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The Royal Albert Is Back!: How Investors Help The Scene

This weekend, Friday, June 14th, 2019, The Royal Albert Bar & Grill officially opens as a music venue with THE BLOODSHOTS, THE LOVE TONGUES and SNARKY REMARKABLE taking the main-floor indie-rock stage.

The venue, run by the owners of Alycia’s, the popular Ukrainian restaurant in the hotel, previously operated from the 1970‘s into the early 2000s, is once again booked with live acts. The Royal Albert Bar & Grill Facebook page is full of posters of upcoming gigs booked, including a regular Saturday jam with the Billy Joe Greenband.

The 100 year plus heritage building is located one block from Portage and Main and is the gateway to the Exchange District. The area used to be a red light district back in the 80‘s. Sal from X-Cues Cafe and Lounge said “When they got rid of the red light people, the restaurants complained because they lost business.”

People Are Full of Stories About The Royal Albert

I asked Howard Lavitt of the band HONEY DILL & THE CHICKEN FINGERS what he remembered about the old Royal Albert, he told me,

“This is before door dashers and Skip-the-dishes and John Candy used to order perogies and kielbasa from Alycias, the original Alycias. The Royal Albert Arms has a bit of a muddled history, there’s been good things and really bad things happen there – like murders. Bands from all over the world have played there: CHOCOLATE BUNNIES FROM HELL, AGENT ORANGE, RICK L RICK, BLACK FLAG, HUSKER DU and GREEN DAY. I remember how busy Portage and Main used to be when we were kids. You’d get squished on the sidewalk it was so busy. Once they blocked the foot traffic at that corner, it killed downtown.”

I spoke with Bobby J. Hobson of the Kim Reimer band. He said,

“In 1974, I moved from the Carribean and I was desperate to find a band. The Royal Albert and the St. Charles (next door) is where a lot of music used to happen. So I was jamming there and that’s where a band came in and they were jamming and looking for a drummer. That’s how I got my job drumming as a drummer in Winnipeg. The Royal Albert gave me the exposure I needed. So I joined a band called Caraballo, a very popular band back in the 70‘s. Everyone wanted Carribean bands back in the 70‘s. That hotel was a lot of fun to go to. It was dark and run down, but some of the best music.”

The State of the Music Scene

In 2015, Recording industry groups IFPI and Music Canada released a report called “The Mastering of a Music City” that set out how cities worldwide can take simple steps to help develop their music economies. The report provided a simple checklist to help local authorities, businesses, community groups and the creative sector capitalise on the potential of music to build, grow and strengthen their cities

What I want to look at in this article is the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the music scene in it’s downtown core. I don’t want to talk about a view like the one that the IFPI and Music Canada took in their report, but a different view that talks about how the music scene in the downtown core of a city changes based on the organic growth of the city.

Musicians in Winnipeg reminiscene about all of the great venues Winnipeg used to have and how the scene was once thriving with musicians being paid well by bar owners. That came to a complete halt years ago, with bar owners now refusing to help promote the music, and paying peanuts to the bands. Now there are a handful of fair bar owners who treat bands well and good bands tend to try to get gigs there and at places like legions – where they can make more money.

Musicians know they contribute directly to the bottom line of venue owners and the city at large. They know that a downtown core is not vibrant without music. They don’t need the IFPI and Music Canada report to tell them that…but city officials did. It just hits home the fact that music is taken for granted by everyone who is profiting from it. The people who are not profiting are the musicians.

What’s happening in Winnipeg?

In Winnipeg, there are some very interesting things happening downtown. Heritage buildings are being re-opened (like The Royal Albert Arms) or re-purposed for residential living or offices. Two new condo buildings are going up right in the Main Street and Portage Avenue area.

One is the Artis building, a 40-storey skyscraper slated to be the tallest building in the city, located near Portage and Main. The $165-million tower will be located a block away from the iconic corner, at 300 Main St. and Graham Avenue. The upper floors of the building will be residential with the lower portion set aside for retail and office space.

True North Sports and Entertainment announced plans for True North Square, a $400-million mixed-use development near MTS Centre. A luxury hotel, flagship liquor store, a grocery store, public plaza, and four towers with more than a million square feet of space will be part of the project, which is already under construction. The province and city are teaming up to invest $17.6 million in creating the two-acre plaza, which will include a skating rink, public stage, and green space.

These two buildings, on top of the investment Artis has already made at the corner of Main and Portage over the last two decades, the installation of the Human Rights Museum, the investment in the downtown Waterfront and The Forks, as well as the new high-priced housing going up across the river in the St. Boniface neighbourhood shows a growing, vibrant and wealthy residential downtown emerging.

The Future

Although things won’t change much for musicians and their ability to make money performing live, the musicians in Winnipeg, and those touring through Winnipeg will benefit from a more vibrant and populated downtown. Foot traffic will increase and that means more people will be taking in the scene.

How local musicians take advantage of this organic growth….well, that’s up to them. Promotion is easy in the days of the internet. This is not 1980. I hope they take advantage of this new world and make it work. I see this as exciting times.

Welcome back, Royal Albert!

You can check out The Royal Albert Bar & Grill on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/307054073575891/

PS don’t be confused with the old Royal Albert Arms Facebook page. That’s old news.

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