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Old Town's New Pub

Old Town's New Pub

It's been nearly 20 years since Yellowknife (or the NWT, for that matter) has had its own brews. For one Northerner, it's a party well worth the wait
By Herb Mathisen
Jan 01
2016
From the January 2016 Issue

The front door swings open and there stand Fletcher and Miranda Stevens, getting a first-contact high. Each minute or so, another new customer enters and gapes wide-eyed, almost unbelievingly, at their soon-to-be neighbourhood pub, absently pulling off their snow-dusted toques and mitts. The Stevens, owners of the Woodyard Pub, smile giant toothy grins. “I could just watch their reactions for the next three months,” Fletcher says.

Giddiness has replaced the grin-and-bear-it expressions the young couple had grown accustomed to wearing over the previous year, in response to the innocuous-yet-ubiquitous question put to them at the grocery store, the Canadian Tire or while they worked away at the pub: “When are you opening?” A polite smile, a frustrated sigh, then a patient diatribe about how the latest bureaucratic snag or technical hiccup had pushed the date back. Again.

They first had to find a building capable of hosting their ambitious plans, and then wound up negotiating new territorial liquor taxes—eventually arriving at $1.11 per litre, down from $2.22—thereby reducing the amount they would have to pass on to customers. Along the way, they had to alter plans to showcase their brewing equipment behind glass to meet regulations, and even dismantle a storage shed because it violated city code. They could go on and on—Fletcher even jokes that he’ll incorporate “red tape” into the name of a future red ale.

By the time they open the doors for the first time in late October, it’s been a year and three days since they first broke ground on the pub—and nearly two years since Fletcher quit his job pulling wrenches at the local Ford dealership to pursue this venture full-time. 

The Monday night party is part pre-launch neighbourhood meet-and-greet, part goodbye to two long-time Yellowknifers who’d just sold their home down the street. It’s an opportunity to have a drink at a venue they’ve been so excited about, while it also gives Fletcher and Miranda the chance to introduce themselves to the few neighbours that hadn’t already dropped in for an impromptu update during their year-long construction.

“It’s like a kitchen party!” 

“They really made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” a neighbour says. And he’s right: the former Bartle & Gibson building in Old Town had been gutted and transformed into an industrial-chic pub, with handcrafted wooden tables and walls adorned with rusted tools and worn knick-knacks befitting the rustic Woodyard neighbourhood—the historic collection of shacks, surrounded today by larger houses in adjacent streets that some former shack-dwellers moved on to occupy. Caribou antlers hang above the bar—a gift from Fletcher and Miranda’s wedding.

The evening lets staff work out some kinks; the sorts of things you overlook despite the most diligent planning, that you only realize need doing when people are there. Garbage cans in the bathroom are probably a good idea. Maybe the seating needs reconfiguring, they wonder, noticing how most everyone has congregated near the bar, rather than on the upper level, where a local band is playing. “It’s like a kitchen party!” Miranda says.

Still, there are issues that aren’t so easy to resolve. For one, they’re serving bottled beer—Yukon Brewing ales and Steam Whistle pilsner—because they haven’t yet been rubber-stamped to brew their own beer. (An inspector was supposed to fly up to certify their brewing equipment later that week, but had to cancel the trip. It wasn’t until late-November that they got the thumbs-up.) 

But tonight, that’s not important. Fletcher told me a few days earlier how relieved he was going to be to hear the sounds of clinking glasses replace the buzz of saws, which had been the soundtrack of the place thus far. 

Most neighbours are impressed with the building’s craftsmanship and with the finger foods (mini pizzas, charcuterie) on offer as a sample of the gastropub’s fare. But a well-worn local cynicism—Yellowknife’s nightlife scene can be fickle—makes some guarded, unsure whether the venture would turn a profit. (But just a week later, with the pub only open sporadic hours, Yellowknifers were burning through a keg of imported craft beer every 46 minutes. The pub had to again serve bottled beer during its official grand opening.)

It’s getting late, and Fletcher has yet to even venture outside to see how the noise carries, since there’d been some concerns about the pub turning a sleepy neighbourhood into a night-time destination. He’s taking in the music, the laughter, the clinking glasses with that big smile still stuck to his face. That’s what’s important tonight.