Patrons recall glory of the Midtown as legendary Halifax bar prepares move

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - When the wrecking ball swings through the fake brick wall coverings of the Midtown Tavern, many regular patrons will stay away, knowing they simply couldn't bear the sight.
"I won't be standing out there to see it. No, no," says Fred Martin, 82, a regular for 60 years at one of Halifax's most venerated drinking institutions, shaking his head and wincing at the mere thought of the two-storey building's destruction.
The Midtown opened in 1949 at a time when women were excluded. It will close its doors on Saturday to make way for a proposed new convention centre that will cover several city blocks.
About a week or two later, the Midtown's 10 staff will migrate to a new location just down the street, bringing along the Formica tables with flaking rims, a bas-relief wall mural of tall ships and loyal clientele like Martin.
The new version of the bar will largely repeat a Midtown menu that includes draft beer, tenderized steaks, fish and chips, and fried pepperoni.
But for residents of a harbour city that reveres its bars the transition will be bittersweet as nothing can quite replace the Midtown, a survivor among a dying breed of old-fashioned Canadian taverns and beer parlours.
The Midtown is a melting pot, where judges sit cheek by jowl with longshoremen and students.
"From construction workers to Supreme Court justices to millionaire industrialists - you look around and you see a guy worth millions talking to a guy making $25,000 and they all talk and they all get along," says Eric Grant, who operates the bar with his brother Bobby.
Through the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the Midtown developed a formula of simple fare and friendliness that allowed it to survive as other taverns added dance floors and standup bars, stages for live music, patios or strippers' poles.
Owner Doug Grant used to haul lobster pots on the province's south shore and then drive into town to operate his bar. He passed the operation on to his sons, Eric and Bobby, who still work the floor as waiters.
"You acted right when you came in here, and if you didn't act right, my father let you know you weren't welcome and you never came back in," Eric says.
To make the rules clear, Doug was known to grip one leg of a chair and hoist impolite customers into the air.
Regulars became friends.
Ken McNabb, 52, recalls one Christmas Eve in the 1990s when the staff, longing to go home, turned out the lights. The patrons refused to leave and began singing impromptu carols in the dark.
Fred Martin became close with Doug Grant and was even offered a chance to purchase a share in the tavern. He remembers watching Doug quietly feed university students lunch, even if they didn't have the money.
"You can find people around the world that still owe him $2.95 for a steak dinner," he says.
The steaks are marinated and cooked the same way but, nonetheless, Grant goes through the ritual of asking patrons how they would like their steaks cooked.
"He'll ask, and I'll laugh, and he'll say 'medium', and walk away," says McNabb, who is savouring each remaining moment.
"It'll be a sad day when they knock this place down."

Organizations: Supreme Court

Geographic location: Halifax

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