Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/8/2015 (2301 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Shauna was a hairdresser, but at night she grubbed up extra cash by slinging tequila shots and cheap draught in the back of the Osborne Village Motor Inn.
You know the bar. The Zoo. The dark, sticky room that all of Winnipeg's loudest nights seemed to spill out of -- or into.
Decades of stories are soaked into those walls, along with stains of long-ago cigarette smoke and occasional blossoms of blood. It would be impossible to unearth every memory buried there, all the layers of frayed denim and black leather and wild, sweat-dampened hair. Still, every regular has a favourite tale.
For me, the date was July 15, 2000. It was the night before Kiss rumbled into the old Winnipeg Arena, an early stop on the band's mammoth Farewell Tour. (Later, it turned out Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were itching to say farewell only to drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley; Kiss has done 10 more tours since, but that was the last with the original lineup.)
It was a Saturday night, and the Zoo was hopping. Some band was slashing out chords onstage and hairdresser Shauna was working, plunking glasses on tables and counting handfuls of change. When she spotted me, her eyes widened. She hurried in my direction, clutching a plastic drink tray.
"Ace Frehley is here," she hissed in my ear. "Look for him."
Being 18 and naive, I assumed she was talking about a fan wearing white makeup like he didn't want to be noticed. Strings of dark hair framed a face that was settled into deep grooves, the way faces get when they've been long misused, and there was a bouncer hovering at his shoulder.
Yep, that was him. The Spaceman himself come back down to Earth, which in this case meant a beloved old dive bar in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
That's the Zoo for you, though, a perpetual intersection of rock 'n' roll's glitz and its guts. The sort of place that reminded every touring rocker of where they'd come up; in deference to this fact, they left signed 8-by-10 photographs of themselves on the walls, a vast collage of mullets, tight pants and shiny Les Paul guitars.
That's probably soon to change. This week, longtime owner Dave Green confirmed the Osborne Village Motor Inn had been sold. With it goes the Zoo, a parking lot, the basement Ozzy's lounge and the back-lane beer vendor -- the latter of which could spur colourful eulogies of its own, if it goes.
The future of these places, and the hip Osborne Village Café that occupies the motel's kitschy corner space, is uncertain. The new owners haven't announced their intentions, and the rumours that pop up are standard: maybe condos, in which the neighbourhood is already swimming, or a boutique hotel, for which it is parched.
If these are the last days of the old hotel, whatever comes next may well be an esthetic and environmental improvement. That doesn't make the move feel any less funereal, for those who have haunted the place since they were young. What comes next may be wonderful; what came before was ferociously loved.
The Zoo was a hell of a room. It was special. A slew of homegrown heroes earned their fans there, from Harlequin to the Harlots, and more than a few Winnipeg metalheads forked over more to that bar than they spent on a month's rent. (That is not speculation, though certain friends of mine shall remain nameless.)
It was a place full of characters. That started at the top with the Green brothers, who have owned the place since 1978, and whom musicians almost invariably loved. Regulars often paraded through the bar's cramped office, listening to one of the owners tell lively tales about bands or the business. When Chuck Green died in 2011, at 54, thousands of musicians from across the world mourned him.
Passing luminaries also fell hard for the place. Frehley made a return visit, my friends say, in 2001. A couple of years later, Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille showed up and climbed onstage, joining the night's band to slam out a Mtley Crºe tune.
Other snapshots are grittier. There were the all-ages punk shows, afternoon strippers and a gaggle of regulars who seemed ossified into permanent bar fixtures. They would sit for hours, plunking quarters into VLTs.
Every city needs a space like this. Every city needs rooms that aren't pretty, but that are unflinchingly honest. Places where people from all corners of life can collide for the same purpose, which is simply to live, to toss a few back, pump a few fists and forget.
Unfortunately, forgetting history is much harder. It's hard to accept when it's time to close a chapter. But if history is everyone's constant companion, it is never an actual friend. It doesn't hail down the waitress with the devil-tail tattoo snaking out from her black miniskirt. It can't order a pitcher.
The Zoo changed slowly, as most of us do. As the years passed, everyone I knew or recognized cut their weekly Zoo trips from four down to one, then eventually stopped going. A new generation moved in to keep the place rocking, but outside its walls, the culture of live music and local bars was changing.
The last time I set foot in the Zoo was four years ago. My friend Johnny and I wandered around, traded memories of old shenanigans and played some pool. We felt haunting, not haunted. Like ghosts of more incandescent selves we no longer knew.
Maybe someday soon, some local rock archeologist will unearth the whole story -- or as much of it as can be squeezed into one telling. Scrounge up all the old file photos, talk to all the old Zoo denizens and write a book so we can pull it out and prove to our grandkids that man, this city always knew how to rock.
For now, though, it's OK to grieve -- but also, to feel hopeful about what's to come for that space, and all of its bright possibilities.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.