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Last dance at the Taku

The Taku’s fuzzy, wood-plank carpeting is full of stories.It’s witnessed couples meet and later marry, watched regulars enjoy free…

The Taku’s fuzzy, wood-plank carpeting is full of stories.

It’s witnessed couples meet and later marry, watched regulars enjoy free coffee on winter afternoons, and been scuffed up by jiving feet.

In September, it’s going to the dump.

The Discovery Bar is closing.

Hougen’s bought the Bonanza Hotel and Coast Mountain Sports is moving in to the bar and restaurant.

“There’s a lot of steady customers who are going to miss this place,” said local artist Jim Robb, enjoying a pint on a Friday afternoon.

He’s been a Taku fixture since the 1950s.

“The first painting I ever sold was bought by this bar,” he said.

That was in 1958.

The pastel and charcoal mural hung behind the bar for decades.

“Pierre Berton used to come in here,” said barmaid Joyce Hartling.

In overalls, her red and blond hair up in a ponytail, Hartling was pouring pints. She has been serving at the Taku for years.

“It’s always been a bar of characters,” she said, her eyes welling up.

“Good characters.”

Old blues players, like Big Dave McLean, loved the sound in this place, she said.

“It’s so comfortable.”

Fighting back tears, Hartling pointed out a regular.

“Go talk to him,” she said.

A few seats down, John van Hoek thought back to November 1997 when he’d just arrived in Whitehorse.

“I remember stepping into this bar for the first time,” he said.

“I was enamoured.

“It had something that called me back again.”

It’s hard to put a finger on it, he said.

“It has a heart and a soul.”

Walk into the Taku during happy hour and you’ll find old miners wearing long johns that haven’t been off all winter, young hippies in dreads, government workers in suits and the colourful five per cent sitting together laughing and talking.

“People come to exchange banter, laugh at the politicians, and say, ‘Look at city council, they’ve done it again,’” said van Hoek.

“I’m so lucky to have been part and parcel of this experience — I’ll always hold it dear to my heart.”

“There’s a lot of steady customers who’re going to miss this place,” added Robb.

On Wednesday morning, the Taku is a little quieter.

Behind the bar, Eileen MacFarlane is pouring coffee for a couple of regulars.

“This is their living room,” she said.

“I have two old ladies who come in here after the movies.

“Where are they all going to go?”

MacFarlane has been managing the bar for 13 years.

“She knows what everyone drinks,” said owner Ed Isaak, who was sitting at the bar with the regulars.

“When they walk through that door, Eileen has their beer cracked and waiting for them.”

MacFarlane grinned.

“We all looked after each other,” she said.

The Taku’s always had a real cross-section of people, said Tookie.

Although he’s not a daily customer, the middle-aged man considers himself a regular.

“Whether you come once a week, or once a month, if you’re looking for a buddy chances are you’ll find him at the Discovery,” he said.

Tookie doesn’t know where he’s going to go once the place shuts down.

“What’s going to happen to us regulars,” he said, turning to Isaak.

“Are you going to build a new bar?”

Isaak shook his head.

“Maybe I’ll retire,” he said with a chuckle.

But first, Isaak has some booking to do.

After Gary Comeau’s zydeco blues next weekend, Isaak hopes to bring back some of the favorites, like Big Dave McLean or Kenny Blues Boss Wayne.

He also wants to bring some local bands in for final gigs, including his old-time country band, The Canucks.

The Twisters, fronted by Isaak’s son Brandon, will close the place at the end of September.

Isaak rubbed his eyes.

The old places are disappearing, he said, leaning against the bar.

“Joe’s (Free Pour) closed down and his customers are still lost.”

The Taku has that old flare of the North, said former owner Kip Fisher, who ran the bar for 25 years.

“It has that kind of character.”

The Taku’s been a watering hole since 1957, and there haven’t been that many changes, he said.

“It’s something we’ll never see again — I guess you call that progress.”

Old work boots, rusty buckets, a crosscut saw and an upright bass hang from the Taku’s ceiling.

One of Brandon Isaak’s guitars is tacked above the bar, beside the talking deer head.

Customers have already started asking Isaak for mementos.

And the deer head is coveted.

Isaak used to sit at the end of the bar with a mike and wait until an unwitting customer sat below the ungulate.

Then he’d start chatting away, his voice mysteriously coming out of the deer’s moving lips.

It gave people a start, he said with a grin.

Cleaning out this place is going to take awhile, added Isaak.

MacFarlane couldn’t think of what she’d miss most about her job.

“All of it,” she said.

But the next morning, drinking coffee and catching up with Isaak, it hit her.

“I am going to miss these conversations,” she said.

“I’m going to miss morning coffee with Ed.”