Saving a student oasis: The Absinthe Pub reaches out for support from community

Courtesy of Riddhi Jani

A York student staple for over 40 years, The Absinthe Pub posted earlier this November about their struggles in the past few months of reopening following their closure as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Their initial Facebook post included a photo of empty chairs and tables, saying that this was the visual representation of the bar since September. 

Found in Winter’s College, it is the university’s last student-owned and operated bar. The Absinthe is run under the Winter’s College Council and offers music, bar food, and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. 

Ian Pedley, manager of The Absinthe, details that the bar had to shut its doors last year, just before St. Patrick’s Day. Pedley says that after months of lockdowns and needed financial support, the pub had originally planned to open back up in September of last year. 

“We got all the pandemic stuff done: we got all the sanitizing solutions and the plexiglass put up, took out three-quarters of the chairs and tables, socially distanced everything, put arrows on the floor, and all the things that we were required to do. Finally, in September, they gave us the okay to open. Two days later, the Ford government shut down restaurants and bars.”

The pub was told that as the campus was reopening for in-person classes in September 2021, their doors were allowed to open as well if safety protocols were once again followed. A skeleton crew was hired, their hours were restricted, and a QR code menu app was put in place. “And for the most part, it was pretty much a dud,” Pedley says. 

“We’re at the end of Winter’s College and there’s not a lot of passerby traffic, so the biggest thing with The Absinthe in terms of getting customers is word-of-mouth. It’s always gotten us a lot of people, and having an active college council who were actually in person also added to that — they would bring a lot of people in. None of that stuff was happening in September.” 

Connor McCann, fourth-year media arts student and president of York’s rock metal association, which has worked in collaboration with the pub since 2019 holding band nights, says The Absinthe “has been a hub for local music on campus.

“Imagine how much harder it becomes for York students to connect with the local music scene without things like band nights, when the music scene is almost exclusively downtown,” McCann questions, noting that all mediums of performance are given a platform at the pub. 

“From mega pub nights, to karaoke and open mic nights, to drag shows, Winters College Council and The Absinthe have hosted a variety of events to bring the community together,” says Ola Mularczyk, president of Winter’s College Council.

Pedley also stresses the importance of The Absinthe being a student run and operated institution, saying that “the toughest thing to do, as a student, is to get a job in an industry for the first time. Somebody’s got to give you a break.”

Pedley says that while the joy of their role at The Absinthe comes with running these programs for the student community, it also comes from “teaching students to drink responsibly. I think people respect the fact that we follow the rules so you feel safer here. You don’t walk into The Absinthe and feel uncomfortable. It’s a very safe, welcoming space.

“The Absinthe is sort of like an oasis. It’s the only place on campus that once you walk in, you don’t really feel like you’re on campus. It’s not institutionalized, it’s not sterile — it’s got barn board on the walls, it’s warm, it’s comfortable, and it’s friendly,” Pedley says. 

Connor Webb, a third-year film production student, echoes just this, by saying that the pub provides the type of break away from their school work that they need. “I’m able to kick back, have a few drinks with my friends, and potentially meet some interesting people (if there are other patrons in attendance). Most of the staff members know me at this point, so I feel like there are always people to talk to at The Absinthe whether it’s a busy or slow night.”

McCann notes that the pub was a place where he initially felt “entirely welcome and socially at peace. It’s been a place where I’ve met the people I now consider to be my closest friends, where I’ve gone to hangout with said friends, where I first connected with the local music scene, and much more.”

The fear of closure for The Absinthe is not a unique concern, as 10,000 restaurants have closed in the country since the start of the pandemic, with many still struggling to keep their doors open.

Pedley says that since they’ve made their initial post though, “people have responded.” He says that thanks to patron support and events held by various college councils in the pub, they are “starting to get back to a financially viable position,” with still plenty of room to grow. 

“So I’ve got my fingers crossed, I’m putting my best foot forward, and I’m hoping for the best,” Pedley states. 

A GoFundMe was started on behalf of The Absinthe on October 27, with over $2,590 already being raised. But among those who were asked, all echoed that the best way to show support for the pub moving forward is to stop by and visit. 

About the Author

By Sarah Garofalo

Editor-in-Chief

editor@excal.on.ca

Sarah is in her fourth year of Film Studies at York University. She is passionate about using writing as a tool to educate herself and introduce others to hidden stories and new ideas. In the future, she hopes to continue her studies in film and merge it with her love of writing and journalism. You can always find Sarah sketching, painting or endlessly watching films while waiting to get back into movie theatres.

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