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Whitehorse’s Social House bids adieu

Part bar, part concert and social events venue, the business is closing for good on Aug. 31.
Social House owner Kaori Torigai poses for a photo at the bar in Whitehorse on Aug. 28. The venue will be shutting down for good after one last show on Aug. 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News) Social House owner Kaori Torigai poses for a photo at the bar in Whitehorse on Aug. 28, 2018. The venue will be shutting down for good after one last show on Aug. 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

It was the right idea in the wrong place.

On one hand, Whitehorse’s Social House had a leaky roof, crowded sidewalks next door that likely deterred potential customers from coming in, and indoor temperatures that were never just quite right in the depths of winter or the peak of summer, according to its owner Kaori Torigai.

But it was also the small intimate venue beloved by many a local musician that also had movie nights, hosted adult arts-and-crafts events and had a serendipitous deal with the restaurant next door to have fresh sushi delivered to customers’ tables.

In its short, just-more-than-a-year-long stint as part of the city’s arts and music scene, the Social House managed to carve a space and name out for itself, which is why, even with those challenges, it’s hard for Torigai to say goodbye.

But all good things must come to an end, and on Aug. 31, the venue-bar-gathering-spot will be going out with one final show by Whitehorse’s very own Prizefighter.

“You know what’s really funny is that, I think when I initially started, I was really hoping it would be more of a beer-tasting-and-craft-beer-type bar, but you very quickly realize that you can’t just bring in people with beer. There has to be something else to it,” Torigai said in an interview Aug. 27.

“…I think I had always envisioned having lots of events as well, but I think I thought the focus would be more on beer. But it ended up being much more on events, which was great. It worked out well. I think I was reasonably successful.”

But it was never quite successful enough — while the Social House drew in crowds, Torigai said they were never as large as the ones that showed up at other venues, and there were also issues with the building and location itself. The venue is part of a building that also houses Canadas Best Value Inn, and Torigai said that she and the hotel owner had “different priorities” on what that space should be.

“Leaking roofs was obviously one of the big issues that I had,” Torigai said. “The risk that exists because of that is fairly high, I think, and it wasn’t really being addressed as fully as I think it could be, and again I think I’m concerned about the health and safety of my workers and also people that come into the bar and that’s problematic for me.”

There were issues about the amount of noise coming from the bar as well, which Torigai said she tried to keep under control but which wasn’t always at a level that worked for the hotel.

“Even that level that I think is okay and reasonable is too loud for the hotel … It’s hard to function in a place like that,” she said, adding that she also thought that the groups of people that convene on the sidewalk outside the neighbouring 98 Hotel deterred potential customers from coming into the Social House.

(In a phone interview Aug. 28, Canadas Best Value Inn manager Ujjwal Sinha said that while there was noise that came from the Social House, it was to be expected from a bar and it didn’t impact to hotel’s operations. He also acknowledged that the roof leaks, but said that “it’s not a major issue” and that leaks are a challenge that any building with a flat roof faces, especially when snow accumulates in the winter and then melts. The hotel is looking for a new business to fill the space, Sinha added.)

Torigai said that all those factors, combined and gradually building up, were what ultimately led to her to decide to pull the plug, but it’s not all negative.

“I’m pretty grateful that I got the opportunity to try it and it was really fun, like, I can’t stress enough that I really enjoyed the social aspect,” she said. “I really enjoyed the fact that I got to listen to some really exception musicians of all genres in the bar. You learn a lot by running a business and I’ve never run a business before, so it’s an opportunity that’s not often provided, right? And I was kind of able to jump in.”

For musician Steve Toews, who’s the guitar player and singer for Prizefighter, the Social House’s impending closure will be a loss for Whitehorse’s live music scene.

“Personally, I loved the space at the Social House … I just really liked the compactness and it’s a lot more fun playing for a place that’s full than a great big place where people have too much room to move around,” he said in an interview Aug. 27, adding that he and his band, who had played at the venue a handful of times over the past year, “jumped” at the chance to perform on closing night.

“(The Social House) kind of replaced what’s been missing in Whitehorse for a very long time, a really nice scene where people can go and take in live music and have a delicious beverage with good friends,” Toews said.

“I think there’s no replacement for live music and the Social House is exactly the kind of place that this town (needs) and it’s really kind of sad that she’s closing down.”

Torigai said that she doesn’t have any immediate plans to open up a new business, but wouldn’t be opposed to trying again if the right space came along. For now though, she said she’s hoping to have a “really fun” closing night party, and that Whitehorse residents remember the Social House fondly.

“I hope they think of it as a fun and enjoyable space to meet people, hang out with their friends,” she said. “… I wanted them to feel like they were in their own living room, house, space that was fun to be in and be able to see great bands and enjoy themselves doing whatever it was — Drinking With Scissors or playing games or watching movies or listening to a band, right?”

Contact Jackie Hong at