Thursday, September 20, 2007

Winnipeg arrival

For some reason, we're taking about beer--again. 

Michelle and I are in the "Lo" pub ~ a venerable booze-can of a place that has been renovated and re-decorated by its new owner, Winnipeg's Hostelling International (or "Hi" ~ get it?).

H.I. is the largest accommodation provider in the world, and a non-profit at that. In June of this year, the Winnipeg crew packed up their 36-bed home-style hostel and moved into the former "Downtowner" hotel - a cubist structure that was all mod cons in its glory days, but had since faded into seedy repute thanks to off-sales, day rates and "questionable activities," as one H.I. staffer put it.

Needless to say, the nearby businesses and senior residences were pleased as punch when H.I. took over the place and began gutting it for a fresh start. Executive Director Dylan Rutherford, bar manager Dave Falade and the rest of the staff started by shutting down the troublesome bar off-sales and tearing out the beer-soaked carpeting.

Now visitors can relax in a lounge with comfy chairs, a fireplace, old movies, local artwork, and cheap local beer. A sign over the bar reads, "Drink Locally, Think Globally," and Michelle and I are doing just that a few hours after our arrival. We're joined by Mark (the hostel's manager), Kira (marketing), Dylan, Dave and a couple of friendly pitchers of Fort Garry ale.

Dave explains that for every glass of the local beer that's sold, the hostel will donate twenty-five cents towards KIVA, an organization that pools loan applicants from developing nations and offers them micro-credit. The rates of success have been high, says Dylan, better than mortgage load repayments in the U.S.

Dave suggests we sample another local beer called Half Pints at the King's Head pub in the nearby Exchange district; and Dylan suggests we first sample some Ethiopian food at the Kokeb Restaurant ~ just across the intriguing Discreet Boutique sex-toy department store.

Michelle backs out, pleading a previously-booked engagement with the Winnipeg Scrabble Club, and Kira departs not too long after that. That leaves me on a Thursday night in Winnipeg, with a group of smart and funny guys who ~ like me ~ like to drink beer. Oh dear.