Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Raising the bar scene

The Toad in the Hole's new whiskey bar won't let you in unless you are 25 or older -- a move even some younger bar-goers are cheering

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For those who frequent any local bar scene, the unruly crowd of bar-goers in their late teens and early 20s can seem impossible to avoid.

The owners of the Toad in the Hole may have found a way to alleviate this issue for their older clientele: It has opened a new whiskey bar within the popular Osborne Village pub -- that has an age limit of 25-plus.

The whiskey bar, which opened in late June, offers up to 78 varieties of whiskeys in addition to a selection of wines and imported beers.

Michael Monk, owner of the Toad in the Hole pub, explained that the 25-plus age rule originally came from family and friends, who pointed out it could be a way to appeal to clientele who feel pushed out by the 20-something crowd that generally frequents the local bar scene.

"There are lot of people that used to come here that quite frankly don't go out anymore because there are a lot of men and women in their 30s and 40s that don't want to hang out with a bunch of 18-year-old kids," he said.

While the age limit may alienate some clientele, Monk says he doesn't plan on annulling it any time soon.

"What I really don't want to do is say '25 and under aren't welcome' and then two months down the road go 'Oh this isn't making any money. Sorry, I screwed up, everyone's welcome back,' " Monk explained.

"That would damage my integrity and people would be pissed off and they wouldn't buy into it. So I know that if I'm going to do this, we've got to commit to it, and if it takes two years to break even on it, so be it."

The age limit is being enforced by the pub's staff, who request ID upon entry into the whiskey bar.

Younger bar-goers had mixed opinions on the Toad in the Hole's new 25-plus room.

"Right now, because I'm not 25 or older, I'm not a fan of the idea because I like places like that bar. But I know for a fact once I'm old enough, it'll be great," said Chris Tataryn, a 22-year-old from Brandon.

"Going out to the bar when you're just looking to sit down and have a drink, but then a pack of freshman girls come in to drink before they go out to the club, it really kind of kills the mood in the place."

Kayla Say, 23, said she didn't think the rule was fair, as it assumes all customers in their late teens and early 20s behave in the same way.

"We all know people who break the stereotype and there isn't a lot of difference between a 24-year-old and a 26-year-old. It will limit a lot of groups with multi-aged friends," she argued.

Martin Turczynowicz, 24, said he is a "big fan of the idea," even if it means he'll have to wait a year to be able to try the new bar out, because he can relate to the feeling of being out of place at a pub among a sea of 18- and 19-year-olds.

"There's a pretty large age gap, and a whole lot of post-secondary misadventure, between me and someone who just turned 18, and there are a lot of parties where I feel old and out of place now. Every time I go to the (Toad in the Hole), it seems to be an older, more relaxed crowd and it's a big part of the reason why I go there," he explained.

"It's going to be worth the wait. Until then, there are so many other bars that I've really got no right to complain about being excluded from just one."

The Toad in the Hole is not the first Winnipeg establishment to try to appeal to older clientele. Local nightclub Alive in the District, located in the heart of the Exchange District bar scene, has imposed a 21-plus age limit since it opened in 2006, with the exception of an 18-month period during which the club repealed its age limit on Friday nights.

The age limit has helped cultivate an atmosphere at the club that regular clientele have come to appreciate, explained Allen Hildebrand, one of the owners of Alive in the District.

When the club did offer Friday evenings as 18-plus, it seemed to drive their regular crowd away, he said.

"Initially the 18- to 21-year-olds rushed in because before that they hadn't been able to come, so they all wanted to see it," he said.

"The younger crowd is more looking for the newest, hippest club in town, which has the lifespan of about six months, until the next newest, hippest club in town comes along. Our philosophy is that we want to be in this for the long term and I think it's the slightly older clientele that give us what we're looking for."

A spokeswoman for the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission explained any age restriction beyond the legal drinking age of 18 is a premises' policy only and would be up to the licensee to enforce.

"Implementing an age limitation, providing it is over the age of 18, would not create any issues for us," said Susan Harrison, senior communications co-ordinator for the MLCC.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2012 A1

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