Things move slowly in Winnipeg. This city is small, and possesses an entrepreneurial climate that leans toward room temperature more often than it does red hot. While publications in some cities can look back on 2012 as the year that a particular neighbourhood evolved into a hotbed of independent cinemas, or can make a list of the best new microbreweries on a single street, Winnipeg’s year-end lists are inevitably going to be a little more across the board.
Still, that doesn’t mean things weren’t happening around town in 2012. Here are ten of the more notable places, trends, and events that shaped the world of eating, drinking, and shopping in this fair town.
10) Did ANAF 60 jump the shark?
Line-ups to get in to “the legion” on River Avenue was unheard of 2011, but became a regular thing on weekend nights in 2012, leaving some skeptics to wonder if this popular veteran’s hall was getting a little too popular. In any case, even with some interior renovations and the kitchen up and running in 2012, it’s still essentially the same place. Drinks are still sold at rock-bottom prices, and served by Jay, Winnipeg’s most beloved, George Costanza-eque bartender. (And for the hipster that doesn’t appreciate being in the same room with people who share the same style and sensibilities as them, they will be happy to know that ANAF 60 is still dead most weeknights.)
9) There’s a new Osborne in town
At the start of 2012, Bistro 7 1/4, which has been a popular restaurant on South Osborne for several years, expanded by adding a bar and private rooms to its space on the corner of Osborne and Beresford Avenue. This bar is now one of the nicer places in town to enjoy a few sazeracs, and has been part of an emergence of a great alternative to the increasingly ridiculous Osborne Village on weekends. Along with places like Deseo, Luxalune, Sawatdee, and the Park Theatre in operation on this strip, it’s possible to spend a great night out on Osborne without having to set foot north of Confusion Corner.
8) Deer + Almond
This place opened on the corner of Princess and McDermot in April, and has proven to be one of the beter additions to the Exchange District this year. The square, non-descript interior might not have given the proprietors much to work with, but they have turned it into a sophisticated, completely unpretentious space. The plates are small, and the place gets busy, so Deer and Almond may not be where you go when you’re absolutely starving, or planning to propose to your girlfriend over desert. But, if you’re tired of the same old Exchange District routine (don’t make me go to the King’s Head, please), it’s the perfect place to sit over wine at the counter along the window, or to be tucked in a corner with a table full of friends.
7) Men discover clippers
Some blogs will say that 2012 was the year of the man bun, but in Winnipeg, it seemed that every guy was rushing out to shed the shag, or cultivate a fade with a little bit more style and substance than the local Singleton’s can offer. No doubt, this was in no small part due to the popularity of Hunter and Gunn hair salon, which opened on Broadway in July. Although Hunter and Gunn’s decor suggests a whiskey commercial’s idealization of your cool uncle’s basement circa 1973, the haircuts they offer their male clients are pure 1930s.
6) The Windsor replaces the Albert
With the Royal Albert Hotel sitting vacant for more than a year, the opportunity was there for one of the other century-old fleabag hotels downtown to fill a void in the local music scene and the in the hearts of local scenesters. Turns out, it was the Windsor on Garry Street that answered the call. As has been written in these pages already, this officially began in late November, when Comeback Kid — the local hardcore legends who played their first show at the Albert in 2001 — performed for the hometown crowd at the Windsor. The next night, as DJ Co-op and Scott Wade cranked out ‘90s Brit Pop and ‘80s punk and new wave, the floors become just as sticky and littered with broken glass as they were on any epic night at the Albert. Welcome back.
5) The Village loses its soul. Again
Vi-Ann’s restaurant and Movie Village closed down in May, when their respective buildings were purchased by the adjacent Shoppers’ Drug Mart, who planned to expand. A few months later, it was announced that Papa George’s restaurant, remarkable for nothing but staying open until 4 AM, would be ending its 30-year run at River and Osborne. Rumours of what will move into that space — McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, Boston Pizza — have all been circulating. Taken together, these changes have caused many Village purists to worry that the soul of their neighbourhood hasn’t been this destroyed since Die Maschine closed. Or since McNally Robinson left for Grant Park. Or since the Roslyn Apartments were built to cater to Edwardian-era yuppies. Ugh. Can we, like, protest this or something?
4) New coffee shops were really [coffee-making pun here]
When Parlour Coffee opened on Main Street in September of 2011, it introduced to Winnipeg a coffee shop experience that comes from a focus on the details of the product, process, and aesthetics. This kind of place has become a staple of any city’s cool neighbourhood, and it’s no surprise that Parlour quickly caught on in a city that previously had only Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, and shops that varied on Friends’ “Central Perk” theme. With Cafe Postal opening on Provencher Boulevard in September, MAKE on Corydon Avenue earlier this month, and Thom Bargen on Sherbrook Street any day now, it seems that this newer kind of coffee shop is, indeed, a thing.
3) Ellice Avenue shuts down
In late summer, the Lo Pub and Bistro, the Black Sheep Diner, and the Ellice Cafe all closed their doors within a matter of weeks. A beacon of light on a rather desolate stretch of Ellice Avenue, the Lo Pub was just as good at being a place to study with a pint on a late afternoon, or sweat it out at some jam-packed show. A few blocks west, the ‘Sheep and the Ellice Cafe were both beloved institutions for residents, students, and employees in the neighbourhood. These closures were a sad setback for commercial offerings on Ellice, and heartbreaking for any fan of omelettes or mushroom nut burgers. Comfort, however, can be taken in persistent rumours that the Lo and the Black Sheep both plan to re-open in new locations in the new year.
2) Shifting media landscape
In September, the 140 year-old Winnipeg Free Press announced it was laying off five reporters and two web editors — a big chunk of its already emaciated news room — and it appeared the Old Grey Lady on Mountain Avenue was looking just a little more grey (and more predominantly male). A month later, the Free Press announced that Uptown, its subsidiary that had functioned as the city’s alt-weekly, would cease to be a separate publication, and would effectively become just the arts and entertainment section of Thursday’s paper. At the same time, the Spectator Tribune launched, and although the focus of this publication reaches across the Prairie provinces, it is already proving to fulfil a role as the best place to find well-written and relevant local content.
1) The blue and yellow elephant in the room
Sure, we all pretended we didn’t care about the bazillion square-foot big box store that opened in Winnipeg’s fastest-growing suburban retail hell hole in late November. But we would be lying if we said we were not excited about the new availability of affordably-priced and sensibly-designed furniture and houseware in our city. Trips to IKEA will provide an opportunity to smarten up our living spaces, whether they happen to be some musty walk-up on Furby Street, or a posh loft condo overlooking the Exchange District. It will also give us a place to joke about IKEA Monkey sightings, at least until that adorable meme from 2012 fades into obscurity.