beer.

This seems to come as a surprise to the man himself. "Why not," Jonasson says, and laughs. "After all, I'm not working."

These are not words Jonasson is used to saying. For the first time in four years, the Lo Pub proprietor has nowhere else to be: his hip downtown pub and bistro closed its doors on Saturday, through no fault of its own. The pub was just collateral damage from the failure of the HI-Winnipeg Downtowner hostel, which leased the Ellice Avenue building the Lo called home. Still, it's done -- at least, for now.

This is how it went on Saturday night, the last dance of the Lo Pub: less of a funeral, more of a wake. The vodka was gone by midnight, and so was the gin, and then the beer taps ran dry and wine bottles spilled their final splash of white. The final few hundred revellers finished off the bar, sipping shots of banana liqueur out of tall glasses. And they laughed, and hugged, and swapped stories about the place.

Then the clock struck 2 a.m., the Lo Pub sign came down and the dozen staff crammed into the kitchen to say their goodbyes. Eight hours later, Jonasson shoved the last of the venue's gear into a rented storage locker. Then he went home, and he cried, and he slept for 12 hours straight.

When he finally woke up, he had mail: from patrons, from employees, from bands across Canada who mourned the Lo. "The last few days, there's been such a deluge of support and love and care for me, for my staff, for the experience everyone had in that space," Jonasson says. "Really though, everybody's comments and calls have made the end bearable."

Truthfully though: barely so. When Jonasson closed up on Saturday, he left behind the first incarnation of a dream he'd held for a decade. Jonasson, a veteran musician, had no experience in the restaurant biz when he opened the pub in 2008. But he did have a vision of creating the space he'd always wanted to play in: warm, welcoming, a place that treated patrons well and made sure every musician got paid.

He was a little naive in the business ways, he admits now. Yet that dream was exactly what he made, over the course of so many 16-hour days. It took four years of his life, and four years' worth of sleep. Some weeks, he says with a laugh now, he barely saw his wife. But when crowds flocked to the Lo for the music, the pint or just the people -- it was all worth it. And everyone who loved the Lo knew Jack. After all, he was always there. "It had just become such a part of me, such a part of who I am," he says. "To have that end... well, it's a tough thing for me."

The Lo's legacy, such as it is, was written in sound. Jonasson rattles off a list of shows that defined the venue's musical mission: there was that wild Flaming Lips video spectacle, and the pub's first Pride party, and a pair of solo shows by Bryan Webb of The Constantines. "Oh," Jonasson adds, "and every night we did karaoke."

Yeah, the Lo was an eclectic place. Its vegan food was a hit -- you should have tried the mushroom-nut burger -- and its freewheeling music formula worked. Not just for bands and their fans, but for business: the pub started turning a profit after three months, Jonasson says, even while the hostel next door struggled to fill its 120 beds.

So when news of the hostel's woes broke and the place went up for sale, Jonasson hoped the Lo might work out a deal with the building's future owners. It wasn't to be: late last week, he learned the pub had to close. It was a "surreal" feeling, he said, "like a death in the family. A lot of 'why us' questions."

In the days since, he's had more time to reflect. "At the end of the day, the Lo Pub wasn't that space," he says. "I loved that space, but at the end of the day a space is just a space. What goes into it is what the real character of a place is.

"And this," he adds, and jabs his finger at the table, "is what I'm meant to do."

A promise, then, and a tacit answer to the question that trips off of every local music fan's lips: what comes next? Jonasson considers that for a moment. First, he says, he'll take some time to decompress. And then? "I feel an obligation to Winnipeg, and to the bands in Winnipeg... to this place I love more than any other city in the world," he says, and breaks into a coy grin.

"And I have a feeling... that things are going to work out just fine."

Stay tuned.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2012 G6

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