The joists rotted, and the floorboards dangerously sagged, a mysterious sandwich of rotting carpets and plywood is all that really kept Capital Hotel patrons from plummeting into the basement.
“Right here, if you all jumped on the dance floor at about the same time, it would start to move,” said a worker, reminiscing.
The initial plan was to replace the floor, and spruce up some of the decor. But from the first piece of beer-soaked carpet that workers pulled up, it was clear that they faced a black hole of neverending renovations.
An entirely new floor needed to be installed—followed by new walls, and (why not?) a new ceiling.
It’s been “one hell of a trial” trying to spruce up the old bar, said proprietor Keith Jacobsen.
When it opens in June, the Capital’s newest incarnation will attempt to recapture the theme of an 1898 saloon.
A painfully unoriginal notion for a Yukon bar, admittedly, but Jacobsen throws in a twist. Rather than being a faded, creaky saloon dripping with the unwashed memories of yesteryear—Jacobsen’s Capitol will create the shiny freshness of a newly-opened Gold Rush era saloon.
The new Capital is a time machine, rather than a museum.
Jacobsen has sought to capture a Cheers-esque tavern feel.
“Sometimes you just want to sit down and have a pint and a conversation, not cheering for a sports team or getting belligerently drunk,” said Jacobsen.
The sissy drinks of post-1898 are strictly embargoed. Only beer and spirits will be consumed at the Capital.
The reopened Capital heralds a new heyday for Yukon beer drinkers. Sixteen taps stand at the ready, offering the territory’s widest selection of draft beers.
Patrons can expect the usual Yukon Brewing Company suspects, but the Capital will also truck up some newbies. Beer enthusiasts can soon expect to be knocking back a Hefeweizen or a 1516—direct from Vernon-based Okanagan Spring.
It’s been almost two years since the eminent Taku closed its doors, leaving dozens of displaced patrons furiously searching out a new watering hole. The Gold Pan Saloon has taken in many Taku orphans, but the space-strapped bar can only house so many. Jacobsen sees the new Capital as being a worthy successor.
Ultimately, the bar will have its in-house brewing operations under full steam—but lack of money has briefly delayed the purchase of necessary beer vats.
“Can of worms” style renovations are becoming en vogue in the formerly architecturally-challenged Yukon.
The former Taku building encountered $600,000 in cost overruns after renovators discovered a damaged water main and found the building had sunk almost a foot.
Several relics of the previous Capital have been preserved, in a nod to the bar’s glory days.
“Before it was a drug haven it was actually a pretty awesome place to go,” said Jacobsen.
Midway to the back of the bar is Jacobsen’s “diamond in the rough”—a shoddily made chimney from the bar’s early days. “Obviously they didn’t spend a lot of time trying to make it look nice,” said Jacobsen.
“Somebody slapped this together, half frozen and drunk: ‘Hey, I’ll give you a bunch of beer to build a chimney,” said Jacobsen.
Cedar planks were pulled out of the ceiling and fashioned into a medieval-style front door. A bit over-the-top, said Jacobsen, but appealing to the nobleman in everyone.
An earlier renovation turned up a mummified cat—which occupied a prominent position on the Capital bar—but Jacobsen’s renovation was decidedly less macabre. Removing the former dance floor revealed only a couple of unidentified bones and some cans of hair grease from the 1940s and 1950s.
The previous Capital suffered from an appalling lack of proper space management. Customers would come in, grab a beer and immediately become pinned behind a pillar. Then, they could either jam themselves into a corner or be awkwardly shuffled to an out-of-the-way dance floor.
Gone are the bar’s low, oppressive ceilings.
“It felt like the ass end of a coffin,” said Jacobsen.
The establishment has few windows, but designers avoided a tunnel-of-darkness feel with an ingenious series of backlit stained glass windows by local artists. After a couple of Hefeweizens, there’s surprisingly little difference between a window and some coloured glass paired with a halogen light.
The bar’s new bathrooms are a minor revolution in tavern lavatory management.
“I think it came to me in a dream,” said Jacobsen.
The men’s washroom is urinal-only—more complex bathroom activities are simply directed towards the handicapped washroom. Women have access to not one, but two washrooms.
Unable to find a willing candidate, Jacobsen himself was forced to remove the urinals from the old Capitol’s decrepit bathrooms.
As with the arteries of a lifelong bacon addict, seven decades of accumulated urine, vomit and excreta had left their sludgy signature on the ancient plumbing.
The Capital is the 26-year-old entrepreneur’s fourth foray into the Whitehorse bar scene. Jacobsen first got his toe-hold with Shenanigans in the Town and Mountain. Then he left to open Coaster’s, and then Coaster’s Bistro.
“Girls Gone Wild, Tour ‘03” reads Jacobsen’s work shirt.
Jacobsen and a group of friends had the shirts made before taking a trip down to Mexico in the hopes that it would spur random women to flash their breasts.
“It didn’t work,” said Jacobsen.
The Capital is the first bar in the Yukon to capitalize off the territory’s revamped liquor act. No longer do Yukon drinking establishments need to have onsite hotel rooms and serve full meals.
One year ago, the government overturned the Gold Rush-era legislation, but dithered for 11 months before officially approving the new regulations.
Across the territory, entrepreneurs waited with baited breath, losing thousands of dollars in half-finished bars that weren’t able to open.
“Them taking their time probably cost me $160,000,” said Jacobsen.
Jacobsen originally planned to finance the new Capital with a $400,000 stock offering, but only $240,000 worth of investors threw in their stake.
The “shit-canned” economy was a factor, said Jacobsen, but the fact remained that nobody wanted to put money into a bar that might never escape the clutches of government red tape.
The $160,000 doesn’t include the cost of keeping the building heated and powered for more than 12 months without generating any income.
“By the time they finally got their asses in gear, we felt we probably could have been open for Rendezvous,” said Jacobsen.
“I’m just glad Coaster’s is doing well,” he said.
The Capital’s now-obsolete rooms are slated to be gutted and transformed into an open-concept office.
The grand opening is scheduled for sometime after the first weekend in June.
Contact Tristin Hopper at