Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bailey's owners proud of old-world charm

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Front entrance coat of arms for Bailey's Restaurant & Lounge.

At last, the truth can be told.

Forty years ago next month, Canada and the USSR met to determine world hockey supremacy for the second time in two years.

In 1972, Canada bested the Soviets in an eight-game series with a squad of 28 stars from the National Hockey League and zero from the upstart World Hockey Association.

The 1974 Summit Series allowed Canadian-born players from the WHA -- most notably, legends Bobby Hull of the Winnipeg Jets and Gordie Howe of the Houston Aeros -- an equal opportunity to lace 'em up against the likes of Vladislav Tretiak and Alexander Yakushev.

Leo Groumoutis is co-owner of Bailey's Restaurant & Bar. Long before he and his brother George purchased the downtown institution in 1992, Groumoutis worked there as a dishwasher and cook, when the stately locale was known as Oliver's/Old Bailey's Lounge.

Groumoutis, 55, was on duty the night Hull, Howe and the rest of Team Canada popped into Oliver's for dinner, 24 hours before their date with the Soviets on Sept. 21, 1974 at the Winnipeg Arena.

"We put them in that room over there," Groumoutis says, pointing past the lobby -- a formal space in its own right that, through the years, has greeted presidents, prime ministers and actor Keanu Reaves.

"That was where they proceeded to eat and drink -- especially drink -- like pigs, right up until closing time. So I wasn't too surprised when they lost big time (8-5) the next day.

"If that sort of thing happened today, the newspapers would be all over it. But those were different times. Back then, mum was the word."

"ô "ô "ô

Oliver's/Old Bailey's Lounge opened in 1971 in a two-storey, 14,000-square-foot structure at 185 Lombard Ave. The opulent, brick edifice was constructed in 1900 by William Forbes Alloway, a millionaire banker and noted philanthropist who, before he died in 1930, sold the building to the Great-West Life Assurance Company.

Oliver's wasn't just one of the premier restaurants in Winnipeg during the 1970s, says Groumoutis, who used to spend his breaks playing hide and seek in the turn-of-the-century tunnels that still run underneath the property. It was "the" restaurant.

"It was almost impossible to get a seat in here at lunch or dinnertime," he says. "I remember shifts (washing dishes) when, for seven hours straight, I never had a chance to look up. I had no idea where all the plates were coming from."

That was no longer the case in the early 1990s, when the Groumoutis brothers -- who by then were running the Rib Shack on McPhillips Street -- were approached by Oliver's third set of owners.

"To be honest, we weren't that interested (in buying Oliver's)," Groumoutis says. "I mean, the place had been closed for two years, the heating system needed a complete overhaul, and we kind of had our hands full with our own business. I told them 'Thanks, but I don't think we can afford it.' "

Groumoutis changed his tune moments after agreeing to a walk-through for old times' sake.

"There's no other way to describe it except, this place is like a temple to me," Groumoutis says, patting the cushions of a couch in the restaurant's main-floor lounge. "I worked here for almost seven years. That job paid for my first car, for my university... the moment I stepped through those big oak doors, it felt like I was back home."

The restaurant reopened as Bailey's, minus the Dickensian Oliver's tag, in October 1992. The brothers didn't toy with much -- not the upholstered, wingback chairs in the Winter Garden Room, not the tomes lining the shelves of the 25-seat library, and not the works of art in the well-appointed Board of Governors Room.

That said, a couple of changes the Groumoutises made didn't sit well with some who frequented the restaurant on a regular basis.

"You should have heard the grumbling after we put a pool table and TV in the lounge," Groumoutis says with a laugh. "If there's one thing we've never been accused of, it's being too flashy. But at the time, there were customers who accused us of trying to be all trendy."

(One person who appreciated the added attractions was Kiefer Sutherland. When the Emmy Award-winner was in town in 1998 directing and starring in Woman Wanted, he dropped by Bailey's lounge to shoot stick on an almost nightly basis, Groumoutis says.)

One thing that hasn't deviated much through the decades is the menu. The restaurant was billed as an old-world, British-style steakhouse when it first opened, and 43 years later, filet mignon, rack of lamb and prime rib (served with Yorkshire pudding) are still the kitchen's bread and butter.

"Right now we're experimenting a bit with octopus," says Groumoutis, who was born in Greece and knew only two words in English -- "toilet" and "water" -- when his family moved to Canada in 1968. "(Octopus) is still a little foreign to Winnipeggers, but those who have travelled to places like Greece and Spain know it and love it."

Groumoutis is the father of a 10-year-old, so he understands an establishment like Bailey's, with its white tablecloths and polished silverware, may not be the younger generation's cup of tea.

"Young people today don't seem to like to talk -- you see them out for dinner and they're on their phones the whole time. To me, what kind of date is that?

"I know there are people out there who think we're passé. And sure, we're not the new kids on the block anymore. But if we ever decided to close and reopen as a Cactus Club or something, we wouldn't have that timeless charm anymore. We wouldn't be Bailey's."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2014 A1


Updated on Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 9:50 AM CDT: Changes headline, removes photos, replaces photo, adds slideshow

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