The phrase “All roads lead to Rome” is a tired one, and doesn’t apply a lick to our existence here in the Heart of the Continent. But the phrase “All parties stem from the alleyway to the Zoo vendor” might well be taken for Gospel truth in the Best Neighbourhood in Canada.
The beer vendor behind the Osborne Village Motor Inn has for years been the poison dispensary of choice for the Villagers, and those passing through on their way to a good time. Its seedy environs, it’s at times cheerful staff, and questionably cold beer make it one of Winnipeg’s best. But what truly elevates this space above the rest is the thoroughfare that runs between Stradbrook and Wardlaw Avenues, east of Osborne.
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Cracked and crumbling concrete slabs lean into the centre of the strip, a valley much like the Red’s, strewn with detritus, busted bottles, and draped in the sickly sweet odours of rotting garbage throughout the year, this is by far the Best Alleyway in Canada.
And likely one of the busiest. Every time I shuffle my feet down this block of back lane, I pass at least one fellow traveller, either hauling empties or carrying a case. It’s a beautiful thing to share a knowing nod with a complete stranger, both of you on your way to better times.
I’ve had a lot of special times in this, the Best Alleyway in Canada, since I moved to Winnipeg. I’ve pounded King Kans in the dark shadows as the Osborne raged in a patriotic fury hundreds of meters away. I’ve evaded more than one jumping between the exit doors of the vendor and Scott Street, and seen a couple good bouts of fisticuffs along that stretch as well. I’ve puked in that alley more than once, and I suspect more than a few of you have, as well.
One of the wildest things that ever happened to me in that lone stretch of asphalt happened this past November. Earlier, in October, I’d taken a tumble while walking with my hands in my pockets after Propagandhi’s hometown show in celebration of the release of Failed States, their Epitaph debut. I banged up my patella something fierce, but thanks to the staggering number of beers in my system, the encouragement of my peers, and my pride, I staggered the pain off like a
fucking moron stud.
Walking the newly snowcovered alleyway behind the Zoo, after picking up a Kinger of Molson Dry, a couple weeks later, I was still limping. Likely due to the fact I’d cracked my knee cap, and had not received proper medical attention. I slipped on a patch of ice, and rather than reacting properly, my right knee buckled, and I fell to the ground, ripping/smashing my patella in half. In a frenzy of pain, adrenaline, and terror, I was up at once and shuffled to lean on a nearby BFI bin while I dug out my phone and called my Neighbour over at the Shelldrake.
“Buddy,” I told him. “You gotta get over here right aways. I fuckin’ broke my fuckin’ leg, bro.”
“No sweat,” he told me, and hung up. Five minutes later, he was rolling up in his beat-up old Ford Ranger, and we were off the Misercordia. I’ve never been the same since.
But the real wildest time I ever had in that alleyway came years earlier, when I’d only been in Winnipeg a year or so. I was hanging with my main man Dano, waiting to see a greasy metal gig at the Zoo. I think we were hanging with a bunch of black -outs from Brandon, too, and some other random greasers. We we’re slamming a six of Luck-Dogs and a bowl of electric had just started making the rounds. As I inhaled the sweet vapours, the Five-O rolled up, hard.
We immediately dumped our beers and considered that we may be faced with some heavy fines for enjoying ourselves in a responsible manner in public, but the cops had other things in mind.
“We want you to take part in a study we’re conducting,” said RCMP, flanked by his City Police pal. “On the effects of marijuana on reaction time.”
The details are hazy after these years, but in the end myself and one other fellow, a rank stranger to me, hopped in the back of the cruiser, assured by both policemen that we would not be further detained or charged with any infraction. They took us down to Princess Street as we sipped a Two Rivers in the back of the squad car. At the station we performed all the stupid human tricks they throw at you on the side of a highway in the dark of night.
Even though I was worried the hammer would fall upon us more than once, the officers were true to their word. When we were finished, they dropped us off back in the alley where they’d found us, and with enough time to spare to grab a couple more King Kans and get right back into it.
There have been plenty of other good times that have come out of that alley, for me and thousands of others. And there are plenty more coming down the line. Really looking forward to the next one. Party on!
Sheldon Birnie is an editor at large for The Albatross and the editor of Stylus Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @badguybirnie