Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rock on the wild side

Osborne Village watering hole The Zoo has been catering to party animals since the '60s

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HOW'S this for irony? A few nights ago, Chuck Green, owner of The Zoo (a.k.a. "Canada's Home of Rock and Roll") took his wife out for dinner. Not long after being seated, Green asked to switch tables. The reason? The background music was a little too loud for his liking.

"Nowadays I enjoy the sound of conversation," Green says from the quiet confines of his Osborne Village office. "I'm all rock-and-rolled out."

Green, together with his three brothers, has been at the helm of the Osborne Village Motor Inn -- home of the notorious live venue -- for almost three decades.

Headbangers need not fret: the Greens have no plans to go all James Blunt on their clientele any time soon.

Since being established by Oscar Grubert in the mid-1960s, the Osborne Village Motor Inn, 160 Osborne St., has hosted a Guess Who's who of rock heavyweights.

"Name a band that's come up through the Canadian music industry and chances are they've played here," Green says, adding that he feels more like a caretaker of history than a hotelier.

"I mean, everybody from Mick Jagger to Neil Young has walked through these doors. Ace Frehley? Hell, we couldn't get rid of him. He spent two weeks upstairs, hammered out of his mind."

(Quick history lesson: Grubert opened the hotel as the Champs Motor Inn. K-Tel magnate Phil Kives re-christened it the Plaza after taking over in the early '70s. Soon, customers began referring to the locale as the Plazoo, hence the beverage room's to-this-day tag.)

Green wasn't too concerned in 1978 when acquaintances told him he'd be foolish to purchase the 31-room inn.

"They said, 'It's too rough -- they'll kill you,'" Green says, acknowledging that the Zoo still carries a reputation as a biker bar.

"Well, I knew from rough already. My mother died when I was a kid, leaving my father -- a concentration camp survivor -- with five kids. My dad owned the Westbrook Inn, so we all grew up in the hotel business, the hard way."

Working side by side with his brothers all these years has proven to be a blessing, says Green, a kidney transplant recipient who logs two days a week at a dialysis clinic.

"I've done a lot of damage to my hands and feet -- I'm in constant pain -- but I've never had to worry about a paycheque. My brothers have always been there, running for me and protecting me. This place could burn to the ground and I wouldn't shed one tear. But family... that's really all you have."

Lately, the father of two has been considering his own brood in regards to changes he'd like to make at the Zoo. (Anyone who hasn't popped by lately will be pleased to know that the decor -- black walls coupled with cafeteria-style furniture -- remains intact.) "I want to make this a place where my wife and daughter will want to come with their friends for a salad and a glass of wine. So maybe I'll put in a few booths or something."

Green is also hoping to replace his cab stand with a 100-seat patio along Osborne Street, reminiscent of what arises on that spot every Canada Day. "And a merchandising store in the lobby, too; the sort of kiosk you see in all the Hard Rock Cafes," he says, mentioning that he ships T-shirts and jackets bearing the Zoo's Harley-like insignia around the world via his website. "So maybe I'll bring in a designer. But I have to be careful 'cause I don't want to drive anybody out -- I still want to do my headbanging music.

"On the plus side, most of the people who'd come here for a glass of wine will be home and in bed for two hours before my regular customers come out of their coffins."

ZOO'S

WHO'S

WHO

The Osborne Village

Motor Inn's website

(www.osbornevillage.com)

includes an A-Z archive of

everyone who has ever graced

The Zoo's storied stage.

Check that: until ZZ Top --

or better still, Zappacosta --

shows up, it will remain

an A-Y listing. Past

performers --

in alphabetical order -- include:

LEE AARON

BLACK OAK ARKANSAS

CHOCOLATE BUNNIES FROM HELL

DOWNCHILD BLUES BAND

EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN

FABULOUS KILDONANS

GUESS WHO

HONEYMOON SUITE

INK SPOTS

SASS JORDAN

THE KINGS

LONDON QUIREBOYS

MAX WEBSTER

NICKLEBACK

OF HUMAN BONDAGE

PLATINUM BLONDE

QUEEN CITY KIDS

THE RUFFNECKS

SOUL ASYLUM

PAT TRAVERS

UZI SUZI

VOIVOID

DAVID WILCOX

XPLICIT

YOUNG GUNS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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