Monday, 7 September 2015


I Know a Place

My friend Roy, a wildlife sculptor, sent me a note from Banff, Alberta last week where he’s winding up an artist-in-residence gig at the Fairmont Banff Springs. Our paths haven’t crossed since Interstellar Rodeo last July; we have plans to take in the debut of Roger Waters: The Wall in a Cineplex at month’s end because Roy is, in his words, ‘a Wall connoisseur.’ His text, all thumbs, read: ‘Just had a Reuben (sandwich) at the Fairmont. Yours are better. Second career?’

Sales of my new novel Duke Street Kings are either skyrocketing into double digits or flaming out low on the horizon like a piece of Soviet space junk. Everything depends upon perception, is that glass of dirty water half full? Scribbling two long works of fiction has frankly cost me more in materials and time than I’ve made in royalties. Advertising copywriting has been far more lucrative: ‘Pork butt whole,’ I wrote that. ‘Master baker?’ That’s me too.

In bygone days when the Montreal Canadiens absolutely ruled the National Hockey League retired players and coaches tended to open drinking establishments. These places tended to be taverns that served only beer, and males. My favourite was Toe Blake’s at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Guy. To wrap your head around a legend like Toe Blake, who starred beside and then coached ‘Rocket’ Richard, imagine former Oiler Mark Messier winning five Stanley Cups as an Edmonton player and then being behind their bench to orchestrate five more. You can’t.

I remember Toe Blake’s being immense. The walls were wood-paneled, maybe with maple. Hockey player caricatures, similar to the backsides of cards, hung high up making the ‘fun facts’ difficult to read through the rich, grey-blue clouds of tobacco smoke. Toe Blake’s was a Habs shrine without pretense. In those days breweries didn’t festoon a joint with branding pennants and posters. I lived nearby, I went to school nearby and I worked nearby. Most of my disposable income went toward record albums, newspapers, magazines, paperback novels, cigarettes and beer. Eating was an afterthought but I could always afford to eat well at Toe Blake’s.

There, I sometimes bumped into one of my Concordia Can Lit profs. He always wore a black leather sports jacket, similar to Bryan Ferry’s on the cover of 1978’s The Bride Stripped Bare. Although he did not appreciate my attitude as one of his students, he did allow that I had the talent and the potential to become a writer. (The questions for the 2015 bathroom mirror are: How much (talent) have I squandered over the past 35 years? And, is there anymore left?) Then again, he never said I’d be a successful writer - they don’t teach you that over a beer off campus.

Duke Street Kings is a story about a group of ex-Montrealers who reunite in Calgary. Most of the action, such as it is, takes place in a pub. The fictional Duke St. Tavern is a hybrid of memory and experience; there were three pubs in Calgary’s Kensington neighbourhood I used to frequent. Each one had a unique quality which I embraced, but none of them constituted the Platonic ideal of pub perfection. Nor were any of them in my old hometown where former hockey players really know how to do up a beer joint and serve proper food like a decent medium fat smoked meat sandwich. In a sense I wrote about the type of pub I would open if I had the money, the know-how and the wherewithal.

Through seven drafts of Duke Street Kings I did a lot research on the hospitality business. I even came up with a can’t-miss pub business plan for my own purposes. Now I find I can’t read my notes. Guess I was on the scene a little too often. Trust me: if this vision ever coalescences, the sandwiches chez meGeoff will be very, very good, atmosphere, everything. I vow pristine toilets as customers won’t actually be allowed to use them. But there are miles and miles to go between here and paradise. Meanwhile, if the premise of Duke Street Kings intrigues you, visit or call 1-877-284-5181 (North America).

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