The Silver Heights "main drag" is a portion of Portage Avenue that used to be considered the boonies of St. James. Now there are excellent restaurants and funky businesses sprinkled about. Here are three fun ones you can check out, rain or shine:
LOOK sharp for this hidden Winnipeg gem in the lower level of the L-shaped mall at 2281 Portage Ave., a huge hunting store and an archers' shooting paradise owned by Ron and Diane Minion that has a glow-in-the-dark component for parties.
Inside the door, you find a stairwell painted like you're entering a forest. It opens into a huge store with all kinds of hunting gear, weapons and duds. Beyond that is the archers' range, with wide lanes designated for serious archers -- room for nervous newbies or national competitors.
Serious archers like to have fun, too. At Heights Archery, they can shoot 3D animal targets. "We have everything -- alligators, frogs and cobras, deer, bears, big rabbits and the 'jackalope,' a jack rabbit wearing antelope horns," laughs Diane Minion.
The third lane is decorated in neon psychedelic paint for party time. "It's neat. We do glow-in-the dark archery for mostly birthday parties," says Minion. And, it's curtained off with a big party table. "Kids (of all ages) can have a blast back there and make all the noise they want." Black lights create a magical ambiance, and walls are painted with neon archers, planets and dinosaurs. "Anything white shows up really well," Diane says. That includes dandruff.
Diane, an award-winning archer who's been teaching the sport for 27 years, says "I find kids listen way better than the adults." Archers are eight years old and up, but often the moms and dads want to start shooting with the kids. "I tell them they can shoot with them, not at them," says Minion, who loves to crack wise. For the party finales, kids shoot at target balloons, ending the night with a bang.
The Silver Heights Restaurant and Lounge
THE Silver Heights restaurant and lounge at 2169 Portage Ave. is Wild, Wild West in flavour, with ribs as its trademark, a steer-horn logo and a real saloon door between the comfortable restaurant and boisterous bar.
In June 1957, former truck driver and cabbie Anthony Siwicki and three partners opened the Heights as a coffee bar. Over time, they bought out a hardware and clothing store to transform the coffee shop into an iconic Winnipeg restaurant, bar and patio and entertainment hot spot.
Three generations of the Siwicki family are showboats and unabashed yarn-spinners. Youngest owner J.C. Siwicki, 35, says decades ago, "Grandpa Tony started telling tall tales at the bar." The ritual is now called Bull-oney. Grandpa died in 1996, but his son, Jim Siwicki, (semi-retired) comes in early in the day to carry on the family's bull-shooting tradition. The "morning crew" fills up the long bar, waiting to hear Jim's crazy stories of the day. "He repeats them every few hours," says J.C., "so many people get to hear them. They're 50/50 true and ad-libbed."
J.C. and his brother, Tony, 37, are now owners, but have been involved in working at the business since they were teens. Tony has a degree in business administration and J.C.'s degree is in justice and law enforcement. "Grandpa's idea was we should have a choice of a career." In the end, both brothers chose the family business they love.
The San Vito Coffee House
AT 2293 Portage Ave., Geordie and Jill Wilson run a coffee bar and café with a difference -- no drive-thru. You're here to visit friends, in comfy chairs. Their special coffee comes from a part of the world Geordie knows and loves, shipped from a port in Costa Rica called San Vito.
"It's the closest port to the mountains where our coffee is grown. We roast the beans in Teulon, Man., at DeLuca's roasting plant. We try to keep as much money in Costa Rica as we can," says Geordie Wilson.
As for the coffee, "It's fair-trade coffee, and the producer gets a fair buck. Most of the farmers in Costa Rica are dirt-poor, quite often don't get fair market value for coffee. So far we've put in three computer labs in three schools in Costa Rica."
All San Vito's food is homemade and fresh, with no processed food. "We buy the roast beef and pork next door at FoodFare and roast them here, and our chickens to cook from Dunn-Rite," Wilson says.
Known for their fabulous sandwiches, San Vito regularly caters business groups, parties, schools and churches. For the good old summertime, they have a patio with Adirondack chairs out front and imaginative coffee and fruit drinks.
Why does Geordie own a biz like this when he is already a Tec Voc High School teacher who handles work placement for students? "Because I'm crazy. I enjoy the challenge. I like the coffee, and I like the customers and it's fun," he says. "You sure meet some interesting characters."
Maureen Scurfield is an urban explorer with her eyes on the unique areas of Winnipeg, old and new.