The rumours are true: After this Sunday, Ginger's and The Granite Brewery will close for good.
After 34 years of running a bar downtown, Kevin Keefe is getting out of the entertainment and bar business in Halifax, but his brand of beer will live on. He's moving his brewing operations to Stairs Street in the north end, where the Granite Brewery will become more of an industrial microbrewery, like Garrison or Propeller, with a beer store, but no bar.
It's a major step for Keefe, who pioneered microbrew beer in Nova Scotia, but he feels it's a necessary one if he was to get other bars to carry his beer. "I've never really gone out trying to sell to other bars," Keefe says, "because they perceive me as competition, because I have a restaurant and bar downtown myself."
His sense that Barrington Street has reached its nadir was a factor in Keefe's decision as well. "I've owned this building for over 25 years and Barrington Street has been neglected for that entire time. It's been treated as a bus highway. All those patios and that stuff, we can't have that on Barrington street. That might slow a bus down. It's been really neglected by the city. Nothing really changes down here, except they put in a new light bulb or something like that. I'm just tired of waiting. The only thing left downtown are bars and restaurants."
So, he's selling the building, perhaps ironically, to one of the developers who already owns most of the downtown. He wouldn't say to whom.
"It's not sold, yet, but it's under agreement. It will be sold very, very soon."
To one of the other developers downtown, I ask? "Yeah," he replies, "yeah."
He and his brother still run a successful Granite Brewery in Toronto. He told me that his Granite in Toronto makes 65% of its business from food. It's more of a sit down pub than a straight up bar. He had thought of trying to do the same here. "I've actually been looking for the last 6 months for a decent space here in town where I could do just what I do, only have a pub also. A more food-oriented place, as opposed to entertainment or a bar business that we have here. Because it's really getting hurt. But I haven't really found anything decent. I would like to get out of downtown."
He still has a plan for a Green Man pub in Windsor in the old Nova Scotia Textiles building, but the project slowed down because he "ran into some engineering problems. That's one of the reasons I'm doing this. We planned on being up there sooner, and we had made arrangements to shut this place down."
He's going to use his existing equipment at the new site, where he will have the capacity to brew three times the amount he currently makes. Keefe assured me there wouldn't be any disruption of service. When he gets beer production up and running on Stairs Street, he'll be canning his Peculiar and his Organic Green Man ale. He plans to sell it at the NSLC and in Ontario as well; he'll sell growlers at the brewery beer store.
"Today I am brewing the last brew here. I've been brewing like a banshee. I have about a six- to eight-week supply of beer. I'll only be having to deal with the Henry House and the few other customers I have. I've got enough to last until we get everything up and running there. It shouldn't be too long, I should be brewing up there in about three weeks."
Sunday night is the last night for Gingers. It's not just the beer: a new gap in live music and performance venues will be felt in the city as well. Keefe is sympathetic. "I would've closed last week, except for Picnicface. There's an awful lot people who started off doing things here...Old Man Ludecke. The biggest problem with the entertainment end of it is that by losing Ginger's we'll be losing a venue for young people that are just getting going. It is a shame, but [Picnicface] will land on their feet. There should be a bunch of places tripping over themselves to get them."
What if a horde of thirsty beer hounds descended on Gingers this weekend and drank up all his supply?
"They couldn't possibly drink me dry from what I have in here. I have close to 100 kegs of beer in here. The days of selling 100 kegs of beer...I don't know if anyone's done that before."
That's not a challenge, he says. Still---kinda sounds like one to me.