Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Very last call at the Lo Pub

Former scourge had been turned into beloved music hotbed

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After being transformed from a dangerous downtown dive into a thriving neighbourhood pub and "hotbed of everything hip," the Lo Pub has closed its doors for the last time.

Saturday night was its last inside Hostelling International's Winnipeg Downtowner at Kennedy Street and Ellice Avenue.

"We're going to do what we always do and have a great show," manager Jack Jonasson said Saturday night at the popular meeting place that served local draft and launched local bands.

Still Lights, Pop Crimes and Warsaw were the last three bands that took to the stage.

The 120-bed hostel is also closing its doors for good today, a hostel employee said Saturday night. He said the hostel's board was in a meeting there and no one was available for comment.

Last month, the building's owner, The Forks-North Portage Partnership, put the downtown property up for sale.

The Ellice Avenue hostel served as Hostelling International's only Manitoba operation for the past four years.

In 2008, The Forks-North Portage Partnership purchased the former Downtowner hotel on behalf of Hostelling International Manitoba, which converted the low-end establishment into a backpacker hostel.

The purchase and renovation cost $3 million. While grants covered a portion of the tab, revenue from the hostel -- which signed a 50-year land lease -- was supposed to make up the difference. The hostel couldn't because it was half-empty most of the time.

Lo Pub manager Jonasson said last month he hoped the pub would be able to stay open under a new owner. On Saturday, he said he was not prepared to talk about the closure, just that it happened on short notice. He said he's looking for a new location for his pub.

A spokeswoman for The Forks-North Portage Partnership said late Saturday the building is still up for sale. The hostel and the Lo Pub suddenly shutting down was the result of a decision by the Hostelling International Manitoba board, said Clare MacKay, vice-president of marketing and communications with The Forks-North Portage Partnership. "I understand they made the decision based on financial challenges."

The closure of the Lo Pub was sad news for regulars like Ian Wakefield.

"It's quite tragic," said Wakefield. "It's like night and day from the old place," said the middle-aged man who avoided the former Downtowner pub the Lo Pub replaced. "It was a breath of fresh air." Wakefield had stopped in for a couple of pints of local draft and a chat with the manager Saturday.

"He's a smart guy," he said of Jonasson. "He had a good plan," Wakefield said, drinking up for the last time and preparing to leave before the bands took to the stage.

Music fans and band members will also miss the bar, said Free Press music writer and news reporter Melissa Martin.

"Jack transformed a funny, long space with a low ceiling into a hotbed of everything hip. Artists loved playing for him, knowing that the longtime drummer knew the grind of a musician's life; fans flocked to soak in the atmosphere of a place where, dare I say it, everybody knew their name," she said in an email.

"Although forces beyond Jack's control cut the Lo Pub's life short, it burned bright while it was open, and established a new blueprint for music venues in Winnipeg."

The Lo Pub is where people gathered Wednesday to remember the late NDP leader Jack Layton, who died a year ago.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2012 A4

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