I do not often let out a squeal of giggly delight but I did last evening when I came across this university course business case study from 1995 entitled “Peddler’s Pub and JJ Rossy’s Ltd.” It was written by Professor Jeremy Hall of Saint Mary’s University for the Acadia Institute Of Case Studies and sets out a description of the downtown pub scene from my hometown of Halifax in the years when I was in my mid to later 20s. It lines up well with two early posts of mine for The Session but has masses of detail on the business side of the taverns and bars I knew as second homes. I came across the document when Norm, the Boston Beer Nut, and I were a’tweeting and I was making the case that there is a forgotten phenomenon from the early micro era – the “beers of the world” bar / pub / tavern. The Hall study mentions the principle establishment of this sort in Halifax, the still operating Maxwell’s Plum:
“Nobody is focusing as much as we are.” According to co-owner-operator Scott Little, Maxwell’s Plum had the largest selection of single malt scotch and imported beer in Metro: 21 single malts, three blends, one Irish whisky, five imported draft and dozens of imported bottled beer. Importing so much does have its drawbacks, especially cash drain, as payment was due before delivery for special orders through the NSLC.
The atmosphere of the bar could be best described as traditional – the focus was on a large, well stocked bar with dark hardwood fixtures. Most of the time management played low volume music from a selection of 200 CDs and live jazz on Sundays, without a cover charge. “We want people to be able to talk to each other and be comfortable” (S. Little).
I remember, vaguely, being in a beers of the world bar in Paris in early 1986 and also seem to recall a few years earlier that our undergrad bar having beers of the world nights where you had a passport that was ticked as you bought your syrupy black McEwan’s Export or a thin glassed bottle of Dortmunder Union. Chris Begley reports that there was a place like this in Vancouver called “Fogg n Sudds” about the same time. A version seems to still exist connected to an airport hotel. Calgary seems to have had its own Bottlescrew Bill’s since 1985.
The Hall study has a number of other tidbits of information that frame the downtown scene, starting with this map. I kid myself that I could sketch this blind folded in a isolation tank but most of the locations pop back to mind immediately. The map also illustrates the general university student flow from southwest to north east, the march many evenings being from Your Father’s Mustache to the Lower Deck. And there is a concise description of what “draft” was:
Draft beer could be purchased from the two local breweries, Moosehead or Oland’s (a division of Labatts), and was generally the least expensive form of alcohol. Draft beer was allowed under all categories of licenses. Draft came from the same vats as bottled beer, but did not go through a pasteurization process, and therefore had a short shelf life.
When I started my Halifax pub life, this fresh tasty pale ale was ordered in pairs of eight ounce glasses but by the mid-80s that was being replaced by the 20 ounce imperial pint. I think this might have been started by the opening in 1986 of the Thirsty Duck which had the first keg Guinness in town. The days of the “draft wars” are also fondly recalled. I remember one place that had a horrible business plan based on Monday selling 29 cent draft, Tuesday 39 cent draft, etc. Lasted only a few glorious months.
One thing the report illustrates is how the narrative that micros changed everything is a bit of a fib. There was a bit of that. We certainly could buy New Brunswick’s Hans Haus lager in the stores or go have a Peculiar at the embryonic Granite Brewery, then housed in one half of the early rougher incarnation of Ginger’s on Hollis Street. They did not, however, set the scene. While society generally has enjoyed a great diversification in all sorts of consumables over the last 30 or 40 years, the drinking experience was still laced with the perception of variety that included, well before micros became popular, a variety of imported beer choices. I’d be interested in learning how many other places like Maxwell’s Plum were out there in other communities but my inclination is to consider imports opened or at least eased the entry to the market for micros.