Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The endless party

The Fireplace was once the hottest place in the city

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By day, sunbathers and swimmers lounged around the pool or dined in the restaurant. But at night, the Holiday Sun and Swim Club, opened in 1964 at 1870 Pembina Highway, transformed into the Fireplace, the hottest nightspot in south Winnipeg.

"It was like a party there every night for everyone, including the staff," recalls former cook and bartender Nick Perry. "I loved working there."

While the Druxman family, which included ex-Blue Bomber George Druxman, operated the Pembina Hotel, the Druxermans owned the swim club, including its restaurant as well as the adjacent Eden Roc Motel and miniature golf course -- all on the east side of Pembina Highway. They were, in fact, the same family, but some had chosen to drop the "er" from the name.

In the latter '60s, Bruce Druxerman took over his family's various enterprises.

"The restaurant was for the Sun and Swim Club members," Druxerman says, "but after a while, I decided to open it up and offer entertainment after dinner." Thus the Fireplace was born.

One of the earliest performers was singer/songwriter Rick Neufeld of Moody Manitoba Morning fame.

"It was my first gig, yet despite my not being polished and relying mostly on my own songs, the place was soon jammed every night," Neufeld remembers. A tiny raised platform in one corner next to the fireplace served as a stage. Graham Jones and Dale Russell were also frequent performers.

With a dining-room licence, Druxerman was able to open Sundays as long as patrons ordered some food. "We sold a lot of cheese pizzas and salads just to have food on the table," smiles Nick Perry, who met his future wife, Judie Turner, at the restaurant, where she was working as a waitress. "No one ever complained if their pizza took an hour to be served. Bruce really pushed the licensing envelope to make it work. On Sunday nights the place was packed." Adds Druxerman: "To keep the food totals up to 50/50 with liquor we sold 'Firebucks' ($5) at the door as a sort of admission."

By the early '70s, rock 'n' roll bands had supplanted folksingers. As Rin Tin Iron singer Diana Halter remembers: "A good night was when dining tables got hauled out into the parking lot for extra dance space inside. We got 'em all dancing and singing and broke the fire-code patron limit many times." The performance area now extended in front of the fireplace, which often heated up the amplifiers.

Throughout the summer of 1971, Fabulous George & the Zodiacs and the Tweadle Band alternated two-week stands at the restaurant, playing 14 nights straight.

"We played there so often it was almost like we were part of the staff," notes Don Jordan (a.k.a. Fabulous George). "Hostess Geri Thomas, who also ran the nearby motel, would have a reserved table for us every night beside the stage for our friends. As a result of our arrangement with Bruce, we were able to roll out of bed, go to the Fireplace for lunch, spend the afternoon beside the pool, have dinner (for half price) and then play. It was quite an idyllic time. Blue Bomber Ed Ulmer was the bouncer and he'd get up and sing with us from time to time. It was an endless party."

"Our original deal included all the food and booze we wanted," says the Tweadle Band's John MacInnes, "but Bruce came to me after a while and said we were killing him with our bar tab, so I agreed to a limit each night."

A popular Fireplace beverage concoction was a Sneaky Pete: cheap Manor St. David white wine mixed with orange juice.

As Ralph Gammelseter recalls, "My friends and I used to spend every night at the Fireplace and we left there each night with a different girl. It was party, party, party and then off to work, sometimes with little or no sleep. Ahhh, good times!"

 

The Fireplace also became a popular after-hours jam spot for musicians. Once the room was cleared of patrons, Bruce would reopen the bar for staff, musicians and friends. The lights would be turned on by the pool for late-night dips. Members of the Guess Who were frequent visitors (several band members and associates kept a high-stakes poker game going in a far corner throughout the evening) and got up to play. Members of Crowbar did the same.

The singing Murphy sisters of Sugar & Spice fame would sometimes join the Zodiacs onstage as the Kitchenettes. Following their July 1971 performance at the Winnipeg Arena, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention dropped in, with various members, including Flo and Eddie, joining the Zodiacs (including yours truly) to jam. George Hamilton IV played an impromptu acoustic set one night.

Out-of-town bands including the Trails of Jason Hoover (featuring future Skylark singer Donnie Gerrard), Gypsy, Stallion Thumrock, Crosstown Bus, and Cannonball (later Scrubbaloe Caine) also played the Fireplace, staying at the adjacent Eden Roc Motel, where the partying carried on non-stop.

But by the mid-'70s, Bruce was tiring of running the restaurant. "Its time had come and I moved on," he states. The swim club had already been shut down.

"I think the liquor control board finally caught up with Bruce," suggests Nick Perry. Druxerman and his two brothers now own the popular Druxy's restaurant chain in Toronto. His son Trevor manages the Pembina Hotel.

The Fireplace became a Butcher Bloc steak house and was later occupied by several restaurant franchises before being torn down to make way for a strip mall that includes Shapes, Staples and the Future Shop.

"I really miss that place," muses Perry. "It was like going to a party, not going to work."

 

Sign up for John Einarson's 2014 Off the Record music history classes at mcnallyrobinson.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2013 A8

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