July 7, 2020

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The ghosts of venues past (part 1)

City’s now-defunct live-music clubs have plenty of stories to tell

Last week city council approved a heritage designation on Main Street’s Fortune Block at 232 Main St. – home of the much-beloved (by those who go) Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club.

It gives a much-needed lifeline to proprietor John Scoles and his live-music venue/eatery (they do Tex-Mex-inspired fare) – one that could see Times Change(d) survive for some time.

The city has seen its fair share of live-music venues come and go. And there was a time (back when I had hair) that I played drums in local bands, and had the chance to play at some of ‘em.

Here are a few clubs where bands could once have gone to play live music, but which are now shuttered.

More to come.

Royal Albert Arms Hotel

Location: 48 Albert Street

Ah, the Albert. There was a time in the late-1980s/early 1990s when draft night at the Albert was the thing you did if you (or a friend) were in a band. A measly 35 cents could at one time get you a sleeve of barely drinkable beer (pre-minimum drink price regulations) as some indie/punk band or another loudly thrashed away on the too-high stage.

I’m not sure how many times I played the Albert (on draft night or otherwise), but it was where I got my start playing and seeing live music in Winnipeg, when I was barely of age to even get into a bar. It was loud and the sound was never fantastic, and the sticker-laden pillar in the middle of the front of the stage meant sightlines weren’t always the best.

Greg MacPherson performs to a packed house at the Royal Albert Arms during Junofest in 2005.

MIKE APORIUS / FREE PRESS FILES

Greg MacPherson performs to a packed house at the Royal Albert Arms during Junofest in 2005.

Its lore in local-music history is deep. Beyond offering a spot for local bands of all spots to play, Green Day played a pair of shows there in the early 1990s a year or so before their major-label breakthrough Dookie was released, and Dave Grohl of Nirvana/Foo Fighters also graced its stages way back when as then-drummer of the band Scream. Nickelback once opened for one of the bands I played in at the Albert before going on to bigger and, uh, "better" things.

Longtime owner Wayne Towns sold the Royal Albert Arms in 2007, which then shut down in 2011 after a messy dispute between the then-new co-owners. It re-opened briefly as a venue and eatery (Scott Bagshaw’s Deseo Bistro got its start in the front atrium/restaurant area), but quickly fizzled out.

Could the Albert could come back to life in some capacity again as a live music venue? Who knows.

Oh, and of course the "hotel" portion of the Albert has its own gruesome lore. In 2003, Sydney Teerhuis "stabbed, beheaded, castrated, dismembered and disemboweled Robin Greene inside Room 309."

In 2009 the club was immortalized in the documentary Call to Arms: The Story of the Royal Albert.

Wellington’s

Location: 22 Albert Street

The postered-over entrance to Wellington's.

BEN MACPHEE-SIGURDSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The postered-over entrance to Wellington's.

Just down the street from the Albert is a postered-over, fairly inconspicuous looking doorway. But in days past, there was a bright neon sign over that door that ushered folks through the door and down a long flight of stairs to Wellington’s.

In addition to live music, the club was home to a number of Britpop/indie/goth/punk dance nights as well as rave-ish type events.

If you were in a band, Wellington’s wasn’t a bad place to play a show; the stage was set just high enough off the ground that sightlines were pretty good from wherever you were standing, be it on the dance floor or beyond. The stairs were a pain to lug gear up after the show, especially if you played drums or had a large amp.

While Wellington’s is now gutted (it closed in 1998), the black-and-white checkered floors and mirrored-wall dance floor are all but emblazoned in my mind.

The club was notably immortalized in the Weakerthans’ song Wellington’s Wednesdays.

Village Cabaret/The Alternative Cabaret/The Tom Tom Club

Location: 108 Osborne Street

On the main floor, where American Apparel now sits, was the Alternative Cabaret/Village Cabaret.

BEN MACPHEE-SIGURDSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

On the main floor, where American Apparel now sits, was the Alternative Cabaret/Village Cabaret.

The upstairs, formerly home to Die Maschine nightclub/sometimes live-music venue, is now The Greenroom, a venue for DJs and the like to pump out music late into the night.

But on the main floor, where American Apparel now sits, was the Alternative Cabaret/Village Cabaret – known before that for a time as the Tom Tom Club. Owned for some time by former Royal Albert Arms Hotel owner Wayne Towns, the room was never great sound-wise. It was a strange set-up, with the stage was near the front door facing the back of the somewhat cavernous room.

A police officer on the scene in 2003 when the body of Eduardo Sanchez was discovered.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / FREE PRESS FILES

A police officer on the scene in 2003 when the body of Eduardo Sanchez was discovered.

In 2003, the body of local DJ Eduardo Sanchez was found in a narrow space between the walls in the basement of what was then the Village Cabaret. Sanchez had apparently gone into the space on his own, got stuck and died. He was found after patrons complained of an odd smell.

Free Press Literary editor/wine writer Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson played drums in long-defunct bands such as Elliot, Transonic and Painted Thin, amongst others.

Ctrl+F is a dose of local flavour from life in our city. Produced with care and character by @WinnipegNews, this online conversation is published Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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