Popular watering hole becomes history

Last call at Joe’s came with less than two hours warning. On Thursday night, Joe English — the storied Nova Scotian bartender who has…

Last call at Joe’s came with less than two hours warning.

On Thursday night, Joe English — the storied Nova Scotian bartender who has been plying Whitehorse drinkers with stiff, free-poured lowballs for 28 years — found he was out of a liquor licence at the stroke of midnight.

“Everybody’s kind of upset,” said 69-year-old English on Tuesday.

“We were looking forward to winding down. But two hours, bang, that was it.”

English was informed Thursday that his liquor licence had run out for his bar — called Free-Pour Joe’s by most who haunt its small confines — which he rents inside the Pioneer Inn.

That came after he found himself in the middle of a dispute between the Yukon Liquor Corporation and a Vancouver-based holding company, fronted by local businessman Tippy Mah, that purchased the building, he said.

When the building was sold in February to the company, the Liquor Corp. demanded improvements be made to the building before they would renew the liquor licences, said English.

But Mah refused to make any changes to the building and said he just wanted to tear it down, said English.

“In the meantime, I’m caught in the middle,” he said. “Badly.”

Also affected by the decision is the Blue Moon Saloon and a beer and wine off-sales store facing Second Avenue.

English is dismayed the Liquor Corp. didn’t give him a short-term licence extension to allow him to stay open during the summer.

“The fact that I’ve been there so long they should have at least given me that,” he said.

When the Pioneer Inn was sold to Mah in February, English was told he’d have a long time before being forced to close, he said.

“We knew it was going to be torn down, but we thought we had eight months to a year window,” he said.

“We thought, we’ll work it down. But we only got an hour-and-a-half or two-hours warning. That was it: ‘Close it down.’ It’s a sad thing. We definitely would have liked a little more time.”

English has paid his lease until the end of March.

Because of the decision he has lost business income from the two last weekends of March.

“The last two weekends in a month are your bread and butter, that’s your biggie,” said English. “I lost that.

“I’m thinking of going after somebody. I want my rent for March back — the whole thing. I’m still paid up and there’s a few more days.”

With the passing of Free Pour Joe’s comes the passing of an art to mixing drinks.

English didn’t use a shot glass to mix lowballs. He used his one good eye instead.

Depending on your tastes, the drinks at Joe’s tasted like paint remover with a touch of cola, or, like many of the regulars said, “Just right.”

“That’s probably the end of it,” said English of his freepouring bartending techniques. “I guess it’s time to shut it down, as sad as it is.”

English came to Whitehorse in 1959 from Nova Scotia and has been in the bar business since 1962.

But he isn’t sure what comes next for him.

“I’ve been in there for 28 years, so I’ll have to do something else,” he said.

Asked if he might work at another bar, he was pessimistic.

“I doubt that very much.”

English is clearing the bar of its many gold rush artifacts.

On the walls at Joe’s were old rifles, knives, shovels, pickaxes, spittoons, pictures and magazine advertisements from the 1898 stampede.

He has donated a steel foot-rail to a local museum but is selling most everything else to regulars who have been eying some of the pieces for years, he said.

As for the future of the building that once housed his bar, he’s not impressed.

“They’re talking six-to-eight storeys of condos,” said English. “Everything’s condos now. What a mess.”